If you like to write, like I do, and you write for a while, you learn something that writers learned centuries ago, back when they first started scribbling thoughts on cave walls using dyes made from berries: Writing is HARD WORK.
Let me take that back, writing is easy, good writing is hard work. It's difficult to be entertaining, amusing, insightful, educational and informative. Sometimes it's difficult enough just being legible and not sounding like you are insane. So how do prolific writers manage to pen so much good material? Great writers, from Shakespeare to Stephen King, even encounter writer's block sometimes. It's not like Charles Bukowski or Kerouac sat down at the breakfast table every day and said 'EUREKA, I have a new best seller. Thanks for the inspiration, Frosted Flakes.'
No, writing takes time, effort, persistence, a certain bit of skill, a lot of determination, and a great deal of work. If you work at becoming a writer, you do feel like you've been inspired each and every time you have an idea. Every thought that enters your head, you begin to feel that you must write down. You should, too, if you're serious about writing, but not every idea you have is destined to be the next great novel, or the next great article, or even the next great grocery list. Or even something that you will want associated with your name in public, at any time, ever. Some ideas are doomed from the start, but when you first have them, you always think they're great. I mean, somebody wrote The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider and the Love Boat, and somebody thought that those were good ideas. In some cases, people still thought those were good ideas 20 years later, because somebody decided to remake The Dukes of Hazzard and turn it into a big budget movie. I bet somewhere there has been serious discussions of a Knight Rider movie as well, because a remake of a TV show about a talking car is a better idea than finding new, fresh writers, right? But I digress.
So how do you know when you have a good idea, an idea that, with some work, could become something good, or an idea that is destined to line the bottom of the garbage can? You're told to write every idea, even every dream you have, down. That is basic writing for beginners 101. Then you wake up one day and your desk is covered with Post-Its, your office is covered with notes, and you can't find the living room because it's buried in a sea of written ideas on scrap paper. Do you use these notes and doodling? Can you recycle old ideas and unfinished, uninspired pieces by interweaving them with new thoughts, creating a much better updated version from an old idea?
Yes, you can, and sometimes, that is where the greatest writing comes from.
I, as a former ASCAP songwriter and performer, believe firmly in recycling. My music career ended early due to an accident, and I was left with many unpublished songs that I had written during my active years. Today, those song lyrics have become integrated into my poetry. Waste nothing, I say. Just like we are taught to recycle things at home because it's good for our environment, recycling ideas can be good for our writing careers. Thanks to the depressing economy, many people stretch the dollar by becoming quite creative at home, reinventing new uses for old stuff.
They think twice before throwing out something that might save a buck some day. We do it daily, with food and when decorating our homes. So why can't we, as writers, re-use what we have written, ideas that were rejected by a publisher or even through our own scrutiny as perfectionists? We can and we should. There's nothing better than finding something that you've written a few months or years down the road, something you completely forgot about, only to discover that it's not half bad. Your own idea, with time, can inspire you to write something great. But that is the key. Many ideas need time, some a very long time, to grow and develop. So save those notes and look at them later.
They might inspire you and help you to become a better writer. Or, a few years down the road, they might look even worse than they did the first time and they might embarrass you. If that's the case, then its time to call in the garbage can to do its job. After all, not every idea is a great one. Even Einstein made mistakes, that's why he never got out of Middle School!
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