Idea Debt & Getting Sh*t Done


Get shit done.

As a mantra, I don’t imagine my granny would approve. But it’s seen me through deadlines, races, awkward meetings, breakups, and pretty much my entire twenty-something life.

More thousands of words to write than hours in the day? Get shit done.

No sleep, surviving on coffee, horrible “real-life” workload? Get shit done.

Want to stay in bed and watch Netflix instead of running five miles? Get shit done (and then, ok, maybe Netflix).

Get shit done means doing something for yourself. And not just because you have to.

It might be work, it might be writing, it might be some other side-hustle you have going – but whatever it is, you’re passionate about it. It’s that thing that makes you want to wake up in the morning, makes it impossible to fall asleep at night.


But in my case there’s a problem.

I am knee-deep in idea debt.

What is idea debt? I came across this phrase a year ago when I was trying to kickstart 2016 as my “year of first drafts”.

It’s the idea that sometimes we can spend ages planning, plotting, researching, building up details or books of character bios – but barely any time actually working on the thing you’re imagining so hard.

It’s when you spend an entire year talking about your startup but don’t move past the bare bones concept. It’s when you spend weeks discussing and planning for a new blog but the content plan is left looking like a list of bullet points. It’s when you write about writing but don’t actually write what you’re writing about writing. If that makes sense.

That’s idea debt.

And it applies to pretty much every side-hustle you can possibly imagine. Because generally speaking, it’s what accrues on the creative projects you dream of finishing. Not on deadline-heavy day jobs.


So how to pay off idea debt?

First identify the cause of your idea debt and start paying it off.

Ever since I was eight, writing stories about elves in French class and scrawling bad poetry into maths workbooks, I’ve scampered about imaginative landscapes as easily as the playground.

But I also developed some terrible habits. Like ditching projects half way to start shinier ones. Like hitting a rut and abandoning the draft. Like fretting about what other people would think about my more creative writing instead of worrying about that later like a good little scribbler. Plus, I increasingly spent more time talking about writing than writing.

This is what I wanted to tackle by making a resolution about finishing in 2016. As a scribbler, every time I sit down to write, I’m learning. Figuring out my voice and how to tell my stories in my own way. That can only take me so far.

So I decided to challenge myself to finish projects.

Develop a better working schedule.  

Set goals. 

And it worked. Sorta.

I hit deadlines, entered competitions, blogged for several other websites, was actually paid proper money to write for a magazine, had a couple of broadcast opportunities, and was oddly quoted in the Telegraph on fintech.

But there was no first draft.

To be completely candid: I barely wrote beyond the first chapter.

I had spent months talking about this thing but produced almost nothing. And sure, I could try to excuse myself. Say that last year was a dark year for headspace and heartfeels. Or describe how my instant gratification monkey prefers seeing the likes and impressions from blogging compared to the slow-burn, low-promise returns of fiction writing.

But excuses aren’t useful. They won’t solve idea debt. They won’t write my novel.


Time to break and make habits

The first thing I realised was that, my idea debt didn’t accumulate because I didn’t have time or didn’t make time last year. I just didn’t actually prioritise the right things to make everything work.

Last year I just wanted to finish. I wanted to do everything at once. And I wanted to show people that I was doing it.

Producing something across so many platforms was awesome – I’m not at all disappointed with what I created (I’m actually kinda proud of some of my scribblings).

However, I spent more time worrying about keeping up appearances with the outward facing stuff – like taking part in forums, feeding back in writing groups, talking about the projects, offering writing advice, that I stopped being productive and dug myself deeper and deeper into idea debt in the process.

I want to turn all that chatter, all that learning, all that “finding my voice” into idea investment.

Which is why (after a brief dalliance reacquainting myself with Stephen King), I decided to write this.

Because now is the best time to get shit done.

Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” I haven’t exactly got one of those. I have several – monthly, weekly, and daily. And I also have priorities.

I’ve gone back to writing a little everyday on my stories and novel. These come first in my free time. And so, I’m getting shit done.

Blogging and non-fiction is my secondary project. It’s for when I have something to say, not an obligation to produce #content. And so, I’m getting shit done.

Giving up forums has helped too. My focus here is on those writing relationships that are actually constructive, the ones that help me. And so, I’m getting shit done.

And I’m a bit more tough on myself. Making sure I don’t talk more than I write. That I don’t stop writing for myself. That I keep breaking those bad habits. I’ll get shit done. And maybe I’ll be quiet about it and – eventually – I promise it’ll be good.



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