Like most disaffected young men, I read Jack Kerouac's On The Road somewhere in my early twenties. It was a fine read and I remember being impressed at the nerve it had to take to walk out the side of the highway with a bedroll, thumbing a ride across America. I was already a recent college graduate and was a few months into my advertising career. I was barely paying rent and was drowning under the weight of my college loans. I was locked into the system and I was angry about it. No thumbing rides and bedrolls for me. I had to make $600 a month for my loan company.
To anyone who's read the book, it probably seemed tailor made for me. I liked it, but what really resonated with me to think very day was how it was written. If the mythology is to be believed, our pal Jack put a roll of paper into his typewriter and went to work for three weeks in April of 1951. When he finished, he had this book for his efforts.
That story haunted me for a long time because it was exactly what I was waiting to happen to me.
I was waiting for a flash of brilliance where I would know a story and all of it's elements. I would have characters and conversations. Their dialogue would be winning and would reveal so much about who they were as individuals. I would have a solid plot that was clever and not rehashed. It would come to me in one wonderful thunderbolt. I would sit down and write it out. When I got up, there it would be, my masterpiece. Elegantly polished and ready to go to print. I would later tell my biographer that it appeared to me in a vision.
I'm sure that something like that happens somewhere out there every day of the year. But it never happened to me and a poisonous idea like that was a big excuse I used a lot time to keep from doing the work.
"I don't know what to write," was how the refrain went.
But you know what? I had ideas. They were little fragments and pieces of something bigger that I never worked on. Why? I didn't know what they led to. I kept waiting for a complete vision instead of paying attention to these wonderful, little stepping stones. As a result, I never sat down and tried to tease the idea into something bigger.
An idea is like one of those Digimon Pets that were the rage at the end of the last century. You have to pay attention to them. You have to spend time with them. If you do, they might turn into something bigger. I might be a short story, a script, or a business idea. If you don't, they go belly up and get nowhere.