On not having any ideas

Why is it that all my best writing ideas happen when I’m driving a car? I don’t even like driving.

It’s been like this for as long as I could drive. Wait… it’s been like this for as long as I could write. When I’m cleaning, or walking, or driving, I have so many ideas. And they are all so good! But of course I’m doing something, and I don’t write them down, and I don’t remember them when I might write them down. And I’m no beginner, so I’ve learned from my forgetting, and now I often make a voice memo or tell Alexa or take a note on my notes app or the back of my hand.

Later, when I sit down to write, I look at those notes and forget what I meant. Or I remember, but the ideas seem much dumber than I remembered. Notes or no, when I’m sitting with my open notebook or at the keyboard, I hate everything I write. It feels like I have no ideas.

For so much of my teaching career, I couldn’t understand what kids meant when they said they had “no ideas.” What do you mean, no ideas? Everyone has ideas. I’m having tons right now. Brains are electrical idea cauldrons, with more ideas bubbling up than we can even grab onto and think about. At least that’s how it’s always felt to me. How can they have no ideas?

But now, having found myself feeling I had no ideas and even saying I had no ideas, I have some ideas about ideas.

I now understand my writers, kids and adults and basically everyone who’s felt they had no ideas, much better. When they say they have no ideas, they mean one of at least these two things. One, they have ideas, but they’re like the ones I make in my notes: they seem less good now, and the writer becomes afraid of going with them, for fear of looking stupid. This isn’t a writing problem, or an ideas problem, it’s a guts problem. I know this one well.

Two, they haven’t actually started trying to write yet, but they are scared they won’t have any ideas when they do. So, they don’t start trying. This isn’t a writing problem either, and if it’s an ideas problem, it’s not lack of ideas at all but simply a delay in ideas. And the delay is caused by fear. So, again, a guts problem.

Ideas don’t come when we’re doing nothing but waiting for ideas to come. They come when we’re doing something. Like driving, or cleaning, or walking. Or, they come when we’re doing something like…writing! Yes! We usually need to start writing in order for the ideas faucet to really turn on.

Or, clean or walk or drive or shower or something. Live. Do things. Notice how ideas come.

Then, the guts problem. If you don’t have the guts to go with the ideas that surely come, think on this: what other ideas do you have? Probably none except for the ones that you do have. So, guts or no… might as well go with those.

By the way, when I opened this Post window and started typing, I had no idea what I would write. I remembered having some good ideas while driving this afternoon, but they didn’t seem so good after all. I sat doing nothing. Finally I started typing. And here we are!

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

7 thoughts on “On not having any ideas

  1. I always get my best ideas when I’m running/walking. I always aim to remember or jot them down but rarely get that done. Great post!

  2. This is true! Whenever I have a great idea, I can’t write it down so can’t remember it when it’s time to write. And look at the amazing post you made! It helps me connect to my students, also. Usually, if I can talk them through their “I don’t have anything to write about”, they are super surprised that they actually can write something really good.

  3. I am like this too – so many things to write until I sit down to write!! And when I do remember to make a note for myself … it rarely makes sense and is never amazing… 🙁

    1. But then your piece makes a good point —- just start writing and you will write. The ideas will come.
      If you write it, the ideas will come!

  4. I need to print your post and leave it anywhere that I tend to sit when I write. This is me, too – the whole post. Thanks for being vulnerable and reminding us that we DO have ideas and we just need to start.

  5. You have captured so much of the mystery of writing here – the need to simply start writing, typing, doing it. I am often amazed by the extraordinary writing I do at the sink or on a walk…and how bland it feels at the keyboard. Hahaha You nail it succinctly with these words – “they seem less good now.” Thank you for this!

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