All writers are storytellers. We gather ideas from the people, places, and things we interact with and we turn them into stories. For most, binding to an idea is not the hard part. The hard part is actually sitting down and putting that idea into words.
I know this is a common struggle because I have — and still do on occasion — share the same hardship with all of you. That’s why this blog exists. To help you conquer this and many other struggles and get your stories told.
There are many factors that make storytelling more difficult than it presumably should be. Time, for example — there never seems to be enough of it. Many people also struggle to find the motivation or drive to get their work done. They WANT to. They just can’t bring themselves to bring that want to the table.
One common creative barrier or writing roadblock I’ve experienced — and have seen many others experience over the years — is fear. Fear that your story isn’t good enough. Fear that people will criticize it too heavily and you’ll feel disappointed as a result.
There’s also the fear that a story has been overdone or that it won’t be able to stand out amongst others like it. This stops many writers from ever even coming close to achieving their dreams — often stops them from attempting to Make Words Happen at all.
Many writers worry that their ideas aren’t unique enough or that someone has already told the story they want to tell. This worry is understandable and I would be lying if I said I’d never shoved an idea aside because I thought it was too similar to something that had already been done.
But what most people either don’t realize or forget is that two people telling a similar story will almost never end up telling the same exact story. This is because every story a person tells is in part based on their personal experience or their particular viewpoint about a subject. No two people, not even two people who grew up in the same place experiencing the same events, go through life having learned the same lessons. Different versions of different stories, therefore, emerge from different people.
Stories also evolve as you write them. You might start writing a story with one idea or direction in mind and end it having gone with a completely different plan. All stories, if you strip them down to their most basic elements, are similar to one another in general concept. But each one that’s been told is unique in its own way, partially because a different person authored it from start to finish.
Your worry that the story in your head won’t “make it” out there against all the other stories of its kind is a completely rational fear. Just like ourselves, we want all of our stories to possess that one unique quality or element that sets them apart from the crowd and increases their chances of success.
But here’s the thing: You will never have to worry about your story being crushed by all the bigger, meaner stories that came before it if you never actually get around to telling your story.
In other words: If you never write it, you’ll never have to worry about it. But you’ll also never have any chance of seing your story take off, because there won’t be one.
If you’re struggling to transform your idea from a concept to a finished product, keep in mind that you are, technically, about to do something no one has ever done before. The story you are about to tell is unique because your thoughts and experiences are unique. Let that motivate you, and offer you reassurance, and encourage you to keep going even when it gets hard, even when you feel stuck, even when you begin to doubt you can do this — because you will doubt yourself, and get stuck, and struggle. There is no avoiding that.
The only thing to do is to continue telling your story. Don’t focus on whether it’s “good” or not. Don’t worry about how unique or attention-grabbing or “marketable” it is. Just write the story that’s on your heart.
I know many experts will disagree with this stance. But their primary focus is, if that’s the case, different than mine. I believe that every writer needs to start out worrying only about getting the words onto paper, and that’s what I’ve set out to do in giving advice on this blog and elsewhere. Once you’ve written a story, THEN you can worry about perfecting it. But not yet. Not until you’ve actually written something from start to finish.
So start with that. Start with a story. It may turn out that you didn’t end up writing the exact story you wanted and you’d rather keep your finished product to yourself and begin writing something for someone else to read instead. There’s nothing wrong with that. At least you tried. At least you wrote something. Because of that you can call yourself a writer. The only prerequisite to calling yourself a writer is that you write.
Tell your story. For now, that’s your only task. Sit down and write it down. The more time you spend working on it, the more you’ll realize its value — and yours.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.