When I first heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I thought it sounded like quite the novel idea: commit a full month to putting words to paper and by the end of it you have a first draft of a book. While my first year was quite the challenge, once I had completed it, I knew it was in the realm of possibilities. Even though writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge, I was already starting to think of ideas on how to break up this daunting task into smaller, more manageable chunks. One of my ideas was to write about my experiences on Colorado’s 14,000+ ft. peaks (known locally as “the Fourteeners”). Since there are 58 named peaks above 14,000 feet, I would have to only write 863 words about each mountain to accomplish the NaNoWriMo challenge. As a result, I will be writing the first draft of the aforementioned “Fourteener” book this November.
Ideas are easy, what’s difficult is ideas that are big enough.
Because writing a novel in a month is no longer an impossibility for me, the challenge now comes in thinking up ideas that could adequately fill the required wordcount. In college, I wrote a number of short stories covering a variety of topics. Most of them were exploring little “what if” ideas, and only a few of them I felt were any good (most were just random rants in a fictional framework). Now that I knew how large an idea I would need to write a novel, I needed to think bigger than the short stories I had written before.
One of the ideas I had for a novel involved a character receiving letters from pen pals in all 50 states. If you do the math, I’d only have to write fifty 1,000-word letters to reach the NaNoWriMo goal. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to this idea other than perhaps having a few of the letters written by some of the main character’s multiple personalities. Consequently, I tucked the idea for 50 Pen Pals away and didn’t think much of it as more interesting and cohesive ideas came to the front of my writing schedule.
Sometimes an idea needs to remain dormant before it can become useful.
Fast forward to 2016. I’m on the cusp of writing my seventh book, and it’s been many years since I originally thought of the idea for 50 Pen Pals. It was at this point when I saw the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s Split (2017). This trailer gave me a spark for a much better idea. Part of me remembered the idea for 50 Pen Pals I wrote down in a Microsoft Word document ages ago. I didn’t think I’d ever get to write it, since it was such a loose idea, but upon receiving that ignition from the movie trailer, my mind was set ablaze with a multitude of ideas. Fortunately, I had a loose structure I could feed them into, and a few pages of notes later 50 Pen Pals morphed into The Fortnight.
Now, you might ask yourself if I could have come up with the ideas for The Fortnight without having the initial idea for 50 Pen Pals. Maybe. The point is, I always keep my ideas, no matter how small they may be.
What idea have you not used yet?
Have you ever considered getting rid of it?