“Top Ten Tuesdays” — Please Welcome Ollin Morales

Ollin runs {Courage2Create}, one of the best writing blogs I’ve come across.  Maybe that opinion is an affinity thing, because he writes (like me) with passion and encouragement and (perhaps unlike me) unflagging positive energy.  I encourage you to visit his site and get pumped for the writing life.

Why “Idea Scarcity” is A Big Fat Myth

By Ollin Morales

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Apparently, humanity has run out of new ideas.

As Americans we’ve become inundated with sequels, and prequels, and sequels to prequels, and spin-offs, and remakes, and “reality shows” and it seems like today’s mainstream media is sending us a clear message:

“Hey, we tried looking for them, but there’s not a single original idea out there to be found! So, here, enjoy this steaming pile of recycled dog crap that looks like a burrito, but we’re gonna call it a ‘wrap’ so that you think its an original product!”

First of all, a wrap IS a burrito that for some reason is filled with ham and cheese. (Which, by the way, is gross.) A burrito isn’t a new product at all!

Second of all, the truth is that there ARE tons of original ideas out there, ripe for our picking.

So, why do we keep getting the message that the world is running out of ideas and its running out of them fast?

The answer is a pretty obvious: developing an original idea requires a lot of time, effort, and courage, and not everyone is willing to put forth that amount of energy.

Original Ideas Require That You Take BIG RISKS

First of all, trying out a brand new idea is risky. You have no standard of measurement. You have no way of knowing how people will react to your idea. You have no clue whether your idea will be successful or whether it will bomb big time.

Because there is so much risk involved with a new idea, it makes complete sense that most people would rather lie and say they’ve run out of original ideas, than admit the truth, that they have several original ideas but they’re too afraid to try them out because of the high risks involved.

Original Ideas Are NOT EASILY VISIBLE

First of all, you need to pay real close attention to the world around you in order to catch really great, original ideas. You have to be able to see things most people can’t, or don’t want to see. Writers know that there is something in everything to write about–you can call it a writer’s “sixth sense”–and a real writer will stop everything they are doing just to listen very closely to what others are misinterpreting as white noise.

Real writers won’t discriminate against sources either. They know an original idea can come from their grandmother, as much as it can come from their boss. For a writer who listens closely, an original story can come from a neighbor and his girlfriend as they carry their fight into the middle of the street; or, from the dirty, stray dog that sprints beside them as they take their morning jog. All of this may not seem crucial or pertinent to most people, but, for a writer who listens, these moments carry new, original ideas tucked underneath the surface.

Original Ideas Require INTENSIVE RESEARCH

For instance, the novel I am currently writing is based on Mayan and Aztec mythology. Now, in order to really delve deep into this culture, I took a class on Mesoamerican archeology. I read all the books on the subject and, yes, I traveled to Mexico City and witnessed the remnants of that ancient civilization first hand.

The knowledge I gained through this whole process was priceless, but it was knowledge that was only gained through my intensive research.

When you do your research, you can uncover ideas that most people are too lazy to discover. This is why explorers are more likely to find buried treasure by diving into the depths of uncharted oceans all over the world, than by sitting at home and doing a quick Google Search for “pirate booty.”

What people won’t tell you is that original ideas don’t have “treasure maps” to help you find them. They are not a “Google search” away. Original ideas are located in the places that are the hardest to get to, where only the most determined and hardworking treasure hunters are willing to reach.

Original Ideas Require that You Be VULNERABLE

You know why? Because the points of vulnerability in every human being are the places where the vast majority of people do not want to explore. In those vulnerable spots of humanity, you will find vast stretches of original, unexplored territory.

There are still islands in the human heart that have not been mapped, still some blank slates in the human spirit that have not been filled, and still some wrinkled fabric in the human mind that has not been ironed out.

But all this requires you to be open, and being open means you have to be vulnerable–vulnerable to failure, vulnerable to rejection, and vulnerable to misunderstanding.

I have experienced all three of these in my writing career.

I wrote and produced an original one-man show almost four years ago, and because I acted in it, wrote it and produced it, I was incredibly vulnerable to attack. Once the show made its debut, I was bit in the heart by rejection. I closed myself off artistically for three years because of the rejection, criticism, and misunderstanding that resulted after presenting my original work to the public.

After the show ended, I wrote a poem that I shared with my writing mentor, and in that poem I vowed not to write for anyone but myself–ever again. My mentor thought I was just having a bad day, but I was serious. I was convinced at the time that my original writing had no right to be attacked, criticized, or worst of all, misunderstood.

But the truth was, whether my original work was criticized, misunderstood, or attacked was beside the point. In fact, it was really none of my business.

Almost four years later, I now understand the truth: it was I who had no right to stop producing original work, despite some of the negative, unconstructive, feedback I had received.

Rejection, personal attacks, criticism, gross misunderstandings are just part of the work that we writers do. Sure, we can retreat from all of the unfairness we might experience by sticking to what is safe, but then we would never allow ourselves to try anything new.

The Bottom Line

You’re telling me I have to take risks, listen all the time, work really hard, and open myself up to rejection, criticism, failure and misunderstanding in order to be original?”

Yes.

This is why most original ideas don’t get claimed. Most people don’t want to take risks (they want to play it safe), they don’t want to listen all the time (they want to hear themselves talk), they don’t want to do all the hard work (they want to write a novel and publish it in one month), and the last thing they want to do is be vulnerable (they’re too afraid of criticism and failure).

If you are not willing to take risks, listen, work hard, and be vulnerable then that’s fine by me, but don’t tell me the lie that you keep telling everyone else: that you’ve run out of ideas.

Because it isn’t true.

Look at the list above and see what it takes to find an original idea, then be honest with yourself. Realize that you have not run out of original ideas, you have just run out of the courage to pursue the ideas that are really worth your time.

You can keep calling your wanna-be burrito a “wrap,” but meanwhile, I’ll be over here, cooking up something new.

much love,

Ollin

Do you agree with me that “Idea Scarcity” is a big fat myth? Or do you think that there is some truth to the old saying: “There’s nothing new under the sun”?

Larry’s add: what risks are you taking in your current WIP?

Ollin Morales is a writer and a blogger. {Courage 2 Create} chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his first novel. This blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. Through his blog he also offers blogging and writing consultation services designed to help writers and artists build better platforms for their work.

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38 Comments

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38 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesdays” — Please Welcome Ollin Morales

  1. Fabulous post, Ollin! I couldn’t agree more. I think I was in the middle of writing what would become my second published novel when I read something along the lines of “the only authors who succeed are those who are willing to risk it all.” Scary as that thought is, it’s also hugely liberating. Why not let it all hang out? We’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

  2. Ollin,

    I couldn’t agree more with what you say here. The beauty of writing is that you can take old topics and find new twists, new angles and put your own voice into your work.

    I think in idea generation, it just gets easier the more you do it. I love John Steinbeck’s quote: “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

    And I so love the process. The trap for me is lingering so long in the creative process that I don’t take those cool ideas and actually do something with them. I agree with KMW. The risk taking brings fears but the more you do it, the more fun it is.

  3. Matt

    That was a great and uplifting (but also challenging) post, Ollin. My chosen genre is historical fiction, and as you and K.M. can attest, obviously it requires enormous research and respect for your subject matter. But it also provides boundless story ideas. We have about 5,000 years of recorded human history to work with. We haven’t begun to scratch the surface of stories from history that illuminate the past and help us think in new ways about the present.

    Since I’m working on my first novel, it’s been a challenge to grapple with the risks. Not only am I diving into a type of writing I’ve never done before, but I’m taking on a project requiring me to step into the shoes (or boots or moccasins) of people who lived more than 200 years ago in two cultures quite different from mine (radically different, in one case).

    Moreover, the main characters are based on my ancestors and the story derives from their actual experiences I learned about through genealogical research. So there’s also the pressure for me to do right by my forebears. I would hate to think they’re out there in the great beyond, shaking their heads at what I’m writing!

    But this idea has not let go its hold on me for two years, through thousands of pages of research and hundreds of pages of notes and outlines and character profiles, which I think is a good sign that I’m going to see this through to whatever end it’s meant to have, especially now that I’m actually working on the manuscript itself!

    Thanks again and good luck!

  4. @KMWeiland Yes, risk is scary, but really that’s when you know that you have something good: if it feels a little uncomfortable you’ve reached a point where no one else has gone before–and that’s exciting!

    @JudyDunn Great quote! That’s exactly right. I have tons of ideas and that’s because I explore places that would present great risks for me! That’s were the gold is.

    @Matt excellent point Matt! There is SO MUCH American history we haven’t scratched the surface yet either. I’m excited for you novel. Let us all know when it comes out so we can read it!

    Good luck to you!

  5. Michael J Lawrence

    75,000 registered scripts at WGA, out of which 500 are produced and we’re getting Spiderman (again) and Arthur (again).

    You could believe that movies are too expensive to take any real risks. Until you realize things like An Education and Welcome To the Rileys get out there and aren’t all that expensive, but they are *original*. And, no, you don’t need Natalie Portman writhing with herself to pull it off, either. (Black Swan)

    I have trouble believing orginality really has a chance outside those circles which enjoy links to “the right people” because it is simply so scarce in terms of production. And yet there is an ocean of it out there. Even then, it has been my observation that critics seem to be at war with anything that isn’t from a major studio. So, even if you get produced or published, you’re going to get panned anyway. Unfairly and unreasonbly so.

    There is a lot to tell us that new ideas are bad. And it’s a crying shame because the mainstream story-telling industry is killing itself in the process.

    If they’re not careful, Kindle and Youtube just might take it all away from them.

  6. As I started earlier today (then either posted prematurely or abandoned completely – can’t remember. It was a hell day at work today):

    Excellent post!

    “Rejection, personal attacks, criticism, gross misunderstandings are just part of the work that we writers do. Sure, we can retreat from all of the unfairness we might experience by sticking to what is safe, but then we would never allow ourselves to try anything new.”

    I continue to remind myself that nobody has ever written anything that everybody likes.

    There will be readers that I connect with and readers that won’t get past the first paragraph without rolling their eyes and tossing both my book and their cookies.

    Ultimately I need to have a finished product that I’m proud of that is also marketable (or it’s just a hobby). It doesn’t need to be marketable to everyone, though.

  7. Totally awesome post! I have been suspecting for some time now that creating ideas is as much hard work as executing them. I’ve just been loathe to accept that fact but now I have to face it thanks to your articulate and right-on-the-money post.

  8. By the way, Larry asks what risks I’m taking in my current WIP…

    It alternates between 1st and third person over approximately equal length chapters (odd – 1st, even – 3rd) and the 1st person is written from the point of view of a 23 year old Australian actress trying to make it in LA.

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  10. Excellent post loaded with good advice. Yes, people want everything to be easy and nothing worth having ever is.

  11. As one cursed/blessed with the “sixth sense,” it definitely can be both a blessing and a curse: with a physical file cabinet full and many more file folders on the computer full of ideas in various stages. The real challenge for me is management…. what ideas I choose to focus on, then the time it takes to mine and nurture those ideas. In terms of opening up my writing for fear of others not liking what I create? …. not knowing or sharing, but wondering and doubting, is so much worse for me.

    And, as always, thanks for a great post with lots more good ideas for me to think about!

  12. I like so many points in this article. It comes at an interesting time in my writing career. It’s true that being a writer requires us to be vulnerable to rejection, attack, etc., but also to our own fears and issues. In fact, we have to be more vulnerable to them than other humans. And this is what has led me to my current project, a novel about a boy with a wealth of problems… Honestly, I’m struggling. As the novel explores the character’s troubles I remember my own and find myself in strange states of angry regression. Wish me luck – I’ll keep exploring. LL

  13. Ollin, thank you so much for such an insightful post. It’s just what I needed — I’ve been writing a spec novel in a genre I haven’t published in, and it’s been hard work. I’m glad I’m doing it, but I also know that publishers don’t want me to take the time if I’ve sold something; my agents want me to “have stuff out there” while publishers still know I’m alive. The business side hasn’t been necessarily supportive of the care and feeding of original ideas. Still, if I don’t draw the boundary and support the ideas, I am only hurting myself and my work. Lots to think about.

  14. I believe that writers want to write new – and they are – you just don’t know it, because they’re not concerned with getting published.

    In the crazy market right now, publishers only want the sure thing-mega big hitters. This does not encourage risk taking on their part. They’re ready to jump on any proven bandwagon (can you say, Vampire?) but something not on the radar right now? Not unless you’re Stephen King. I’m not making them the bad guys either – I understand business, and they’re in it to make money. Nothing wrong with that.

    Do some authors write outside the norm and get published?
    Sure, Rowling did. So did Meyer. I’m going out to stand in an electrical storm, because I’ve got a better shot at getting hit by lightning.

    I’m not trying to be negative – I think with the epub surge, there’s going to be a place for innovation – I bleieve there is a huge audience out there for it. But just not in the current model.

  15. Add psychic to your resume, Ollin! I had been struggling with the ‘why bother to write the thing if everyone can’t get past Chapter 1’ mode. You are correct, I can not turn my back on my original ideas. I can not walk away from the work. I can not abandon the ‘living invisible’ audience I serve.
    Thank you, Ollin and Larry, for sprinking positvity today.

  16. Martha Miller

    Yep, I’m in the fold here, just finishing up my second novel that deals with an idea I’ve been told I can’t write because, well, I just can’t. Plausibility aside, I’m hoping they’re wrong, and your post was a real shot in the arm.
    I went to your website, Ollin, and read your post on writing dialogue. For anyone else who struggles with that demon, read it! It’s excellent. Elmore Leonard couldn’t have said it any better.

  17. @Tony — you go for it, guy. My best reviewed novel used both 1st and 3rd person, it’s a great way to allow readers behind the curtain of the hero’s awareness, which opens up all kinds of dramatic opportunities. Hey, if Nelson Demille can do it (“The Lion’s Game,” and last year’s “The Lion”) nobody can say it’s not okay anymore. L.

  18. @Michael
    I was going to mention that but yes, I think hollywood and the major publishers are more to blame for their demise than the recession or new technology is. If they took more chances on new ideas I don’t think they would have as much trouble. When you have a new idea like Inception it takes off like wildfire! Why can’t we get more movies like that?

    @Tony This is a very hard thing for writers to face, we want to please everyone and want everyone to love us. But that won’t ever happen. We have to be at peace with the fact that some people might not like us, or even hate us, but that is not our issue, it’s theirs.

    @Gargi yes original ideas are just as hard to find, as they are to develop! Good luck!

  19. @J.R. Yes, if you want a great idea, you have to work for it!

    @Julia Check out my blog, and read this article: “Hooked On The Right Idea”: http://ollinmorales.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/hooked-on-the-right-idea/

    I teach you how to manage your ideas and nurture the ones that are right for you.

    @Lake Good luck! Don’t worry, it’s part of the process. There are highs and lows, and middle points. You just have to make a pact with yourself to not give up. Keep going!

  20. @Cathy Good luck to you! Follow your heart. It won’t fail you.

    @Laura I believe that kind of outlook is hurting the publishing and entertainment industry. If they are not willing to take risks, its time that we do so on our own. Every new novel was risky, especially the classics, there was a time when they were new and fresh and not old. So every writer must take his own risks. It’s part of the work we do.

    @Vikki Haha! My readers often tell me I read their minds. The truth is: I JUST LISTEN TO YOU. There is not psychic reading involved. I know what you face because I hear your pleas. When I find a solution I come back and share it with you. Good luck!

  21. @Martha Thank you for mentioning that post. Here it is for those interested: “How to Write Effective Dialogue”http://ollinmorales.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/how-to-write-effective-dialogue/

    Thank you for all your comments, readers! I feel like what Larry felt like when he was at my blog–suddenly I’m surrounded by very like minded people.

    You really got some great readers, here Larry. I feel blessed that you have shared me with them.

    Thanks!

  22. I’m very encouraged by two things–one, that new ideas require being vulnerable and two, that rejection, criticism and harsh feedback is part of the game and should not send us scurrying to safe, boring, already-traversed territory.

    I once heard that good writing is words that you’ve had to pay through the nose for. Yikes. That’s a tall but inspiring order.

    And yes! We have to work at it! Dive into deep waters, summit mountaintops…polish the novel.

    Thanks, Ollin.

  23. Hey, listen up to all this. Remember, Concept and Theme are two of the Six Core Competencies. Now we’ve got some background in doing some worthwhile writing with new, orginal stuff in these two areas.

    Let’s go for it.

  24. @Elise Accepting that rejection and criticism are a part of the game is a hard pill to swallow. But once we get past that, it is smoother sailing.

    @Bruce Yeah! GO FOR IT! Good luck to you all.

  25. QUICK SIDENOTE INTERRUPTION: I don’t think Ollin will mind… I just want to share some good news. I just checked, and my new book (“Story Engineering”) is sitting in the #1 spot on Amazon’s bestselling fiction books list. And it doesn’t even officially release for two more days.

    Damn, this is fun.

    Thanks to all who have pre-ordered, you are much appreciated.

    Now, back to the dialogue stemming from Ollin’s killer post. (By the way, Ollin…you’re welcome here on Storyfix anytime.) Larry

  26. Don’t mind at all Larry!

    That’s GREAT news. I even retweeted it.

    You know, you have this habit of being #1 Larry. I hope you keep up that habit. 🙂

  27. Just read your post, Ollin. Loved it! Always write from the heart is my motto. Some people will love it some hate it. But whatever happens keep writing.

  28. @Larry, re:side note, congrats…and the Amazonians informed me two days ago that they handed my copy to DHL for transit to Oz…

  29. @Zequeatta Your heart will never let you down. Yes, everyone, keep writing!

  30. Curtis

    Ollin. Excellent post.
    You’re courage 2 create reminds me of ” The Courage to Create” by Rollo May. It could replace one of your 5 top non-fiction reads.

  31. Great post! I don’t think there is such a thing as “idea scarcity.” I think it’s just like you said–most writers are too lazy to dig down deep to find an original idea. Someone once told me, “Writers walk past thousands of ideas every day. The dedicated, observant writers catch five or six of them. Most writers never catch any.”

  32. Seriously, anyone who thinks a ham and cheese warp is gross has my vote.

    Thanks for the great interview.

  33. Ollin, this is wonderful stuff! Art is all about going beyond the beyond—finding out what there is in life that has not already been expressed and then finding a way to express it.

    Thank you, in particular, for bringing up the point about vulnerability. Writers are in a tough spot: they must be both intensely vulnerable to experience and intensely sensible about criticism and negative reactions.

    This is why not everyone is a writer.

  34. @Curtis Uh Oh. Maybe I’m not as a original as I though. 😉 I’ll have to check that book out. What is it about?

    @jennifer perfect quote! Thanks for sharing!

    @Wendy Right? RIGHT?

    @Victoria Yup. Writing takes more courage than any one person is capable of having. There’s something wrong with our genetic make up I think–or something right.

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