I read somewhere long ago—so to be clear, this isn’t my idea, even if I can’t remember where I got it—that the best way to deal with a great idea is to immediately try to forget it. Don’t write down notes, don’t spend the next six hours in a frenzy of enthusiastic research or writing. Put it out of your mind.
The theory is, if it’s that rare and wonderful thing known as a good idea, it will come back to you. It will keep bobbing to the surface until you can’t ignore it any more. And only the ideas that you resolutely cannot ignore should be developed and worked on. If the idea just sinks under the mental waves, it was probably not a strong swimmer to begin with.
Can confirm: This works a charm.
If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free
My memory is a terrible thing. I routinely forget things like my own name, or why I’m walking pantsless along the highway carrying a small pig. My childhood is a vague and gray place, with most of the details of my life forgotten. I once told my wife in all seriousness that my Mother was Lutheran, which amused Mom to no end.
So forgetting things on purpose is anxiety-producing for me, and I have an urge to preserve every thought I’ve ever had on paper, just in case it’s good. But forgetting works, because most of my ideas are terrible. Most of your ideas are also terrible. Forget them. You won’t ever miss them. The few fragile good ideas you generate? in my experience yes, they will come back.
Forgetting ideas not only stops you from devoting hours of precious time to half-baked concepts while your more developed novels and stories languish, it also means you will simply have fewer ideas to worry over and thus more time to devote to the ones that come back to you. And trust me, even if a halfway decent idea never comes back to you, you’re not gonna miss it. Because you forgot about it. Jeesh, try to keep up.
So: Next time you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea throbbing in your head, forget it and go back to bad. Future You will thank you.