How to say goodbye to important ideas
Plus, I share my book proposals that never made it!
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As some readers might know, I’ve published two books: What’s Mine Is Yours and Who Can You Trust? (I’m not plugging, read on!) These books were critically lauded and I’ve been fortunate to develop the ideas into all kinds of things.
However, what most people don’t know, is that I’ve written MANY other book proposals that have never seen the light of day! By a book proposal, I’m talking a good 30 pages of writing and development (around 20,000 words); not just thought-starters in a notebook. These are ideas that I have pulled and pushed on to see if they have real legs. Some proposals have reached the publishers, others have been outdone by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and(more on this later), and there are the ones that have just ended up in the bin 😊
In today’s newsletter, I’m going share for the first time how I choose which ideas to keep developing, reveal some of my book proposals that never made it (ahhhh), and explain how I’ve learned (the hard way!) to disregard many, many ideas along the way.
More on the topic below, after a weekly Rethink Recap:
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On the topic of writing,is an excellent source of advice.
Whilst studying Fine Art at Oxford, I had a tutor who made me scrunch up drawings and throw them away. “Move on,” he’d say. Ouch, you might be thinking, a bit rough. But I’m deeply grateful. I learned how to let go of things and not become attached to ideas in their infancy.
Releasing ideas is often thought of as launching something into the world– a product, service, movie, or book. But releasing ideas can also be about letting go. You’re releasing an idea that is not yours to nurture and champion (I’ll go into this more). This is a process of creative resilience. It’s essential to sustaining your creativity over a long period of time.
Letting go of ideas is HARD! It’s even harder when you’ve spent months, sometimes years on something that never sees the light of day. So I have created criteria I know use to really challenge WHY I am pursuing a particular idea.
The FIVE questions I ask myself to test whether I should keep going with a book idea:
1. Is the topic important and relevant? (Not always the same)
2. How much has this idea already been explored and written about?
3. Do I have something unique or surprising to say?
4. Can I love, care for, and champion this idea for at least five years?
5. Would I be completely crushed if someone else came out with this idea before me?
1-3 are self-explanatory. Number 4 is where the rubber hits the road. Yes, you want to give the world something meaningful, however, you must love and be deeply curious about the idea first. You must want to talk about it, not forever, but at least for the next five years. And even if you hit that point of “I really can’t believe I’m still talking about this,” you still feel proud that the idea is associated with you.
When your true creativity starts to go astray
Criteria No.4 gets more complicated the more successful or established you become (I know, I know a great problem to have.) You have the credibility. You have the networks, audiences, and profile. Yet, with all that, you can find yourself doing things other people think are good ideas - commercial wins, reputation wins, or viral wins. They might make you (or others) a lot of money or get you a lot of clicks, but they won’t feel true to you. That’s when extrinsic motivation – money or status - takes over intrinsic motivation.
When an idea truly lights you up
No. 5 – being crushed if you don’t give birth to this idea - is THE sign that you deeply care a lot about this idea. It’s your baby, so to speak. It lights you up so much that you MUST create it, regardless of the outcome.
Okay, so now it’s time to visit my book proposal graveyard! It’s been fun and, at times, painful to sift back through 14 years (I know!) of proposals and remind myself of why they never made it. There are some good ones in here that I’m still proud of.
Ah, Slingshot. I loved writing this proposal and it was finished! I mean a year of writing a synopsis, sample chapters, marketing plan, you name it. The whole kit and kaboodle. And then…it goes out to the publishing houses and Malcolm Gladwell, of all people, publishes David & Goliath on almost the same topic. I must have a weird voodoo thing with Gladwell because this happened again in 2019! I’d almost finished a proposal called Strangers No More when he published Talking to Strangers on yes, the same topic!
But it’s not just Gladwell. I’ve had the same thing happen with several other authors…as explained below through five more Rachel Botsman Books That Might Have Been…
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