Ideas are Cheap by Angelle Haney Gullet



“If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas.

Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which

ones to throw away.”

                         – Linus Pauling, noted chemist and Nobel laureate


“Ideas are free. Pages are cheap. Film is expensive.”

                         – Me, noted shenaniganist and dive bar philosopher


Five of the not-so-good ideas


I was thinking a lot about ideas when the New Year rolled around. I had recently finished revisions on one script I felt really good about and done a lightning-fast first draft of another. I was ready to come up with the project that would make this my breakthrough year.

For which I need an idea. Not just any idea, but a GREAT idea.

When I started in this writing racket, lo these many years ago, I was pleased with the way the words came together on the page. I was enamored of my characters, with their flaws and quirks. But I was in love—love, love, love, love, LOVE—with my ideas. They were brilliant! They were creative! In short, they were everything I was!

What I didn’t know then, and what very few people will tell you when you’re starting out, is that ideas are basically worthless. They do this, not because they’re monsters, but precisely the opposite. They don’t want to grind a young writer’s soul into a desiccated powder fine enough to be snorted through a hundred dollar bill.

The best way to inoculate yourself (and your career) against that sort of devastation is to learn to kill those adorable innocent ideas your own damn self. And you’ll never be comfortable doing that if you only have one of two a year.

So. Repeat after me: Ideas are not precious. Ideas are free.

Taking a page from Dr. Pauling’s book (probably the only page I can without a master’s-level class in quantum theory), I decided that I would come up with one new film or television idea every day this year.

That’s right – 365 ideas, expressed as loglines, with a clear genre, protagonist, conflict and obstacle. It isn’t as hard as you think. The more you play around with ideas – “Is that a movie, maybe? How could I make it into one?” – the more easily they come to you. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger with repeated use.

You’ll notice I didn’t say 365 GOOD ideas. They more you do it, the more quickly you can spot the ones that are hopelessly flawed and move on – after all, you’ll have another idea tomorrow.

So how am I doing? So far I’m dead on track, with 35 ideas. How many of them are good? I’d say that a handful seem to be worth noodling around with. Which is five more good ideas than I had a month ago.

Want more ideas? Follow Angelle on Twitter @CityofAngelle

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