At the last SXSW Jonathan amazed me with the sheer number of blog posts that he throws away.
According to Mr. Fields, a healthy portion of his post ideas never get published, for one reason or another. I’d bet that most of the really good writers you find online are the same way.
It’s amazing how we think that every time a great writer sits down at the keyboard, magic prints out. What we don’t know is how many times those writers have read, re-read, edited and cut bits of their writing before they publish. Heck, many articles might not even see the light of day even after they’ve been written.
When I write posts for this blog, I’ll often let them marinate for a while in the semi-finished stage. I currently have a folder full of post ideas, ranging from a couple sentences to nearly completed articles. Many will never see the light of day because they were bad ideas to begin with, and others just might not be relevant enough to this blog’s audience.
Is it wasteful? Hardly. If I wrote every post idea I’ve ever scribbled down, I’d have a blog full of random scatterbrained thoughts. (More random than you’re getting right now, at least.) And there would be so much content that the rare good nuggets would be buried beneath the really mediocre stuff.
The sad truth is that not all ideas are created equal. It’s just the way it works. You have to ruthlessly pare ideas down to the best, and only focus on the ones that are home runs. (Magnificent beats Mediocre every time.)
So, if we know that not all ideas are created equal, then how do we figure out which ones to work on? What makes an idea a “bad idea”?
When working on our ideas, there usually comes a low point after the initial excitement surrounding the idea wears off. The honeymoon period is over, and you’re starting to see your idea with all it’s faults and wrinkles.
Seth Godin describes this process in The Dip. Deciphering which ideas are actually worth shooting for isn’t an easy task. Sometimes it takes working through the low point, other times it means quitting altogether.
I’m not a huge proponent of quitting, but sometimes it’s the best option. Sometimes you just have to ride that bad idea to the glue factory, and start over with a fresh one.
I have a friend who’s building a service that, between you and I, wasn’t that great of an idea to begin with. But my friend powered ahead, working on the idea solely because “he believed in it”. Here’s a secret: just because you believe in something doesn’t make it a better idea.
Deep down he knew he was wasting his time and resources on something that was destined to fail, but he did anyway because he thought it honorable, part of the “entrepreneurs code”. He wanted to be an entrepreneur so badly that it blinded his judgement on how good his idea was.
It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of an idea in the early stages. But at some point you either have to power through the lull that follows, or quit the idea altogether.
The process is painful, but it becomes easier with practice. And who says you have to throw away the idea? Keep it around for nostalgic reasons. You might even find that the idea might reappear in a better way over time. You just never know.
We only have so many hours in the day. Spending time on mediocre ideas or projects is a disservice to you, and it’s definitely shortchanging the rest of us. Everyone wins when you’re spending time on only your best ideas.
You might have to toss some ideas. Some might have even felt like home runs at the start, but deep down you knew they were just singles or doubles. Toss ‘em! You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Anyway, what are your thoughts? At what point will you quit an idea?
Glen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.