When we write, we all hope we’re going to produce good stories and characters every single time.
But that’s just not realistic for most of us.
The problem is that we sometimes become so afraid of not writing something “good” that we convince ourselves we can’t stray from our usual storytelling paths and try something new.
The key to creating your best work isn’t to stick with what’s familiar. Quite the opposite, actually. Here’s what I mean.
We shouldn’t be afraid of producing ‘bad’ work. This may not be the number-one thing that stops aspiring writers from writing, but it’s definitely in most hopefuls’ top five. For some reason — OK, likely many reasons — just the idea of not writing something “perfectly” the first time often intimidates people to the point of not being able to convince themselves to try writing at all.
Here’s the thing: Most of the writers you know and/or are a huge fan of have written more terrible things than good. What you see in bookstores and online is more often than not only a very small sample of the work they have produced. Chances are, it’s also the best work they’ve done.
You don’t see all their unpublished, unfinished, unpolished word-dumps, the same way others don’t see yours. Writing isn’t all about who sees what you write and whether or not they respond to it. Sometimes you have to write a dozen rough drafts before you get to the good stuff. It’s not a waste. It’s just part of the process.
Sometimes we mistake creative comfort for boredom. Have you ever heard an expert or influencer talk about “comfort zones?” It’s always something about how you have to get out of or expand your comfort zone if you want to grow as a person or develop a certain skill.
Many don’t realize that writers have “creative comfort zones.” Within your creative comfort zone lies all the things you’re used to and — yep — comfortable with writing about. Also included: your preferred style, the subjects you like to write about and the formats/mediums you prefer, the types of characters you’re used to writing, and more.
Sometimes when we start to feel “stuck” we assume we’re bored with an idea. Our immediate impulse is often to abandon the idea or project that’s boring us and jump right on to something that’s new and seemingly more exciting.
Often what’s really happening is that you’re staying within what makes you comfortable as a storyteller, so what you’re writing seems boring because it’s the same thing you’ve always done. Chances are, you aren’t bored at all. You’re just not letting yourself reach your full creative potential.
You’re sticking too close to what you know. You’re not letting your mind venture beyond a certain point. And that’s where so many people get stuck.
Something good almost always comes out of ‘free writing.’ When I started feeling stuck in the middle of one of the books I worked on last year, I gave myself permission to start a new document and write aimlessly about the characters in that story.
What I got out of that was a lot of nonsense and narratives I would never actually use in that book. However, I did end up “accidentally” creating a completely new character that became one of the main protagonists in the one book I did manage to complete in 2019.
If I’d never “gone off the rails” and wrote something completely unplanned and seemingly unnecessary, I may have never gotten this exact idea for a book. Or it would have taken me much longer to realize such an idea’s potential. I took a chance, I spent a lot of time on something I never expected to pay off in any way, and 130,000 words later, I had zero regrets.
We all could benefit from learning to improvise a little. Write spontaneously. Worry less about the outcome and more about what we’re getting out of it as we’re writing.
Good work. Not-so-great work. It’s a balance. As it should be.
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.