Monday, October 10, 2005

What to Do with a Big Idea?

I was up until past 3AM last night, owing to the fact that I graded 40 freshman composition papers in one day (!) and every time I closed my eyes, that prose assaulted my mind. The good news is that they are getting better.

Sometime between 2AM and 3:30AM, I had a Big Idea. You know the kind of ideas I am talking about: the kind that strikes you as brilliant in the dim mind of the night, but melts under the harsh daylight of a well-rested mind. The funny thing is that when I woke up, the idea seemed even better.

When I say a Big Idea, I don't mean something like, "Hey, gang, let's have a bake sale!" or "Maybe I'll start eating right and exercising more." I mean an idea for changing the way we think about medieval literature -- a suggestion for an entire paradigm shift. The kind of idea that really cheeses people off, which, if poorly expressed, makes the thinker come off as a crackpot.

So, I've been trying to figure out what to do with this idea. My wife suggested I write an article and send it to Speculum (an old and important medieval journal). An early modernist friend of mine suggested I share the idea with a few like-minded friends and put together a panel at the Medieval Congress (yes, there is such a thing). Another friend suggested I write up the article and send it to one of my mentors for advice. Another suggestion was that I try to turn it into a book.

I'm not trying to be cutsey and teasing here ... I just don't want to reveal the idea before it either ripens to wine or turns to vinegar. The question is: what do you do with a really big idea?The truth is, I'm not sure how to proceed. Any help from the wise among you?


  1. Anonymous7:49 AM

    Not being of the academic community, what is this "idea" thing you speak of?

  2. For the moment, it's a secret. Sorry, I hate to seem coy, but if the idea turns out to be stupid after further thought, I don't want the embarrassment of having it "out there." If the idea turns out to be good, I don't want it out there until it matures.

  3. But if we do not know what we are approving, then we are at an impasse. Just throw it out. You can always go back and delete your post.

  4. But I'm not asking for approval ... I'm trying to figure out the proper venue for revealing a big idea. A blog, because of its ephemeral and less formal nature, seems to me to be the wrong choice.

    So, let's say you've got a BIG IDEA. Where and how do you reveal it?

  5. Not to be utterly unhelpful, but doesn't this somewhat depend on one's discipline?

    Even in PoliSci it varies. In Comparative Politics it seems that most "Big Ideas" tend to be book-length, but in Political Theory it tends to be in article form.

    I suppose it also depends on how well developed said idea is. Going from conference panel to article to book makes a certain amount of sense, unless one needs the element of surprise, so that maybe an article would be best.

    Of course, it may just be a mirage created by all that grading.

  6. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Scott: I think you misunderstood my feeble attempt at comment humor.

    "Idea"? What's an "idea"?

    Lame, I know. But it's been that sort of day.

  7. There's always the NY Times, Doc...Just how big is this idea?

  8. The idea is a suggestion for completely re-conceiving the field of medieval literature. Too narrow for the NYT, too serious for a blog.

    UPDATE: I've started writing it up in article form to send to a mentor to ask his opinion.

  9. "I mean an idea for changing the way we think about medieval literature -- a suggestion for an entire paradigm shift."

    <--cringes at the use of paradigm shift leave such words to Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. ;)

    Direct to the point though, if your idea truly shatters the status quo with regards to how we look at medieval literature, I have the following question.

    "Why limit your discovery with the existing status quo?"

    It seems to me that one would desire to remove the medieval scholars, tweed and all, from the ivory tower and into the light. From what little medieval literature I have read, largely due to a wonderful professor as an undergrad, I believe it is worthy of mass consumption. The "legacy" of medieval literature is everywhere around us...

    Our modern concept of romantic love (as opposed to the classical notion).

    King Arthur stuff. Roleplaying Games. MMORPGs. Chivalry. Prince Valiant.

    Just seems that whatever you do, you should share it outside the Tower. Leave the hermaneutics to the hermetic hermits, enlighten us all!