Stranded on the Island of Misfit Ideas

 bright ideas,bulbs,households,ideas,inspirations,light bulbs,lights,metaphors,Photographs,piles

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.

24 thoughts on “Stranded on the Island of Misfit Ideas”

  1. I love the pile of light bulbs! Ha! PERFECT! The frozen island is very Rudolph-like and appropriate, also. I do hope it’s okay to leave those misfit ideas on the island. I rarely go back there to sift them out.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing…


  2. Oh, you live in my head. I know, I know, it’s as if I’m watching life through a reality TV filming. Everything is a potential scenario to me. Everything. I have those little notebooks–the ones They sell at WalMart, 500 for 2 bucks, all over the place. My purse, my van, my counter, my kitchen, my coat pockets…in the case of a potential moment. I have 500 potential moments seedlings written down with a nubby pencil everywhere.

    The photo of all those light bulbs is so clever.


    1. Oh, those notebooks! I have half-used notebooks everywhere, too. And, mixed in with ideas are grocery lists, To-Do lists…they are a mess. I work better on old receipts, anyway.


  3. funny! and true…so, so, terribly true.
    see? I’ve looked away from the nanowrimo pages…
    but I am glad I stopped by for a visit.
    off to write more about Death (I named her Mara) and Sarina. It’s really, really bad.


  4. I have a novel that is about 90% finished but will never see the light of day. Another that has one short chapter written, ideas for others in a heap on scraps of paper with random titles. All of these are cavorting in a pile on a shelf behind my printer. By now, they have probably created their own universe.


  5. Great post! I found myself smiling and laughing at some parts because you so perfectly described the way in which writers ideas can sort of just sit there. I encourage you to wait and watch them grow, and yes throw away the ones that don’t grow, and you will find that one idea that will grow so big and amazing, well you might just sit down and write a novel about it. Good luck to you! 🙂


    1. Yes, I’ve had several ideas that have grown to be much bigger than I imagined, so that kind of balances out all of those irksome misfit ones.

      Thanks for reading, Ollin!


  6. I think it’s okay to let the ‘misfit ideas’ keep each other company. Who knows, maybe one day you can stitch enough of them together to make a crazy quilt of a story.

    I also keep a notebook of ideas. I’ve looked back on some of them and realized their only life should be inside that notebook. But I keep them anyway, in case one day I realize I was wrong.

    Keep storing those ideas 🙂


    1. I like the “crazy quilt” idea. (And, I know I’ve read some books that seemed to be pieced together in that way — sometimes it even seems to work).

      I will definitely keep my misfits, since I’ve been known to be wrong many (many) times before.


  7. I find little scraps of paper all the time that, apparently, I have written on, but I have no recollection of doing so. It’s kind of a surreal feeling. Sort of like when you wake up with your hand completely asleep and you look at it like, “Is that mine?”

    Great post. Hope the book is rocking.


    1. Thanks, mc6pack! (Book is going well, BTW, little behind on word count, though)

      I have that surreal feeling all the time, too. It looks my handwriting, but what to do with a napkin that only says, “Retreat!!!”? I blame it on lack of sleep.


  8. Enjoyed this post! It’s been interesting to go from higher ed to writing. As a teacher, you’re not supposed to tell students to just scrap their ideas, you’re supposed to find ways work them out into something usable. And if academia taught me anything, it’s this: it’s entirely possible to make fascinating material into a totally sucky piece of writing. That made me a little skeptical about the necessity to have a ‘great idea’ first — a notion I’d only started hearing at writers’ conferences.

    Which is not to say I don’t have my own island of misfit ideas…but I guess I’m a ruthless pragmatist, and I think that if I decided to pursue them, I’d do some Tim-Gunn-style kung fu to ‘make it work’, even if it meant that the idea was cut, draped, massaged and morphed into something other than you originally conceived it. As I’d always tell my students, persistence and technique are more important than inspiration…


    1. Loved hearing your thoughts, WoPro. And, I agree — why else would I continue try to resurrect Pepe Boy if I didn’t think I could Tim Gunn him in some way. 😉 HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that it should be seen by any eyes, but my own.

      I’ve taken bits from large misfit projects — say one sentence that I loved — and worked them into other pieces. Still, I think there are those ideas that shouldn’t necessarily be thrown away, but should remain locked up (for eternity).


  9. I use scraps and nuggets as characters and situations in novels. Sometimes they work out, other times, not so much. 😉

    I love this though, especially the boy in the Pepe jeans. I can just see him from your description.


  10. You had me at the Rudolph reference, the Misfit Toys in particular!

    Oh those pesky characters–and ideas–like the shade of lipstick I see in the store and even though I’ve sampled it a hundred times and it NEVER looks right on me, I still find myself drawn to it, thinking, maybe with THIS outfit or THIS time of year. Hmm…

    It takes trying something out, as you say, to see if it can make the leap from head to page. Sometimes it sails, sometimes it sinks. But we have to put it out there, don’t we?

    Liked by 1 person

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