Finishing a project brings about two contradictory emotions: exaltation and dread. On one hand, birthing an idea and witnessing its metamorphosis from squirming caterpillar to a shimmering creature capable of flight offers a sense of gratification few things can. We mere mortals accomplished a feat of God-like proportions: we brought something into being that previously didn’t exist! Over weeks, months, sometimes years, we remained patient and persistent, never wavering from our goal despite near unendurable periods of insufferable self-doubt and demoralizing discouragement. Day after day, week after week, we showed up at our desks. We wove beautifully-patterned sentences into beautifully-patterned paragraphs until paragraphs became pages and pages became chapters. And then, one day, we had a book.
There’s nothing as satisfying as standing before the accumulation of years of effort and seeing our once perishable words forever immortalized between covers. I imagine a writer who finishes a book feels much like the first man on the moon: in awe at the distance he’s travelled from Earth to this new frontier. And how could he not feel a sense of rapturous wonderment at having traversed the seemingly immeasurable distance between the conception and execution of an idea? at experiencing his immaterial ideas as the physical heft of pages between his fingers?
But after sipping the intoxicating liquor of bringing an idea to fruition, the merriment must end. After the revelry of streamers and confetti comes the inevitable hang over of “What’s next?” Once we finish a project, this question shakes us awake in the middle of the night drenched in a cold sweat. The following weeks mostly consist of us staring out the window from our desks. Nothing— and I mean nothing— incites our interest; nothing seems worthy of our next project. As weeks turn into months, we worry our once inexhaustible spring of ideas will never be replenished. “We’ll never write again!” we declare, our hand melodramatically poised on our foreheads.
But the truth is, we can write again: we just have to rethink our conception of a “worthy” idea. Usually we only think an idea’s worthy if we immediately fall in love with it, if we feel an instant undeniable connection. But as Elizabeth Gilbert says, our next idea might not sweep us off our feet in a traditional sense. For an idea to be “good,” it doesn’t have to be a whirlwind romance nor does it have to seduce us with musky perfume and a Spanish accent. Sometimes a good idea will be a flirtatious, lingering, too-long glance, a subtle whisper, a grazing of the hand.
In the brainstorming stage, we generally don’t pursue an idea because we’re waiting for a Hollywood see-a-stranger-across-a-crowded-room sort of romance. But sometimes writing requires we settle for a less dramatic getting-to-know each other. Perhaps we’re not yet head-over-heels in love with a potential topic but we’re attracted enough to his profile picture to set up a first date at the local bar. If we suffer the awkward silences and first few fumbling attempts at conversation (“Any siblings?” we mutter, initially bored), we might discover our idea is more interesting than we first thought.
As writers, we must constantly ask ourselves: is there anything that piques our interest, anything at all? Is there anything we’re even remotely curious about? If so, research more. More often than not, after some deep diving at the library and a few phone calls, that tepid first date we were only moderately interested in will turn into a red-hot, all-consuming love affair.
So follow your curiosity and trust that it will lead somewhere. Feel like you don’t have any ideas? Or have ideas but aren’t over-the-moon enamored of them? Try settling for second-best. Learn more about an idea that interests but doesn’t yet fascinate you. If you stop waiting for mythical Mr. Right and get to know Mr. Okay, he’ll often surprise you.