Monday, March 21, 2016

Living in Idea Denial

Living in denial is one of my favorite hobbies.
There are day-to-day denials, like:
“I can get ready for work in five minutes.”
“Psh. I’m not addicted to cake.”

The most painful denial a creative person can inflict upon themselves is that every idea we come up with is pure gold. I found myself swimming in the waters of denial as I edited on Saturday. I was in my favorite coffee shop and two guys were watching Star Wars fight scenes on their computer behind me. (Not that it matters…it just made me smile).

So there I was: mocha in hand, eyes on the screen, ears full of lightsabers… and I honestly wanted to cry over the massive amount of words I was cutting from my novel. Not just sentences or paragraphs. Scenes. Chapters. I sighed, highlighted, and then very quickly hit ctrl+x to save those precious scenes in text documents in my Scrivener sidebar. I don’t need to delete them forever. I might be able to use some of it later! I thought I was being thrifty. In reality, I was simply indulging my denial.

Creatives have their own brand of denial:
“Just one more editing pass, then I’ll query.”
“That other guy is so much better at this than I’ll ever be.”
“I might be able to use some of it later.”

Yesterday, Maggie Stiefvater posted a Tumblr note about the disposability of ideas. While at a writer’s retreat, she and her co-teachers spent the days coaching aspiring writers about being creative and forging stories. And then they made those writers burn their ideas – LITERALLY BURNED THEM IN A FIRE.  I almost had a little panic attack thinking about what it would feel like to spend three days lovingly pouring my creative ideas out…only to be forced to throw them on a bonfire on the last day.

And yet, even if I think I can use some of that dross later, I probably won’t. It doesn’t fit anymore. Artists can’t erase a limb, alter shading, change some textures, then expect the new product to be able to use pieces of the part that was erased. You don’t paint an eye and cut it out of the canvas thinking, “It doesn’t quite fit here. I’ll try to use it on a different painting.” It’s amazing how ridiculous it sounds when you apply the concept to art, yet writers constantly save old work in the hopes of using it down the road.

If you burn an idea and can’t think of it later, was it really that great of an idea to begin with?

Michelle likes all* superhero movies and making dinner in her waffle maker.

*Green Lantern? Yes. Tobey Maguire Spider-Man? Yes. Andrew Garfield Spider-Man? Yes. New Fantastic Four? .....ugh, OK, you got me there. 


  1. I was fortunate that my first stab at writing occurred in the 1970s & 1980s. There were no personal computers, just paper and a pen or typewriter. If a story was bad, I dropped the document in the trash. If the story was terrible, I burned it. If the story was downright awful, I gave it a restroom Viking funeral. Nary a word survived those dark days. For those days of irreversible destruction, I am grateful. In this new millennium, things have changed. It is so much harder to delete all traces of terrible stories. Have you ever tried to burn a laptop and flush it down the toilet?

  2. I know I threw away some of my old writing, but a ton of it is still intact. It can be fun to look back on short stories from 20 years ago. Apparently I was obsessed with dolphins and using parentheses. As for newer ideas, though, I like being able to ctrl+a+delete. Just not by flushing my laptop!