We all have a lot of ideas. Not all of them are good ideas, and many get discarded. But for writers and other creative types, if you can find a way to squirrel away even your bad ideas, you can have some serious benefits.
Permit me an analogy. I’m in the middle of my first pregnancy (the first trimester of morning sickness is why I fell off the grid for several months). I also desperately need to exercise, and I currently live in the middle of West Texas, so I’m doomed to day after day of temperatures above 100 degrees. A simple solution: go to the pool down the road and swim laps to my heart’s content. Unfortunately, that means finding a swim suit that accommodates my five-months-pregnant belly (I currently have a rather penguin-like silhouette).
However, I swam all through high school, played water polo for four years, and I lifeguarded and taught swim lessons all through college, so I’ve gone through my fair share of swim suits. Buying one I’ll only wear while pregnant is an expense that will irritate me. I’m also a bit of a pack rat, so I don’t think I’ve thrown away more than two of the suits I’ve owned since age 15. Most of the suits are either semi-translucent (or transparent) and/or have tears at the seams (wear depends on the type of fabric the suit is made of). But I’ve never been able to feel good about throwing a suit away, so I keep them all stashed in a mesh bag in my closet.
Having all those less-than-ideal suits around has paid off: when I combine two or three semi-transparent and semi-worn-out suits, the result is one fully opaque suit that has room for my current belly. Chlorine, here I come!
The same principle applies to writing ideas. Even if one isolated idea can’t carry its own story or essay, that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Be a pack rat: Stash the idea in a writing notebook, type it up in a random note file on your computer, or even write it on a slip of paper and bury it in a mason jar. If you can find a place to stash your ideas, even your bad ones, you can’t lose.
Worst-case Scenario: If the idea doesn’t ever pan out, you’ve created a habit of recording your ideas and inspirations. That means that when you do have ideas that will pan out, you already have a system set up to capture them.
Best-case Scenario: You later realize that the idea wasn’t so bad after all, and if you tweak it just so, you can write something brilliant.
Middle-of-the-Road Scenario: If you put two or three less-than-complete ideas together, you could very well end up with something stellar and adaptable. Pieces of ideas are easier to adapt to new circumstances and requirements than complete, fully formed story or essay ideas (just as partially worn-out swim suits are better at accommodating huge body changes).
So come up with a notebook, file, or container for your ideas and start a habit of being an idea pack rat. Even if that pack-rat system is just a mesh bag in your closet, you may be surprised at what you’re glad you held onto.