By Linda O. Johnston
What do writers do with old ideas? That depends!
As I mentioned last time I was here, I have been fortunate enough to be traditionally published a lot. But that doesn’t mean that every idea I had made it into a book, or even a novella or short story.
When I started writing–well, when I really started writing, as a kid, I had to type things up on a typewriter. What’s that, some of you ask? It’s the forerunner of our computers and high tech gadgets of today. Even when I started writing on a computer, it was easier to keep printed copies of my ideas and how I’d fleshed them out into at least the beginning of stories. Could I have saved them on disks and other techie devices? Yes, I did that too, some of the time. But it seemed easier then to hang on to stuff that I’d sent to my printer.
And now, my mind remains full of ideas, and I’m always creating new computer files to keep track of them, even if their only existence remains in idea files that I struggle to ensure are backed up, just in case I turn back to them ready to write. I organize them in general topics–some for mysteries, some for romances, some combined, and lots involving dogs. And yes, there are others that don’t fit into those categories.
So why am I thinking about this now? Well, I was communicating recently with a really nice business associate. She’d recently gone somewhere and seen some wild dolphins.
Which reminded me of one of my earliest ideas that I’m still highly fond of. Yes, it involved dolphins. And I thought back then that it would be one of my most cherished published novels someday. Only… it didn’t get published. It didn’t even get fully written. The good thing was that my story’s concept involved changing the world so that no dolphins got killed in tuna nets, as they did in huge numbers when I started the story. And lo and behold, some of the laws actually changed while I was writing it. Did the change save all dolphins? No. Sure, more dolphins were saved than before. But the change wasn’t international, and even in waters near here, in the U.S., the protections weren’t perfect, so not all dolphins were saved from that kind of murder. But my concept wouldn’t have made sense any longer.
Even so, that’s still a treasured idea. I’m delighted, though, that the main reason I walked away from it was a really good one–that dolphins actually were at least somewhat protected.
Could I do something different with it now? Maybe–and the fact that the idea is now back toward the front of my brain at least means it’s scratching at my skull. But what about all those other ideas I’ve had over the years–like some involving dogs that I began, then elbowed aside because of other stories I was writing that I received contracts for?
Okay, that’s really part of the fun of being a writer. Our minds are always working and coming up with ideas and creating scenarios and… Well, you get it, especially if you’re a writer.
So… tell us here about some of your old ideas that never made it into a finished work– and what became of them.
Thanks for dropping by, Linda O. Johnston
14 thoughts on “Old Ideas–Love ‘Em!”
Linda, illuminating! My old ideas never die. I do keep thinking about them now and then and resolve to put them to use. I find that many insert themselves into current writing projects, whether books or articles, so all is not lost. Thanks for the blog, always fun to enter into a mystery writer’s mind.
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How great that you actually do use some of your old ideas in new stuff you’re writing now! I’ll have to consider that, too.
Old ideas can be gold. When I was in high school I wrote the beginning of what I thought would be a novel. I wrote a little bit on it every day, but never got very far. I saved those first few pages and dug them up a few years ago. They are now the opening of Second Chance, the collection of short stories I wrote last year. Yep, sometimes those words have a “second chance.”
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That’s great that you’ve used a favorite old idea, too! Yes, I’d better consider that. 🙂
Sadly, most of my ideas never get written. I just think… wow, that’d be cool if…then I smile and nod and … well that’s all. When I need to write a short story, gulp, I have to think up new stuff by brainstorming or asking for suggestions, like the new Fall Writing Contest I entered with a theme of MONSTER. Yikes! I’ve never written about an actual monster (are there any?) and other kinds of hideous personal things… well, I don’t like that stuff. Now the movie “Monsters, Inc.” was really cute, but I think the contest is looking for horror. I may have to pass.
Hey, Linda… got any monster ideas that you don’t need back in those files?
Hmmm. I used to be much more into horror than I am now. No old ideas come to mind, but if they do I’ll let you know!
Great post, you started me down memory lane, typewriters, computers, computer and software advancements–yes, there are still typed pages, floppy disks, hard disks, and tapes in a drawer somewhere…these days on my tablet I record my thoughts and ideas into a microphone picture! I have actually recycled old ideas/stories from the dark-ages into current day (smile), one was actually published in CWC’s Literary Magazine when it started up a few years back. I must admit though, most of what I think about are new ideas…(or maybe they’re old ones coming back? (smile))
Enjoyable and thought provoking post!
I do like that kind of recycling–but identify with running with new ideas these days!
Old ideas never die, they just get put away for another day. I’ve resurrected incomplete manuscripts and taken scraps of ideas and inserted them into other stories. Sometimes all you need is the right trigger to figure out what didn’t work before. For me, it was a high-tech mystery/thriller I began in the early 90’s. At the time I didn’t know enough about computer technology to make it plausible. However, what would have been cutting edge back then has become everyday; even I understand it. That shelved storyline will be my next project.
How great that changes in technology and your knowledge about it makes an old idea you care about potentially one to work with now!
Your post made me think, Linda. I’m ashamed to admit that my ideas – – old or new – – are stored in my mind. I either use them in a current work or discard them but don’t jot them down until I am in the actual process of writing. Sometimes a long ago rejection pops back into my mind, demanding attention. I guess this goes in the same “drawer” as the fact that I don’t outline.
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If I don’t note things on the computer or otherwise, I get perturbed with myself for–most likely–not recalling them. Of course there are so many that I have to hunt for any that I do recall and want to check out again! But I admire you–and also figure that your mind is so full of new ideas that the older ones don’t demand your attention much.
I have digital and paper files full of ideas. Fragments of them work their ways into my stories. I especially like advice columns, which teem with stories of conflict. Take that mother-in-law who snubs her son’s new bride new wife—perhaps there are althernative ways to deal with her!
Great idea! And in fact it’s always fun to figure out where ideas come from now, or in the past. Advice columns sound like a good trigger for ideas.
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