Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is It Worth It?

by Scott Rhoades

In the early stages of a writing project, it’s often hard to know whether the thing is worth writing. That initial flurry of ideas is an instant high that makes you think it’s going to be the best story since The Epic of Gilgamesh.

When you first get an idea, there's a flush of excitement. It’s a lot like that feeling you used to get in school when you realized you had a crush on this girl. There’s the usual nervous fluttering of the gut that moves up makes the tops of your arms itch. Your cheeks burn. Your hands shake. It’s terrible and exciting and pleasant and sickening, all at once.

But ideas are tricky things. In your mind, the idea is spectacular. It's perfect. You share it with friends and they're excited about it, if they get it, and if they don't they nod and tell you to go for it. Then you sit on it a while and the idea starts to cool and doubts set in. That’s often as far as a person ever gets.

But you're better than all those wannabes, so you start writing.

The first sentence doesn't come out right. In your head, it was brilliant and full of nuance. On paper, it's flat and dull. Clever, original plot twists look familiar and cliched. Your character voices don't sound human, if they talk to you at all. You get lost in trying to set things up that were crystal clear in your imagination. It doesn't matter how many times you've been told (or that you've told other writers) that first drafts are lousy. How can such a brilliant idea turn into such a dud?

It doesn't take long to lose confidence. This is where you ask, "Is it worth it?"

If your ideas got you so excited and the excitement stayed with you long enough for you to start writing, chances are that there's something there. Imagination is easy, but conveying those images in your fantasies so that others see what you do takes a lot of work. It takes a few minutes to think all the way through a story, and it can take years to learn how to write it.

This is why so many people never start the book ideas they have in their head. It's hard to see your perfect idea turned into a rough draft. Most people, if they start a book, don't get very far. Anybody who has completed a first draft, though, knows the tremendous feeling of making it to the end. If you've done that, you've already got 99 of a hundred aspiring writers beat. You've written a novel.

It might not ever be as good as it was in your head. Chances are, if you work at it, it will be even better. Whether it ever gets published doesn't even matter that much. You've written a novel. Sure, it needs a ton of work. It's not very good. But you did what everybody says they want to do and almost nobody ever actually manages to do. You've stretched your abilities, and you can look forward to improving your skills even more as you turn rough stone into a beautiful sculpture.

And that makes it worth writing.


Yamile said...

I agree 100% with you! Last year I participated in Nanowrimo for the first time ever, and I'm elated to say I reached my goal of writing a novel. It took me 30 days to finish a very raw first draft, and I've been re-writing my story for what? almost four months now, and sometimes I get demoralized by how much work I still have to do. On the days I feel like no one will ever want to read my story, I go back and read my manuscript and the feelings of excitement and hope come back, and they keep me going. I don't know if my novel will ever get published (I sure hope so though), but I've discovered I have a lot to say, so I'll keep writing no matter what.

Scott said...

Finishing that first draft makes you a better writer than almost every person who says they are going to write a novel someday. In fact, it puts you ahead of almost 100% of the people who actually start one. So hold your head high, declare yourself a writer (because you are!), and keep chugging away. Revising is by far the longest part of the process, so hang in there.