Maven Game reader Margaret Kavanagh wonders how one copes with an overabundance of book ideas:
I often get ideas for books but then discard them because I might get a better idea. I know this is just another form of procrastination, but I struggle to convince myself that writing a less-than-awesome book is okay.
I completely agree, Marg! We should all write awesome books exclusively. Writing non-awesome books isn't good for anybody. Not authors, certainly not readers.
The problem is that you write an awesome book by writing a lousy one and then improving it.
In his excellent newsletter, Mason Currey shared something the late Claes Oldenburg once said:
It is very important to approach a show without really knowing what’s going to happen. And just to have the confidence that it will happen.
Regardless of the book idea you choose—the initial spark matters less than you think—you must adopt a kind of willful blindness about its ultimate potential. The only way to get to awesome is through complete, baseless, idiotic confidence that you'll get to something awesome. Eventually. The beauty of writing a book versus performing a gymnastics routine is that a book isn't written in real time. You get to keep refining the manuscript until you stick the landing, however long that takes.
As you work on any one part of your book, keep asking yourself: Is this awesome yet? If the answer is no, keep working on it. Over and over, find a non-awesome part and make it slightly more awesome than before. Preventing awesome books from being written is the unhinged notion that books are written awesomely.
My wife and I watch Alone, a reality show about survival experts left in the wild to fend for themselves with nothing but a handful of tools. Forget the cold, the hunger, and the cold, hungry grizzlies—the real antagonist they face is doubt. As soon as an edge of doubt creeps in, we know a tap-out is inevitable.
Even great gymnasts occasionally stumble, but writers can't truly fail if they refuse to acknowledge the possibility of failure. Just keep revising, dude! Given an hour to work on a piece of text, you can make it 1% better, can't you? Great. Just do that, hour after hour, until you can't find that 1%. Because if you can't see a way to make a piece of writing even 1% better than before, it must be pretty awesome, don't you think?
Too many ideas? No, Marg. You don't have too many ideas. No one has too many ideas. It just feels like that when you're not actually writing enough. Once you get your daily word count up where it needs to be, you'll quickly see how many of your ideas are duplicates, how many are dead ends. It's like running a long-dormant faucet: it takes a while until the water flows clear.
More valuable are the new ideas that spring up as you write, the ones that solve problems you didn't even know you had until you arrived at them. That's the nature of writing. You figure out what you ought to write only by writing it.