Walk into any writer's workspace and you're bound to find scraps of paper littering every surface and tucked into every hidden corner. This is because we save every hastily jotted down thought we've ever had and each unfinished manuscript that we either didn't have the desire or inspiration to finish.
I've talked before about how I often go through these wastelands in search of any hidden phrase or scene that has been lost in the shuffle. A few weeks ago, I went through the notes and manuscript of a novel I worked on for a year when I was nineteen and twenty. I won't leave you in suspense wondering if I'd discovered a lost work of genius--I did not. In fact, it was awful. Horrendously so. But I did find an interesting section of notes, in the form of questions, tacked onto the where the manuscript abruptly stopped some 150 pages in.
The questions were addressed to me, trying to figure out how to handle some of the overly ambitious aspects of the novel. I realized several fascinating things while reading these notes from over a decade ago. The first was that I simply didn't have the skill necessary to tell the story I was trying to tell, even if it had been focused. The second thing I noticed was an idea that I was attempting in that project was very similar to one I ended up using in the novel I just finished.
I was struck by the notion that an idea sometimes can take many years to develop and grow into something useful. Sometimes the idea is set from the beginning but needs to the right soil to grow in. Other times, the idea simply needs time to grow stronger roots before it sprouts. I suppose this is why all of those scraps of paper float around a writer's workspace--they are ideas in the process of growing.