In a recent forum thread, one Scribber talked about how she had a killer idea, but was reluctant to begin the writing process because of her doubts that she currently had the commensurate skills to execute it. The purpose of her forum thread, then, was to ask if any of the rest of us had ever felt that way.
The short answer: Yes. Every single time I write.
The long answer is more complicated.
The Idea Gods visited me in high school and planted the seed for a novel that I’ve always thought would be amazing, but it was such a delicate, intricate idea that I knew that, at sixteen, I certainly didn’t have the skill to pull it off and a few years later when I saw the movie Amadeus, I looked at Salieri, a man consumed by his own mediocrity, held out my hands, and said, “My brother!”
The people in the theater were not amused.
For years now, I’ve also had a great idea for an update of Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite novels of all time and a book I’m lucky enough to teach almost every year. I had an idea on how to spin it, update it, and re-envision it, but I’ve been too afraid to try, one hundred per cent certain that I will ruin the idea, especially with Fitzgerald’s ghost breathing down my back (and could you go a bit easier on the sauce, there, F. Scott?).
The truth of the matter is that we probably shouldn’t be too concerned. We should put fingers to keyboard, anyway and see what happens. But what if you spend that million dollar idea and, after typing “The End,” you realize you’ve just written a big pile of crap.
I’ve got three ideas about this:
Continuum. Writing isn’t about any one piece. It’s a process and a continuum. In its most basic Zen essence, writing is about practice and improvement. Each Scrib member knows, consciously or subconsciously, that with practice, he or she will get better and that pieces written five years from now will be better than pieces written this month. You must forgive yourself the crap.
Vision. Your vision isn’t your art. No matter how clear the vision in your head, there will always, always, be a heart-rending discrepancy between the vision in your head and what finally appears on the printed page, even after finger-shredding practice and revision. This is true for every artist—singers, dancers, painters, sculptors, whatever. The lovely part is that our imaginations, our fantasies, our visions are perfect and the satisfying–and admittedly frustrating– part of the process is that we are in a constant struggle to achieve the vision in our minds. Good luck with that.
Trust. We must learn to trust the Idea Gods. If we totally crash and burn on that killer idea, we must have faith that more will come. If we hold stingily (as I have done) to ideas that we are afraid will not materialize in a way we can live with, it will paralyze our creativity and the Idea Gods will not have the space to give us more. Give them the space they need by working with what they give you.
So write that story, unidentified Scribber. See what materializes. You will get better from having done it and more ideas will come.
Then let me know what happens. . .