There’s a problem I used to have quite regularly as a writer. I still have it every now and then. Maybe you do as well. I think all writers will encounter this hurdle, especially in their emerging years.
Let’s try a role play to illustrate what my topic today will be.
INT. WRITER’S HEADSPACE
It’s a messy place. Thank God your mother never told you to clean it up, there’s no telling what you’d find under some of this clutter.
In one corner a bright light comes into being. AWESOME WRITER rushes over in excitement, scribbling on a piece of paper.
Wow! This is a great idea! It’s so different from my comfort zone. I can’t wait to make this into something!
In response, from the shadows emerges DEVIL’S ADVOCATE.
Not so fast there. Are you sure about this?
Um, why wouldn’t I be?
Hoo boy. You haven’t thought about this, have you? Have a look at that idea. You’re not cut out for it. You don’t know anything about Argentina. You haven’t read Foucault in years. How do you expect to string all this together?
Well, it’ll be pretty easy to do some research …
Don’t give me that! It’ll be as plain as day you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Oh. Yeah, probably.
Shelve it for a while. It’s for your own good. Come back to it when you’re good and ready.
Now that’s a good idea. I know, I have this other idea about domestic instability. I just finished something similar, but ‘write what you know’, right?
Right. (Laughs maniacally)
I hope your evil maniacal laugh was as good as mine.
But have you had this conversation before? I know I have. Maybe not with Argentina and Foucault rattling around in my headspace, but certainly with other concepts that I’ve put together, before deciding I needed to put the whole thing into hibernation. Why? Because I lacked the knowledge, the experience – and above all, the confidence – to tackle the idea.
If you’re now recognising the pattern, then you know where I’m going with this. Because that idea has now taken on a new identity. You’ve ruled yourself out from being able to work with what might be one of your greatest ideas, because you weren’t able to see yourself as the writer. It was too big for you. It was too intimidating. And now you can barely even look at the original notes for fear of burning your eyes. These are not evolving ideas. These are dormant ideas, and while they don’t develop they are dead weight. And they spend their spare time intimidating you like a mob enforcer gently reminding you that no one likes a snitch.
You might be tempted to sever yourself from the idea utterly to spare yourself the embarrassment. Do not do that. Unless it turns out to be a genuinely unworkable idea, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
Speaking from experience, at one point I ended up with a folder full of concepts and drafted openings. The problems with many of these pieces wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write – this isn’t a writer’s block issue, and regular readers already know my views on that ogre. The paralysis set in because I didn’t trust myself to write it. The plot points were there, there was an established sense of direction, and I was at least good enough to bridge the remaining gaps – but I froze every time I was confronted with the task at hand.
I’m too green.
I need to develop more as a writer before I can be that ambitious.
I don’t know enough about the background – it’ll be too much research.
I need to work on my dialogue/setting/etc before I can pull this off.
Over and over again. If you’ve been in this quagmire before, then you know how hard it can be to pull yourself out with any real conviction.
Only in the past year, I’ve succeeded in clearing the decks somewhat. I have a long list of ideas that have been sitting around for years. Some of them are finally reaching the page. And it’s because I decided to stop being afraid of the ideas that once seemed too big for me to handle. Maybe they still are too ambitious for my level of development. But I’ll be damned if I don’t put them through some drafting before I accept defeat.
As a result, I’m currently more productive on my fiction than I have been for a long time. All other factors aside, the resolve to journey into the unknown has been a major catalyst towards that improved productivity.
No idea is too big. No prospect is too ambitious. And if you were the one to have this inspiration in the first place, then you’re the one best suited to turn it into a reality; a piece of writing on a page. Maybe one of the best pieces of writing you’ll ever develop. But you’ll never know until you trust yourself.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen