The Not Writer, Part 4: Always a Bridesmaid

“I have it all worked out in my head.”

This is where the divide between Not Writers and Writers is thinnest: Story Ideas.

Creativity, at its core, is a misnomer. We don’t actually create anything new, because we’re not capable of inventing anything we don’t already comprehend: we can’t conceive of something we can’t conceive of. The actual definition of creativity, as we use it day to day, has more to do with synthesis. Scientists and artists alike innovate by making connections that others haven’t thought of, and practice brilliance by figuring out how those connections really work.

A story idea is just that; you bundle up a bunch of stuff you already know (types of people, events, technology, politics, dramatic constructs) and realize that particular bundle feels really, really juicy. If you’re into sci-fi, maybe you’ve conceived of a perspective on FTL- or time-tavel nobody else has done before. If you’re into melodrama, maybe you’ve hit on a particularly poignant emotional crisis and if you’re a mystery writer, maybe you’ve put together an especially stupefying murder plot.

That’s what gets our ‘creative’ juices flowing. We feel the vibrations coming off this bundle of concepts, we marvel at the gleam of the interconnecting lattice, the whole thing thrums with potential and it’s a thrill to refine and crystallize that rough rock into the jewel we know is in there.

For the Not Writer, that’s all too often where the process ends.

Endless cycles of thought and imagination, talking about it to one’s Inner Circle, but nothing goes to paper. And it’s easy to unerstand why; you feel an obligation to produce a product that’s worthy of the potential you know the idea has. You want it to be as good as it can be, so you don’t want to write it any less than that.

Which of course means that you spend all your time Not Writing it.

The sad reality is that most of these bundles of inspiration are quite hollow, once you try to pick them apart. Like the many other disappointments of a grown-up’s life, nobody enjoys confronting this when it happens to them, but the Not Writer shies away from that confrontation by staying within the comfort zone of the Idea Phase. The less you put to paper, the better it looks in your mind’s eye.

The Writer knows the pain of this confrontation, but bears it stoically, and keeps his tears at bay. He knows that it may be hard, but it brings rewards, and he maintains a positive attitude toward the disappointment. Recognizing the flaws and inadequacies of the idea, after all, is the first step toward fixing them and improving the story, or recognizing that the cost/benefit ratio is such that the idea isn’t worth the time.

If you have an idea, write it out!

In synopsis form at first, as a stream-of-consciousness, then break it down into a loosely structured set of notes or dive write in and start penning the first chapter in draft form. In the process you’ll feel the excitement and power of the parts that have real value, and also the tinge of inadequacy of the parts that are too weak, too thin. With enough experience, you’ll realize what you need in order to bolster the weaker aspects or, worst comes to worst, that the idea lacks so much that there’s no story to be made of it in this form.

I love talking about ideas as much as the next guy and very often I’m a Not Writer, overindulging in the idea phase, postponing the outlining and actual writing as long as possible and justifying it to myself by saying that I’m letting the idea percolate and mature in my mind. Often that’s true, often it’s not, and often it takes me far too long to realize the difference.

When someone tells me their idea for a story, that’s wonderful. It’s lots of fun to explore a new concept, but unless I know they’ve a reputation for productivity, I tend to take statements like “This story can easily span three novels, when I write it all out,” with a grain of salt.

It’s a painful thing to see that a great idea looks like shit once it hits the page, but an idea in your head is no use to anybody else, and while that may satisfy a Not Writer, a Writer has to produce a real story every now and again.

– Alex F. Vance