Letting Ideas Ripen

Impatient. That’s a word I’d use to describe myself. I am also a Myers-Briggs “J” which means I like things settled, decided, and organized. I make decisions quickly, and if one of them doesn’t work out, I’d rather make another than spend hours weighing pros and cons.

Most of the time this works well. I choose a path and act. It keeps the business going and the artwork progressing. But sometimes acting isn’t the best choice.

banana_ripeningchartA few months ago I submitted a book proposal to my agent. It was a book I had decided to write because I could, because I had some previous research. The outline came together smoothly, but a small voice in the back of my head said, “I really want to get to Chapter 10, that’s going to be a great chapter.”

My agent was on an extended trip, and I noticed an interesting drift in her absence: I didn’t start the book. Instead, I began to see a huge structural flaw. At first I thought it was my inner critic showing up. In a moment of clarity, I put the outline away. It needed some time to ripen. To develop. I needed to wait for another vision, or as I call it, a re-vision.

Two busy weeks later, I opened the outline again. It had time to ripen, and I 0628sp_tomatocould see clearly that the flaw was real. It wasn’t the inner critic. The flaw was small, but crucial. It shifted the book away from the point I had been working toward.

But Chapter 10 was still the best part. The idea that had ripened was the idea that Chapter 10 could be a book on its own. This time, I didn’t rush to re-write the outline. What I did write was a note to the agent. I told her about the flaw and that I wanted to consider scrapping the idea for another, smaller idea.

Ideas need time to ripen. This one is not yet ready for an outline, but it is ready for some back-burner-ing. Letting it develop. Because writing borrows some great techniques from cooking–choosing and chopping and careful preparation. And choosing the perfect, ripe ingredients when the time is right.

—Quinn McDonald is waiting for an idea to ripen before she starts working with it.