Friday, June 15, 2012

Scarcity Mentality vs. The Abundance of Ideas

Writers get asked all the time, "Where do you get your ideas?"

To most active writers, ideas are easy. They flow faster than we have time to write them. Anyone can get ideas. 

Some people seem to have a zero-sum notion of ideas, that there is a set number, and once those run out, they're all gone. This leads to lots of idea-stifling behaviors. It is a notion that proves itself. Imagine if we had a scarcity notion about muscles, that each of us has a top limit on the number of motions we can make, or pounds we can lift. We'd all sit around because we think it's healthy; meanwhile our muscles atrophy, and sure enough, after walking a few paces, we'd collapse, having "run out" of muscles.

Ridiculous, yet it is something most people believe about a muscle we call the "brain".

Like any other muscle, the Ideaceps Major gets stronger the more you flex it. The brain only likes to do work that it thinks you find useful. All ideas need are a little attention, a little appreciation. Don't judge your ideas, don't stuff them away. Just jot them down, or reflect on them for a moment and thank them for being so brilliant. Your brain will kicks in and give you more. It's that simple.

Let's look at some idea-stifling behaviors that come from zero-sum thinking:

The Unworthy

Some think good ideas only come to those magically blessed to receive them. They believe themselves unworthy for inspiration. When an idea pops into An Unworthy's head, she thinks, What a stupid idea! After such abuse, her brain naturally assumes that thinking of ideas is a useless skill, so it resorts to thinking up ideas rarely, and only on accident.

The Hoarder

Hoarders get ideas that they think are good. In fact, they think they're such good ideas, they grow paranoid, afraid someone will steal them. So they keep them secret.

This comes from the mistaken belief that ideas are unique. Once an idea is given to one person, it is reserved forever, as if the idea gets patented right then and there, restricted from anyone else's use. No one else could possibly think of such a good idea simultaneously.

I used to be a hoarder. I've had dozens of million-dollar ideas I kept to myself. A year or two later I would see my product idea on the store shelf, or my story idea in someone else's book. eCigs? Yeah, I thought of those. I didn't know a thing about atomizers, but I imagined a delivery system of flavored nicotine that looked cool without the smoke, that would come in all colors. I even thought of the LED to simulate the ember.

Ideas are out there for the picking. Just because I think something up doesn't mean it's mine. Someone else will think of it, too.

The Perfectionist

Some hoarders keep their ideas in reserve for "someday". I'm not talking about those who have so many ideas they have to pick and choose which ones to work on – I'm talking about people who have one or two great ideas, but wait for the day when they can get it perfect. The idea gets put away, never to be seen again.

This also stems from the zero-sum notion. This is my one perfect idea. This is my Ringworld or Snowcrash or Foundation, and it will make me rich and famous.

An idea is just a small piece of the craft. There's prose, pacing, setting, characters, plot, editing, grammar, and voice. When the idea is so perfect, the other ingredients may feel unworthy. It is tempting to put a good idea on the shelf until the perfect time, when the stars align.

Sometimes as I write, I am tempted to reject an idea for a character, or setting, or twist that otherwise fits. Why? Because it seems too perfect, to "big" for the story at hand. I may be tempted to save that idea for later. Oh, I think, That twist is far too cool to throw away on a simple scene in this novel. I should save it for a story all of its own!

But I know better. I fight this temptation. If this story inspired that idea, it belongs here. That idea has some magic to it, some energy. If I set it on the backburner for the day when I can supposedly do it justice, it will grow stale, and possibly die completely. My current project will want for lack of that energy.


Trust. Trust that ideas will always be available. Those ideas are here for me today, and new ideas will be there for me tomorrow. As I reward my brain by giving its ideas life, so it will reward me.

There is no upper limit on the number of ideas I will have in my lifetime. Time is the real limitation, an actual zero-sum. I flex my Ideaceps Major all the time and my brain has given me notebooks full of seeds. There is no end to material I can work on, as long as I keep working. That's the hard part. That's the limited resource. Time and work.

Ideas don't make success. Success comes from the implementation and marketing of those ideas. That is much more difficult. There's a reason why eCig-makers in China are raking in the dough for my idea. Let them. I don't care. Lots of people think up the same ideas at the same time, and he who acts on it wins. That guy in China put in all the work, and I can buy an eCig and puff away. I get to use their inventions or read their stories and not have to invent or write it myself.

I've got plenty of other ideas I can act on.

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