When you’re a writer, ideas seem to sneak up on you at some of the most inopportune moments. While you’re off pretending to be a normal, social member of society, an idea may suddenly flash across your brain in bright neon lights. You race away, jotting down notes as quickly as possible in an effort to save this fragile light bulb, knowing that so many have (POOF) vanished before you could even find a pen. Of course, you’re certain those lost revelations are the ones that would have made you a Best Seller. Of course.
But, what of all of the scraps and scribblings you’ve collected over the years that just kind of, collect? These may be the ones that never graduate from napkin to screen, or the ones you sometimes puzzle over in the dark of night (Why did I write “killer muffin” on the back of this receipt?).
These become your misfit ideas — the poor, neglected flickers of brilliance that never seem to fit no matter what you do.
I have an entire cabinet of them.
During my junior year in college, I studied abroad for a semester with my university’s pack of English and creative writing majors. As part of the program, we had to arrive three weeks early in order to take a class on our host country’s culture. Another group of Americans was also taking the course — students from a smaller college in the south where many came from more rural areas.
There was one freckled, red-haired, drawling young man who mesmerized all of us with his small-town charm. He was sweet and extremely intelligent, but also made you wonder if he had indoor plumbing at home. His jeans were beaten and faded (though not on purpose), and he wore them every single day for five months straight. Oh, and the brand of the jeans was Pepe — which for some reason he made sure to point out to us on a regular basis.
We loved this boy, and during class breaks we created a ballad of sorts — a sincere, but funny, ode to our new friend. We called it, “Small Town Boy in Pepe Jeans.” We wrote verse after verse, and thought ourselves quite brilliant and hilarious (because when you’re 19 and 20, you are nothing but brilliant and hilarious). Pepe boy seemed to agree.
Since then, Pepe boy has permeated my failed misfit undertakings: I’ve written short stories, poems, character sketches and a novel synopsis all stemming back to this one person — this one time in my past.
But, they never quite work.
In the holiday classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, there is an Island of Misfit Toys where all of the unused play-things patiently sit, waiting for the right home. My Cabinet O’ Ideas has become this same kind of island for all of my unrealized creations — a kind of writerly purgatory. Pepe boy is a comfortable inhabitant here.
This holding onto misfit ideas is not for writers alone. What about the teacher with an innovative lesson plan, the architect with a forward design, or the CFO with a dream for his own business? I imagine their ideas go to a similar place. It takes time, patience and major backbone waiting for that right moment to come.
And, it could take an acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, it’s OK to leave those ideas stranded.