You know the ideas. They are not the ones that come to you in a bolt of lightning, nor those that wake you in the middle of the night. They’re the ones that have been gestating in your subconscious for your entire life. They might be tied to or inspired by events in your life. They mean something to you. They are you. And so, naturally, they need to be perfect.
I wrote recently about the well-known dangers of enforcing perfection on your first draft. And of course, we all know that. So when faced with an idea that really needs to be done well, something that we don’t feel we can do justice to, then, well, we may be tempted to put it off until we are ‘better writers’.
So what do we write instead? You could write a different idea, one you don’t care about as much, and risk falling out of interest halfway through, so even if you manage to complete it it feels drab. You could write something ‘easy’, full of clichés and tropes, taking few risks and making less progress in your skills. Or you could try a different form completely, a poem instead of a short story, or flash fiction, and improve in that medium only to come back to your original idea and find the progress hasn’t been as helpful as you had hoped.
I bring all this up because NaNoWriMo is fast approaching. I won’t be participating, as I’m currently working six days a week, but I will be trying to pull more focus towards writing, and so did wonder which of my projects to work on. I am, ostensibly, a novel writer, in that the majority of the ideas I care about and invest time in are novels. It’s a hollow title. I have never completed even a first draft. The longest completed piece I have written – outside of my academic writing – is a 9000 word fanfiction from when I was 15. This is relevant because if first drafts are bad, your first first draft is the absolute worst. The first book you write is pretty much never going to be your best. That’s where you make your mistakes, the attempt you bring up and laugh about but never show anyone. And so it feels like any idea I commit to will just be thrown away.
For those who are in a similar position, please know that I am wrong. For one thing, there is no such thing as ‘throwing away’ writing. Every word you write is good practice. And any ‘terrible’ first draft can be salvaged.
If it really is the best idea you will ever have, fine. Get it down as practice, move on and write the next thing, come back and fix it when you’ve become that ‘better writer’. But the thing is, you’re not only practising writing. You’re practising creativity. And you need to trust that you will have other ideas. There will be other characters that you will meet and care about, and they’ll probably be better.
Being a better writer will hopefully come with better ideas.