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SUBJECT: Bad ideas, or Ideas Which, for Whatever Reason, Will Not Be Used

I carry a small spiral notebook with me at all times and have been doing this for many years. There's a shoe box in my closet filled with these notebooks, each riddled with notes and impressions, ideas, schemes, and soup recipes. I am aware that this is unremarkable.

After finishing The Sisters Brothers, I upended the shoe box in search of a new project. Surely, somewhere in one of these 20-plus notebooks there was something that would put me to work? But no, I went through them all and didn't find a single usable idea.

Below is a sampling of what I did find, things that I won't be using, either because they're bad ideas, or else underdeveloped, or because I don't understand how to use them. At least, not yet.

Short story ideas:

  • A story about a charitable organization called Ski Bums that takes homeless people skiing. This is destined to fail because homeless people hate being cold.

  • A story about someone who is the opposite of an exorcist — someone who can make an unhaunted house haunted.
  • A story about a Doo-Wop group who reunite after 40 years of hostile non-communication to sing their lone hit, "Baby Factory."
  • "Stevie Ray Vaughn Hotel Proposal": A proposal for a Stevie Ray Vaughn-themed hotel.

Snippets of conversation:

  • "I get stoned, eat pies, and watch boxing."
    "That doesn't sound so bad."
    "No, I'm depressed."
  • "Would it kill you to go outside?"
    "It might."
  • "I think I know what your problem is."
    "What's that?"
    "Shitheaditis. And it's looking terminal."
  • "What was he wearing?"
    "Nothing. A condom."

Statements/bits of monologue:

  • "The smell of burning hair tells me my true love is home."

  • "November's the worst month of the year. I used to think it was February but I was wrong. It's November."
  • "Your little buddy with the size five cowboy boots."
  • "Shut up. Go wash the house."
  • "He was one of those touchy-feel types, I could tell right off. Kept talking about his special oatmeal."
  • "Paint me in sentimental oils, you pig."
  • "The thing I don't like about old people is how old-fashioned they are."
  • "Do me a favor, and don't do me any favors."
  • "So, beggars can be choosers."
  • Character pleased with his just-finished dessert, patting stomach: "Remember the à la mode!"


  • In 1588, 28,000 Spanish soldiers and sailors confessed and took communion at the same time and in the same location before going to war with the English

  • The bark of a sassafras tree can cure syphilis.

Vague observation/recollection:

  • In the spring, when it rains and the snow is swept from the ground, the earth resembles the fur of a just-born animal.

  • A clean bathroom = invitation to ponder suicide.
  • Eating lunch and looking at the gun-colored water. My hands smell like bananas and gasoline.
  • Foghat = good name for a cat or dog.

General ideas/random plans:

  • A bet whereby the loser has to get a tribal tattoo.

  • A bet whereby the loser has to put one of those "COEXIST" stickers on his car for one year.
  • Dracula Party: A party where everyone dresses like Dracula.

÷ ÷ ÷

Patrick deWitt is the author of the critically acclaimed Ablutions: Notes for a Novel. Born in British Columbia, he has also lived in California, Washington, and Oregon, where he currently resides with his wife and son.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Sisters Brothers
    Used Hardcover $9.95

Patrick deWitt is the author of The Sisters Brothers

3 Responses to "SUBJECT: Bad ideas, or Ideas Which, for Whatever Reason, Will Not Be Used"

    Yvonne Prinz May 4th, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Ablutions is perhaps one of the best novels I've come across in a long long time.
    I like the haunted house idea but I think it should be a novel.

    My shoebox is filled with doll heads. They all have mohawks and Maori tattoos.

    Thanks for the post.

    Yvonne Prinz
    author of The Vinyl Princess

    UnemployedLibrarian May 4th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    You wouldn't mind if I took the ideas and wrote the stories, would you? I'm having a hard time getting back into the workforce and I'm thinking a career change may be in order. Cooking? Folding shirts at The Gap? Art for sale on Etsy? Writing?

    Love the blog entry. Though you forgot tourist forays into slums of foreign cities. And yes, the tours are for real.

    Chris Roberts May 4th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Yeah, you were right to leave in them closet, or better yet, time trip back to the Titanic so you and your notebooks could go down with the ship.

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