Sometimes you’ll have an idea, and you’ll try to develop it, and it just won’t come together. Maybe it’s not the right idea for you. Maybe it’s not the right idea for you right now. Or maybe you’re just not trying hard enough or in the right ways… It’s that last one that haunts you.
Because the question I constantly face is: when should you ‘save’ ideas? And when should you mine them for whatever parts work and move on?
For example, an idea might grow around a great character. But the story isn’t taking off, so you explore a completely different idea using that same character—if that works, great. But what if that works, and then you want to go back to the original idea later? Now it’s hollow and useless without that character which was so central in the first place.
But you have that second project that you didn’t have before… if you would have held off using that character, the second project might never have made it.
So what’s better? Saving ideas and their components for potential future use, or using whatever you can now and seizing the present?
I’m the type of person who can’t throw things away easily. I always want to be prepared; I believe it makes more sense to keep what you might use later rather than having to re-buy it. As a metaphor for creative ideas, I don’t know how much that makes sense—but the point is that it pains me a bit to imagine a future moment in which I regret not saving something.
For example, I had an idea I was working on a while ago using this character that I’ve been working with for years. I loved her in this particular role; it brought the story to life. But the rest of the story flopped and failed. So when a new project sprung up and worked for this character as well (in a completely different world and circumstance), I used her. And that project is the one that made it all the way.
But now I’m toying with the original idea again, and the spot she filled is vacant. But she was so perfect in that role that I can’t think of anyone else who would work as well… Yet I can’t use her. It would be far too strange, except perhaps as some sort of writing experiment (AU fanfic of my own work?).
So there’s a part of me that regrets taking her out of this idea… but no part of me regrets using her for the other project, because she works wonderfully there, too. I wouldn’t gut that project to take her back to the original, so in that sense, I don’t regret it. I’ll either have to think of something else, go ahead and use her and be weird (self-publishing, maybe? Would that be way too strange?), or abandon the original project until I can think of something else…
With that decided, I think there is no regret if a project actually works. Yes, a ‘future’ project may not work out, but you will have the present project that’s working now. And a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say.
Seize the now. You’ll regret what you don’t do more than what you do.