I have an Idea.
…That’s an understatement. I’ve actually got any number of ideas cooking at any given time, but most of them just hang out on the back burner.
But anyway, about this particular idea: Witches in the city. What sort of life would a trainee witch experience living in a run-down urban tenement? What work would she do to pay her rent while eking out precious time for her craft? What kind of friends would she have? Family? …A cat?
Definitely a cat.
I like this idea a lot, which could be a problem, because at present I have more than enough other ideas simmering in various states of incomplete-ness over at my AO3 account. Interspersed amongst time spent on those fics are various and sundry original ideas that have taken the form of both short stories and outlines for longer works. Many of these ideas I have chosen to let go, and I do this in large part thanks to an article I read some time ago on the concept of idea debt. Here’s the most salient point from that article:
“Idea Debt is when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.“
-Jessica Abel, “Imagining your future projects is holding you back“
The concept of idea debt hits home for me because it has been applicable to almost every creative endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. …or, more to the point, every creative endeavor I’ve devoted lots of thought towards undertaking, but barely managed to scratch out more than a few hundred words towards an actual draft. In my experience, it’s a terribly intoxicating headspace to occupy, and I compare it a lot to worrying: my brain turns the project ideas over and over again in my head to such an extent that I feel as though I have accomplished something towards completing my project (or solving my problems). But in reality, just as with worrying, when I stop thinking about my project and don’t begin working on it (or solving my problems), I’ve made no tangible progress. And sometimes–or, in my case, nearly always–the guilt sets in, and I create nothing.
You can imagine how that guilt builds and builds upon itself, the more idea debt I accumulate. …possibly it has this in common with actual debt, but that’s a bit beyond the scope (and emotional capacity) of this blog.
So how does one alleviate some of this debt? The solution as outline in Jessica Abel’s blog is deceptively simple, and is one that she obviously struggles with: let the ideas go.
“But,” some corner of my brain protests anxiously, “what about This Idea? This Idea is so good! You’ve had This Idea for so long! You just haven’t had the chance to properly explore and work on This Idea! Don’t throw it out just yet!”
I strongly believe that the answer to this needy corner of my brain is, on the whole, a very firm no–but! I do like that Jessica Abel explores a very important aspect of the debt allegory by discussing idea investment. Because she highlights two things that distinguish idea debt from idea investment: a work plan with steps in it that the writer actually completes, and the production of a deliverable.
So, to bring this meandering detour of a blog post back to the original subject of my city witches idea–which is it? Idea debt or idea investment?
At this point, it’s kind of hard to say. (To be fair, it’s hard to determine which is which with my WIPs on AO3, too.) But that’s why I’m going to follow Jessica Abel’s model and make a plan, even if that plan is just a promise to myself, on this blog post, that I will:
- continue working on my AO3 WIPs as I am able; I am a full-time, part-time writer, after all.
- decide whether my city witches idea debt might pay off this November during NaNoWriMo. Did I mention that I’m participating in that this year? Hey, I’m participating in that this year!
…and with that, I think I’ve just about reached the end of this blog post. Let’s end by highlighting what’s on the radio.
- Beyond Words: What Animals Think And Feel, by Carl Safina
- Lore Podcast: Supply and Demand, hosted by Aaron Mahnke