Letting It Go: Knowing When To Let Go of an Idea

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I won’t let an idea die.

I have a litany of former websites, social media accounts, files on at least three different computers (along with my Google drive, thumb drives, and CDs), and an entire bottom drawer of a file cabinet overflowing with underdeveloped ideas. All of these ideas I keep in the vain hope that I have the time to finish working on all of them. No matter how terrible the idea is. No matter how much is left to work on. It doesn’t matter if I started the idea in fifth grade or a month ago — I plan on getting back to all of them.

In her poem, Stillborn, Sylvia Plath professes on the theme of idea creation and propagation. Fostering her thoughts from the point of being only ideas and slowly turning them into actual poems. She compares this process to raising a child: taking the time to give the ideas life, develop them, and care for them.

Then, her poem takes a turn. Instead of talking about the creation of the ideas she talks about letting them die. Plath writes of how some of her creations, no matter how much they have been developed, must be let go. She speaks of how difficult it is to allow an idea on which you have spent so much time wither and die.

Letting ideas die is difficult, to say the least. Letting ideas go that I have been working on for years — allowing those ideas disappear and never working on them again — is incredibly hard to do.

But sometimes it’s something you have to do. I had a wake up call a week or so ago with one of the pieces of writing that I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been writing on and off for some four years now. It’s my personal attempt at the “Great American Novel.”

Zach and I were talking about the blog and hockey and writing (our usually three topics). I told him about a book that I am working on, one that I have tentatively called Drowning Man. He asked me some questions about characters, pacing, plot, and theme. I would love to say that I answered all the questions with great knowledge of what I was writing — but I didn’t.

Truth be told, I couldn’t answer any of the questions he asked. The more and more I thought about it, and the more and more that I thought about working on Drowning Man, the more I thought about letting it go. And not just my usual letting it go. Not just letting it go for a month or a year and coming back to it later. No, this time I gave serious thought to giving up on it entirely.

But, like I said before, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to give up on something that you have invested so much time on. Like Plath says, it’s almost as though a piece of writing is your child. You have raised it from infancy, and you want to see it grow and be successfully released it into the world.

Some ideas, though, aren’t worth releasing.

I’m usually the kind of guy who likes to clean out his home of extra junk. I don’t like being over-burdened with extra stuff. If I haven’t used an item in a year I usually get rid of it. Give it to Goodwill — goodbye forever!

For some reason, some reason completely beyond me, I can’t do that with my writing. As Plath says, “They smile and smile and smile and smile at me.” They are my creations and they have some inescapable hold over me. To let them wither off into the ether. To see my creations disappear, it is an incredibly terrible thought. To never be able to see their smiling faces again.

But it’s spring, and perhaps it is time to take a good long look at the ideas I have sitting around. Maybe I’ll be able to get rid of a few and clear some space.

Maybe.

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