“My Map of Chicago Doesn’t Help Me in Los Angeles, So There’s No Need for Me to Carry It Around.”

“My Map of Chicago Doesn’t Help Me in Los Angeles, So There’s No Need for Me to Carry It Around.”

The above headline is a direct quote from this article about Idea Debt by John Sexton.  That article is one of the writings referenced on John August’s podcast Scriptnotes (Episode 296).  The term “Idea Debt” actually comes from a Jessica Abel interview with Kazu Kibuishi …  After that interview, Jessica concluded:

Idea Debt is when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.  If…

>  You tell 15 friends about your screenplay idea, but devote zero time in  your week to facing the blank screen.

> You buy a domain name, spend weeks or months researching and reading up on how to build a website, but you don’t actually install WordPress.

> You’ve got a drawer full of half-finished stories and novels and a to-do list item every week that reads, “work on writing.”

>You’ve read fifteen (15) free online guides to blogging, built three (3) editorial calendars, have notes on a dozen posts, but you haven’t gone live with your blog.

>You have “binders of lore” and no book.

…you’re living with serious Idea Debt.

After listening to the discussion, and reading these two pieces, I couldn’t quite figure out why, but I was ambivalent, to the topic.  To help me gather my thoughts, I asked one of my British writer friends, Tracy Shefras from Newport, Wales, United Kingdom, for hers.  Tracy responded:

Everyone is waiting for the perfect moment.  The perfect moment to tell someone something.  Something important.   Something that might change their world as they know it.  The courage it takes to man up to the moment, whether it is perfect or not, is all that’s needed.  For,  in short……


Last week’s topic of Idea Debt could be akin to The Karmic Wheel of Writers.    According to this Law, until the Karma is faced then there is no way to  move forward.  Each day will just be another opportunity to clog up the Wheel.  The answer surely must be to find an Idea with potential.  One that inspires, excites and wants to form a relationship.

Choices have to be made.  Take the plunge.  Get off the Wheel.

Like any process some things are just going to drop away.  In theory, if the Wheel is rotating efficiently, then the embracing of an idea,  one that might excite, will undoubtedly lead to the shedding of the back log.

May the Writer rest assured, in the knowledge, that all the ideas slipping away will have infused their essence into the Writer’s current project….if needs be!

The ideas are our teachers.  Let’s get onto the next lesson.  One that’s interesting and fresh enough to coax us into our refined status.

Change the Wheel to Will……


I hope you all read that in a British accent. In real life, Tracy sounds like Julie Andrews (and yet according to her, she says she laughs like Muttley).  Aural aspects aside, I agree with Tracy’s ALL CAPS thesis:  THERE IS NO PERFECT MOMENT.

Whenever I’m coaching people with their writing, I am constantly reminding them “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”  Good enough is good enough.  Inspirational speaker Christina Irene has this thematic life tenet “If you don’t do it now, you’re never going to do it.”

My coaching advice, considered through the prism of Tracy’s and Christina’s words, explain my ambivalence towards Idea Debt.  I don’t have it.  If the idea is not good enough to write at that moment, I don’t hold onto it.  I do — at all times — keep an ongoing notebook of the next five things I am going to write.  If the new idea can’t be shoehorned into one of those five future projects, I let it go.  I’ve got enough current great ideas to keep me going — why bother letting some half-baked half-hearted attempt at half an idea simmer for a while longer?  My notebook of the next five future projects has tentative start and completion dates for each one.  There is simply just no time for some average so-so idea.  You can’t stop an average idea from landing in your brain, but you absolutely can prevent it from nesting there.


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