The Limited Value of Ideas (part 2)

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Last week, we talked about ideas and how they’re not worth anything until they are tried out in the real world.

Less sleep, particularly broken sleep, makes me psychotic and suicidal.

Less sleep, particularly broken sleep, makes me psychotic and suicidal.

The same problem of ideas versus reality happens in my kitchen. Wonderful meals that take an hour or more to prepare and get eaten in ten minutes and then the time to clean up afterwards. We have to eat, and when I have other things to do, like trying to write “Her Martian Tiger” to make us some money, the concept of frozen pizza and canned soup becomes very attractive. Is it the best diet? God, no. Quick and convenient and fills the belly? Yes, it does.

Ideas always run into that pesky time-management problem. What do you do first? Which thing takes priority? I have to sleep eight or nine hours a night to remain functional and sane. I found this out the hard way as less sleep, particularly broken sleep, makes me psychotic and suicidal. So I can’t cut back. I have to exercise an hour every day to keep the weight down and the joint pain away. Eating and body hygiene. I’ve lost a lot of my twenty-four hours per day here. Household chores, including errands and grocery shopping. Some time spent on community activities and seeing the friends I claim to care about. More time spent on family members I claim to love. Walking my dog. All that time lost to following up on every idea that I have.

I look at my ideas and try to choose the most important ones to work on, or the ones that seem the most productive. Doing ideas that seem the most interesting can, over time, lead to many, many unfinished projects. I try very hard now to not start new projects without finishing the old ones. The mending pile must be dealt with before I start making my dream collection of fabulous coats and cashmere hats.

I really do want a collection of fabulous coats as a coat is what most people see me wear in the fall, winter, and spring. My coats are my advertisements for my sewing and design skills. Wearing a ratty old coat that I bought at a thrift shop twenty-two years ago does not say: what a great designer and seamstress. It says: this woman doesn’t know how to dress. Is that the image I want to project? Well, no, not really. So the coats move up the work hierarchy. With each beautiful coat design, I have to consider not just the idea — so perfect! so fitted! so unique and eye-catching! — but the reality of the time spent making it, the cost of the materials and whether or not my sewing skills match the idea in my head. And will my idea actually work in the real world? Holding together, being flattering, keeping out the cold? I won’t know that answer until after I spend the hours cutting, pinning, basting, fitting, and sewing. If my ideal coat turns out to not work, then all of that time, money, and life energy are lost. I get some improvements in my skills but it is still annoying to spend ten or twelve hours of my life on something that turns out to be unwearable.

You can’t always tell going into a project if the idea will work or not. You just have to spend the time and energy and then find out at the finish line if the effort put into the idea was worth it. More experience helps, a little, to judge the validity of an idea. I spent the summer making fabric shopping tote bags for the Derry Twp. Winter Arts and Crafts show and I have a much better idea now of what fabrics will work in a purely mechanical sense and which ones won’t. Unfortunately, this particular idea did NOT pan out as we sold only five (!) fabric tote bags out of the 85 I made. Hundreds of hours got put into an idea that didn’t earn its keep.

We also, at the same craft show, sold books that Bill wrote and self-published via Peschel Press. Another interesting experience as it showed very clearly how much of a niche product we were making. Period Sherlock Holmes parody collections, historic mystery annotations, and Victorian poisoners? All fascinating, well-executed ideas that the buying public stayed away from in droves. These books do sell, but they sell far better to specialty buyers at mystery conventions and on-line to a widely scattered audience. At an arts and crafts show where we were one of two book sellers? Our titles weren’t right for the buying audience all around us.

We did not understand this fact when we were getting ready for the show. Was the idea worth the cost of time, money, and life energy? Eventually, all of these books will earn out and then become slow and steady money makers. It’s doubtful if they will ever become breakout bestsellers. But they will sell and they will sell for years to come. We learned a lot about self-publishing. Editing. Book design. What a good cover looks like as opposed to a great cover. All very useful skills to be sure and they will help us with future books. So were those ideas worth it?

What idea would sell better? A globe-trotting Victorian detective? A comic space shuttle novel? A mystery series set in a charming chocolate manufacturing town? The collapse of the United States into warring factions? A series of hot, violent romances set on a terraformed Mars? A vampire hunter and her vampire sister? Fortress Peschel? We won’t know, at all, until after the books are written, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, published and promoted. Then we’ll know if the time, labor, and money was well spent. I suspect (hope) that a hot romance illustrated by a life-size banner of my partially dressed alpha male lead may sell very well indeed to the 2/3 female crowd of shoppers we saw. But I won’t know until I finish the book and try hand-selling it.

ideas

What is an idea really worth? You have to go on faith and experience, and hope for the best.

So we come back around to the beginning. What is an idea really worth? How do you determine if an idea is worth the time, money, and life energy to implement? Much of the time, you can’t tell. You have to go on faith and experience, and hope for the best. I look at my to-do list, try to prioritize the most important things, and take care of the things that are critical (the house will burn down!). I try to figure out if the idea will make money or is it just a fun vanity project. Will the idea help me achieve any of my goals of being financially independent? Self-sufficient? Healthier? Better connected to friends, family, and community?

In the end, every idea comes down to the following set of criteria:

* Is it worth my time, money, and life energy to implement?

* Is it good enough to push aside everything else that I have to do and have already committed to?

* Is the potential to make money good?

* Will it help me and my family?

If the answers are no, then it’s a bad idea. Only you can decide. And afterwards, only you will know if that great idea ended up worth the investment you made in it.

Next Week: You And Your Arsenal