Do You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault?

Spend more time making your project happen, and less time thinking about it.

rationing your ideas

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

I recently read incredibly wise advice from artist Jessica Abel on “idea debt.” In a nutshell, it means spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about your dream project rather than making that project—a process that becomes crippling over time.

Similarly, Benjamin Percy recently wrote at Glimmer Train about how writers can be like “misers with their money” when it comes to ideas—and how ultimately that behavior can prevent you from producing great work. Once he was willing to go “all in” and not hold back (for fear of emptying the well), he produced a great piece of work that made him stop any form of rationing:

The writer is always a careful observer, but if you are constantly evacuating your imagination, your eyes and ears grow even sharper, and you lean forward with hunger for every experience, knowing that it will offer up a card to add to your hand.

Read Percy’s full essay.

Also this month at Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Benjamin Thomas

Very interesting article here. I’ve found a common “pathological” pattern that writers have. Where they kind of hoard their ideas in their head for extended periods of time. Some of those ideas, viable or not, never see the light of day. Ann Janzer in her book the Writing Process, calls this the incubation period. Where you consider and ponder upon your ideas until the next phase. But sometimes the next phase never comes! Recently I heard some writers had ideas stuck in their heads for over a decade. There’s some kind of resistance across the “membrane” of imagination to the… Read more »

[…] Writers can be like misers with their money when it comes to ideas—and ultimately that behavior can prevent you from producing great work.  […]

Christina Katz

My experience is the opposite of this. I have so many ideas that the challenge becomes how to execute them all. There is only one solution and that is to execute one idea at a time. This can feel frustrating in the short run because what about all of the other ideas that are not being actualized? But the greater results can be seen in the rear view mirror, and if I can remember that, then I can focus on the projects on hand today.

Michael LaRocca

This is how I differ from the author of a series. (I mean no offense to them when I say that, because there are several series I enjoy reading.) When I finish writing a novel, my vault is empty. Stone cold bare. There’s nothing, not even a scrap of an idea. Then I have to go live for a while until the act of living gives me more stuff to write about.

[…] Do You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault? by @janefriedman […]

[…] You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault? (Benjamin Percy for Train): “For every story or essay or poem you write, you withdraw one image, two characters, maybe […]