The Expiration Date on Ideas

Spoiler alert: There is none. At a Read the Book, Meet the Author event in March 2018, where we were treated to a lovely talk from Michael Andreasen on his first book, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover and Other Stories, we fell into a discussion about old ideas and previous stories he had that were quietly stored in the back of the proverbial sock drawer. There was general outcry: Surely he didn’t get rid of these old stories and ideas? Rest assured, Michael kept his old stories.

It reminded me how all of us writers have more story ideas than hours in the day to write. So our minds (and sock drawers, file cabinets, closets, hard drives, etc.) are crammed with ideas for thousands of stories. Some blossom into beautiful pieces of literature. Others never get further than the brainstorming stage. And others create a sort of half-life, a jumbled mix of unfinished drafts, outlines, storyboards, and notes on restaurant napkins. Sometimes the ideas never feel like they are going any further, that they have peaked at whatever condition they are in.

But often, the ideas are only incubating, waiting for their turn to take center stage.

Ideas don’t go off like perishable items. They simply go to sleep. So apologies to all the neat-freak significant others who don’t quite understand why we still want that half-filled notebook from three years ago in the desk drawer. There are ideas in there, ideas that, while not fully cooked, are simmering slowly and patiently until ready to emerge.

Your ideas as a writer are your bread and butter; without them, your work will starve. Don’t toss out the old ones that haven’t quite gelled in your head yet. And don’t be afraid to look at old pieces and reimagine them for your current voice. Because a good idea never goes bad.

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