How can the rest of us get better at identifying our best ideas? One key lesson from this research is that distraction and dilettantism come with real benefits, as they give the unconscious a chance to assess its new ideas. This reminds me of a wise piece of advice from Zadie Smith, which she dished out to aspiring novelists:
“When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do…You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions.”
Smith, in other words, is telling writers to forget about their work, to give the mind some time to weigh the worth of all those words. And that’s because we have no idea which ideas are worthwhile, at least at first. So the next time you invent something new, don’t immediately file a patent, or hit the “publish” button, or race to share the draft with your editor. Instead, take a few days off: play a stupid video game, or go for a long walk, or sleep on it. Unless you take a brief break, you won’t be able to accurately assess what you’ve done.
Yep, that's what life's been like with me lately. I have been completely ignoring the book I finally freakin' finished. I've looked at it once. Edited one page, then put it down. (I did, however, change the working title: It's now Supernova, which is a kind of perfect that I'll explain to you at a later date.)
I'm still getting flashes of Sasha/Riley conversation as well as Sasha insight. Often in the middle of the night, like most good ideas. I end up texting them to my email account, filing them away for when I edit. I keep mentally nitpicking at the parts I know are weaker, brainstorming ways to fix them. When I come up with concrete ideas for fixes, I email myself those, too. I think I'm very much on my way to making Supernova exactly what I want it to be.
But not just yet.
I'm already writing my next story, the first of what I hope to be seven books. No, it's not the next Harry Potter. I just feel like 7 books is right for these characters. I love the main character and feel like I know more about her each day. My desk is covered with notes about her, plot points, etc. In just two quick--like probably no longer than an hour, total--I already had 1,200+ words. This story, I suspect, can be more easily written than the one that's here in its binder next to me.
The one I'm editing in my head, but not on paper. Not just yet.
(The time will come, and I'll know when. I don't know now, but I will know then. Writer's instinct, or something like that. Just trust me.)