When I was growing up and working hard to refine my writing and storytelling skills, I came across a handful of story ideas I actively avoided pursuing. Not because I didn’t want to write them, but because I was afraid of what might happen if I did.
There were many layers to this. But probably the most relatable to those reading this right now is that I was worried other people wouldn’t be interested in or like the stories I had in mind.
There were stories I wanted to tell, things I wanted to write about, but I didn’t. For some reason I was convinced that drawing on my personal experience and creating characters I could relate to wasn’t going to translate to a larger audience. And that held me back for a very long time.
Even though I’m still slowly working my way up to sharing some of these stories — not my stories specifically, just a collection of characters I can’t get out of my head because of our shared experiences — when I look back on all the years I spent saying “no,” I very much wish I’d just said “yes.”
You probably can’t afford to be too picky about your story ideas. I know of many, many aspiring writers who are always excitedly talking about their latest story ideas. And you know what? Some of them are actually really great. Many ideas I hear about from friends are stories I’d actually really want to read, if they ever got around to writing them.
But they don’t. Not because they can’t or don’t want to, but because there seems to always come this point where they, for whatever reason, decide their idea isn’t “good enough” and/or that there’s probably a “better” one out there.
Like, OK, I get it, I do. But also … you had an idea. In your hands. Right there! Ready to write! Do you know how many struggling writers would give anything for a tangible idea like that?
This is one of those strange and difficult to explain things about writers. Some of them are really good at coming up with ideas, and not so great at carrying them out. Others really struggle to formulate ideas, but once they have one locked down, they immediately go off and start making masterpieces.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at this for quite a while, story ideas are precious things. If you have an idea, and it means a lot to you and you want to start laying it out and see where it might lead, you shouldn’t just set it aside because you’re unsure. The only way to discover whether or not a story will “work” is by trying it out and seeing if it works.
Your instincts are better than you give them credit for. Let’s be honest: At some point, we’re all going to come across a really bad idea. And we’re going to give that idea a chance anyway, and it’s not going to work out. And yes, we’ll have regrets about that, probably. We’ll wonder why we even bothered. Why? Because we’re humans, and that’s the way we think.
But not all the spontaneous decisions we make are wrong. Sometimes it’s the second-guessing we put ourselves through that prevents us from pursuing our greatest ideas.
Trust your gut. It might turn out that the idea you thought was a great one in the moment really wans’t. But that’s OK. There’s no such thing as wasted writing time. Even if a particular story doesn’t end up working out, there is always something to be learned from every attempt at writing something new.
And who knows? The idea you weren’t all too sure about in the beginning might one day become the bestselling novel you always secretly dreamed of holding in your hands. You’ll never know unless you try.
‘Having written’ is better than having written nothing. And the more time you spend worrying about whether or not the story idea you have is “worth” writing, the more likely you are to end up with a good idea you never end up using. And that’s just wasteful!
We all want to “have written” something much more than we actually want to “be writing” some days. That’s pretty normal. Writing is always rewarding, but it isn’t always fun, and the journey from “idea” to “finished story” can take a lot longer and feature many more ups and downs than we’re often prepared for.
But if years of trying and failing to write stories has taught me anything, it’s that no “failure” is ever something you end up regretting as a writer. Unfinished stories, “unoriginal” ideas — all these things end up making us circle back around and try doing better the next time. You learn from missing the mark even when you don’t realize that’s what’s happening.
You don’t want to always wonder what might have happened if you’d told the stories on your heart.
It’s OK to be afraid. But be afraid while you write your stories anyway.
There might be someone out there who’s waiting to read them and they don’t even know it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.