Fighting your fears to build good ideas

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...

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This past week and next we’re all writing about some aspect of ideas on this blog, and I’m going to take my shot at three fears that I face around ideas.

My ideas aren’t very original!

This might be the most common fear based on discussions I have with other writers. I have an idea, but… well, it doesn’t really get me excited. It’s an idea, sure, but it isn’t anything that exciting. I’m pretty sure others have thought of this before me, and in all likelihood they were smarter and better writers than me so could do more with it.

What I’ve learned is that I’m often way too critical of my initial ideas, but even when they really aren’t that great they frequently lead to something that is. So I will dutifully write them down in my notebook, sometimes with a shrug, and come back to them later. My best screenplay came from a random, silly idea that I wrote down and slowly grew and nurtured.  Take all the ideas you get as gifts – there may be more to them after you unwrap them.

People will laugh at my ideas!

Orangutan in Aalborg Zoo, Denmark

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This happens to me. A lot.  But I come up with silly ideas and have a tendency (perhaps quite under-restrained) to share them quite broadly. In most cases I have a thick skin about it, but sometimes I care about an idea so much, I get hesitant to share it for fear of the reaction it might create. What if my mental Emperor has no clothes?  So the ideas I end up sharing the least are the ones I like the most. Pretty brilliant, eh?

I’m also not unique in this wonderful problem. Nearly every I’ve ever spoken with at length tells me, at some point, of this idea they have they really like but don’t know what to do with, that they’re not ready to share, and they will tell me about at some point when they have polished it up a bit. I rarely ever get that polished version.  Maybe it is only in the Misery Loves Company category, but it helps me to know that others struggle with this, too.

Getting around this fear requires some trust. What helped me is connecting with some fellow writers who will be supportive of what I’m trying to do without shining me on.  If my brilliant idea sucks, I still want to hear that, but I also need ideas how to make it better, stronger, faster.  I have the technology, so how can I rebuild it?  Knowing that others are there to help makes a huge difference.

My ideas will stop coming!

I used to do short-form comedic improv, and I’d often wonder where my ideas were coming from. I had no time to “think” about what I would say; I’d just react.  Often nothing of note would come from my mouth, but other times something downright brilliant would emerge and I’d be as stunned as everybody else. Of all the ancient Gods and spirits, I probably understand best why people believed in the Muses. How can these ideas just appear in our heads?  From whence do they come? And… oh God… what if they stop?!?

To combat this one… I’ve got nothing. I don’t believe any supernatural woo-woo is giving me ideas, but neither do I know any scientific process. What if there is one super-tired neuron in my brain that mutated so badly it puts out weird signals that the rest of the brain can barely understand?  What if that neuron has only two minutes left before it burns out?  Other than meaning I better wrap up this post quickly, there is nothing I can do about it.  I face my bouts of writer’s block or stuckness when they came, but just keep plowing along and hoping that neuron is eating right and getting plenty of rest.

Keep at it

In the end, coming up with good ideas is a process.  Sometimes you have to build them from scraps, sometimes you need others’ help, and sometimes you just plow through. You just have to keep at it, and don’t let your fears get in your way.

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Black Widow Spider – Reaching into unknown corners

Black WidowI found this black widow spider while cleaning my grill about a month ago. I reached underneath to turn on the propane (about six inches to the right of this picture) and felt some spider webs. Annoyed about having to clean it out before using the grill, I opened the door and saw the little creature pictured. It was hanging by what I assume is a giant egg sac, and was turned so that its telling red markings were pointed right at me.

I freaked.

I’m not afraid of spiders as a rule, and having lived in the desert southwest for 25+ years I have encountered about every nasty creature out here, including scorpions, widows, brown recluses, and rattlesnakes. What got me was how close I had been to just blindly grabbing what was, and I am not exaggerating, the largest black widow I have ever seen. It was the knowledge that my blind groping into unseen corners almost made my day a tad bit worse than just having a dusty grill.

I think it is that fear of the unknown that often cripples writers. The most common question writers get is “Where do your ideas come from?”.  They don’t know.  None of us do. They come from the dark parts of our brain when we start reaching there blindly. We feel around for something we can’t name, and pull pieces together into a coherent whole (we hope).  But what if you reach in there and nothing comes out? Or what if it is trash? Or what if you get bitten?

It leads to a whole list of secondary excuses for not writing, of not challenging yourself, of not trying something risky.  Really it’s about fear. If you never go under the grill, you’ll never get bitten.

In this case, after I came down off the roof and took the picture with my iPhone, I squished the spider and the egg sac into gooey bits. I hosed the hell out of the grill, then got back to cooking the steaks. They came out great.  I may be stretching the metaphor a bit here, but you can’t get the juicy steak if you don’t reach under that grill.