Ask Dayton #89 on the G and T Show: “Sometimes, Ideas Suck.”

Hey! It’s Sunday again, which means another freshly baked episode of the Sunday G and T Show, with Nick Minecci, Terry Lynn Shull and Mike Medeiros talking about Star Trek…more or less.

Since I opted to sleep in and then get to work trying to cram in some writing in and around shoveling snow, I didn’t listen to the live show, so I have no frappin’ clue what they may have discussed. I’ll catch up later today or tomorrow with the replay. NO SPOILERS, PEOPLE.

However, I did get to answer a new, interesting “Ask Dayton” query this week:

Dear Dayton,

My recent foray into the sadist masochist endeavor referred as NaNoWriMo has ended in failure. I’ve been wondering: have you ever derailed yourself when writing a novel or story? Where the story you planned to write end up somewhere completely unexpected, and left you wondering “WTF? Where the hell did that come from?” How did you cope? Did you still finish the project? Did it turn out better or worse for it? And, can you offer any advice to would-be scriveners to help us get back on track?

Thanks, Dayton.

It happens to the best of us. We start off with what we think is a totally bitchin’ idea. It consumes us for days, maybe even weeks, until we finally sit our asses down and put fingers to keys (or pens to paper, if you’re kicking it old school). Perhaps we go along our merry way, happily committing words to the page until at some point, our fingers, our brains, our self-worth, our growing sense that perhaps our writing energies would be better served if they were channeled into scribbling dirty limericks on the walls of truck stop bathrooms—everything—runs right off the rails and deep into the weeds.

Welcome to the world of writing, my friend. Shit’s hard, ain’t it?

I’m always amused when somebody tells me, “Hey I’ve got this great idea for a story.” It’s so cute when they do that. Okay, so you’ve got an idea. Now what? Ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere. Coming up with “an idea” is the easiest part of the writing process. It’s when you start to examine that idea—poking at it, pulling it apart, rearranging its pieces, figuring out if it can stand on its own or if it needs help from something else—that the hard work really gets underway.

What sounds good at the TV Guide synopsis level may end up being a puddle of warm monkey piss once you start seeing what makes it tick, what’s under the hood, and any other half-assed allegory you’d care to use here. There are going to be those times when you find yourself gripped by the overwhelming desire to just tape down your backspace key, so that it can erase from existence everything you’ve ever done while you wander down to the bar and shotgun a fifth of Jack Daniel’s.

Or, as I like to call it, “yesterday.”

Generally speaking, if you’ve hit this kind of wall, more often than not it’s because you didn’t do any of that idea poking, pulling, rearranging, and whatnot I mentioned earlier. You didn’t give the idea a chance to percolate, to marinate, to breathe.

Wow. I’m really just overdosing on metaphorical horseshit today, aren’t I?

On the other hand, there are those wondrous occasions when you start working to flesh out an idea and you soon realize that the story is taking on a life of its own, growing beyond the initial spark and heading off in all sorts of crazy, exciting directions, and sometimes it’s doing stuff you never imagined in the first place. The words are spilling out of your brain so fast your fingers are cramping from trying to keep up or, for you aforementioned old-school types, your pen is calling for a timeout because you’re about to set fire to the paper from the friction.

In either case, the good or the bad, the only way to figure out which way your idea’s going to go is to do the work. That’s why I have so little patience for people who tell me they want to be a writer and they’ve got all these great ideas, but they never seem to actually be writing anything. They’re always looking for the fast lane to success. There are no short cuts, silver bullets, golden tickets, magic beans or express passes. We have to work at it, and a lot of times it’s going to suck, or at least feel a whole lot like it sucks, but you learn to push through it and get the job done. If you’re doing this for anything other than your own satisfaction, you’re probably dealing with a deadline and/or a contract. The people at the other end of those things usually aren’t impressed with responses like, “Oh, well I just couldn’t make it happen.” You make it happen. Period. It really is just that simple.

Simple to say, that is. The actual work’s a bitch.

Sure, it’s a lot easier when everything’s clicking, but it’s what you do when nothing seems to be working that separates the writers from the wannabes. Writers always have more ideas than they’ll ever have time to write, so if something’s not working you either figure out how to fix it or else you kick that bastard down the stairs or out an airlock and move on to the next thing. That’s the upside to ideas: there’s always another one coming along to fill the gap soon enough.

Welcome to the world of writing, my friend. Shit’s hard, but it’s so worth it.

This question and its answer was read during G&T Show Episode #124 on December 22nd, 2013. You can hear Nick read the answers each week by listening live, or check out the replay/download options when the episode is loaded to their website: The Sunday G&T Show. Listeners are also encouraged to send in their own questions, one of which will be sent to me each week for a future episode.

Thanks as always to Nick, Terry and Mike and the audience for continuing to make me a part of their show.


2 thoughts on “Ask Dayton #89 on the G and T Show: “Sometimes, Ideas Suck.”

  1. Yup. Wise words from a wise man indeed. Dreamers who realize the truth of Dayton’s words here and “do the work” can think of themselves as writers. It’s the only way any story (also a word used by journalists) gets written. Okay: Pencils up… Ready… Set… G… o!


Lay it on me.

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