Once upon a time, Nathan Novelist came up with a new story idea, one that was so thrilling, he just had to tell someone all about it.
It’s natural, after all, to seek validation from our peers, to be told that we’re doing great, to be assured that we’re not just wandering alone down some dark, desolate road, into the great unknown.
So Nathan Novelist logged into his favorite online writing community, and he made a new post. “So get this,” he wrote, “I’ve got a character in mind who can travel through time with a special backpack. But then he goes into some bleak, dystopian future, and he LOSES his backpack! So now he’s stuck in some strange, horrible timeline, without any way to get home, and then . . . and then . . .”
The problem with this is, the more Nathan blabs about his awesome story idea, the more he’s depleting his creative momentum.
We can view story ideas as a form of potential energy, even—like a tightly wound ball of electrified bands. They have the ability to unravel and spread, to expand and morph into new forms of life . . . much like how our universe was created.
But once Nathan Novelist starts talking about his story idea, he’s already begun the process of untying that knot. Now all that stored energy is being dispersed into his conversation about the concept, instead of being expelled in the proper direction: onto the blank page itself.
This might seem like a minor point, but creative energy and motivation are fickle things. Crucial things, even. They’re like the annoying housefly that you keep trying to catch, but every time you try to sneak up on it, it flits away with a bug-like cackle. Which is to say: this kind of energy is already elusive. Why give it any more reason to flutter out of your grasp?
What Nathan Novelist should do is harness all that excitement and channel it directly into prose—and to not tell a soul about his story until he’s already started writing it. Or, even better: to wait until he’s finished writing it, before telling everyone about it.
You’ll see this kind of advice in various walks of life, from exercise gurus to investment advisers, to creative instructors and especially from life coaches: don’t talk about what you want to accomplish—just effing DO it.
Because talk is cheap. You can talk all about your fantasies, to your heart’s content (and indeed, that’s exactly what most of us do). But that’s because there’s very little cost to do so. It’s easier to describe what you want to achieve, than it is to actually do it.
So to the Nathan Novelists out there (and aren’t we all Nathan Novelist, in a way?), I say: don’t tell us about your awesome idea. Go create it, instead. In the end, the satisfaction you’ll get from actually seeing that concept to completion will be light years greater than the tiny spurt of validation that you get from talking about it.
As that old philosophical maxim goes: “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” And sure, I suppose we could argue that this expression is simply about hiking safely in bear-infested woods. “Don’t make too much noise, you moron. And carry a weapon, too!” But I prefer the deeper meaning. Have big ideas. Pursue them vigorously. And resist the masturbatory urge to blab all about them, instead of actually doing the work.
And so, in typical form, I once again leave you with an awkward departure: Stay bold, my ambitious ally. Your grand ideas await.