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Why you should never share your ideas too soon…

A couple of years ago, I pitched an exciting new story concept to one of my more literary pals.

I saw it as the seed of a novel.

Maybe even a movie.

“Okay, picture this,” I said. “You have a free-spirited astrologer and a super-logical astronomer. The astrologer falls in love with the astronomer, but their stars are not a match. So he spends his days reeling with internal conflict, torn between his feelings and his beliefs.”

“Honestly,” he said. “I’m not keen.”

He said it sounded like a lame sitcom.

Did I ever feel rubbish about myself. And it made me realise 2 important points about pitching ideas.

  1. Shooting down an idea in the early stages is easy, because you’re missing so many crucial details.
  2. Whether your idea gets praise or not, makes no difference. No matter what they say, you still only have an idea. You’re no further along in the creative process.

I’m not sure to what extent this little insight is useful to you, but who knows?

If you’re ever pitching to a boss, customer or romantic partner, maybe you’ll hold fire until your idea is full formed.

Either way, the crux of the matter is that pitching mere ideas is invariably a bad decision. More often than not, you’re better off leaning into the idea. Explore it further for yourself. See where the adventure takes you.

As you follow your nose, your idea becomes more refined.

And even if things don’t pan out as you’d planned, you learn much more than if you’d pontificated or fired out random musings to your circle.

An excellent case-in-point can be found in Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

One evening, Bradbury was walking along the beach with his wife. They came across a collapsed pier, its struts and foundations poking out of the sea. For no reason at all, he asked, “what’s that dinosaur doing there?”

His wife, of course, said nothing. But Bradbury stuck with his imagination, and the idea that he’d seen a beached dinosaur. Just toying with that idea led him to imagine that the dinosaur had been lured to the shores by a foghorn…

“I leaped from bed, wrote the story, and sent it to the Saturday Evening Post that week, where it appeared soon after under the title ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.’ That story, titled ‘The Fog Horn,’ became a film two years later. The story was read by John Huston in 1953, who promptly called to ask if I would like to write the screenplay for his film Moby Dick. I accepted, and moved from one beast to the next.” – Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

When you do interesting things, interesting things happen to you.

But that’s impossible if you’re always running for validation too soon.

You have to explore your ideas for yourself. See where they take you. When Ray Bradbury did this, he was led on an adventure lasting several years. And it all started from seeing a ruined pier and imagining it as a dinosaur.

As for my astrologer/astronomer romance?

No, I’m not going to spend an entire year fleshing it into a novel.

But maybe it’d make a good short story?

And if that goes well, maybe it’d evolve into something longer and better?

Either way, the outcome is irrelevant.

The idea is the spark – the impulse to do.

Why question this impulse?

Follow your gut. One foot in front of the other.