No, I’m not talking about the recent and popular novel by the same name. (Admittedly, I haven’t even read it yet but am told it is excellent.) I’m talking about the “Idea That Got Away” – presumably into somebody else’s head.
Say what, B.C.?
Just the other day I was watching an episode of ‘Supernatural’ (love those hunky brothers and awesome tunes!) and realized that the exact premise of the episode was a story idea I had squirreled away in the “Trunk” portion of my writing folder. Now I’m sure a few of you are wondering what my “Trunk” is, so I’ll tell you. The “Trunk” portion of my writing folder is where I store all the small ideas I get that don’t seem to go anywhere after a short time. Most of the time these are short stories that I’d hoped to elaborate into something longer (since I am a novelist by preference), or they are stories I didn’t think were quite up to snuff – whether it was due to plot holes, stilted writing, or just corny ideas. But seeing this episode of ‘Supernatural’ made me go back into my writing folder and re-read the story idea I’d had (according to the date and time stamp on the entry) more than 3 years ago and waaaay before the show’s writer’s came up with it.
What was it that made me decide this story wasn’t good enough? Clearly, the idea had been good enough to use as a premise for a fairly well-known television show, so it couldn’t have been that. (Although I did see the annotation I’d made at the end of the idea summary that simply stated ‘Credible enough?‘) It hadn’t been that I wanted to later turn the idea into a longer story because the folder contained only an idea summary and the original scene that demanded to be written. So what had kept me from fleshing out the idea I’d had before the
damn lovely writers at ‘Supernatural’ and making my own profit from this idea? After a good deal of thought, I was pretty sure I had figured out what the problem with this idea ended up being.
Oh, yes, folks! The end-all, be-all of book thieves – doubt. Self doubt is probably the single-most killer of stories all over the world. One could equate doubt to the heart attack; the #1 killer.
Many people could argue that lack of time and motivation kills more stories than ever doubt could. But I’d like to point out the millions (upon probably millions) of novels, short stories, lyrics, and poems that are floating around in existence, unpublished due to that nagging little thought in the back of their author’s brains. What I write isn’t good enough; what I write will never be as good as (fill in the blank).
Several years ago a teacher once told me to “Forget coming up with something original. There are no original ideas anymore in literature; they’ve all been done and redone. But what you should do is try to make the ideas that are already out there as YOU as possible. Because any new ingredient added to an old recipe makes it new and yours.” I took this advice and ran with it. I realized that plots for stories, while varied slightly, are pretty tried and true and it would be impossible to come up with a 100% unique story that no one had ever heard before. But what I could do is lend my voice, my personality, and how I write to these stories.
Now I’m not saying that I go out and rip off other people’s plots. But you have to admit that girl-meets-boy is a pretty straight forward plot whether it’s with were-girl-meets-vamp-boy or alien girl-meets-human boy or princess-meets-stable boy or even normal girl-meets-normal boy? But it’s my voice that changes the story and makes it unique to me and for the reader. So back to my original thought – the book thief that is self doubt.
Self doubt is the one thing that all writers have, no matter how successful they’ve been in the past. Everyone who has an idea scrutinizes that idea (whether it’s before they write it, while they write it, or after they write it) under the harshest light. Because that idea has to win out against every doubt we might have for that story. (In my case, my doubt was that the idea might not be credible to the readers.) Clearly I found my idea lacking in some way; somehow it didn’t measure up. The true irony is that 3 years later I’m watching it on a nationally syndicated television show where millions of viewers thought it was plenty credible – at least if two hunky brothers listening to awesome tunes were included. Just makes me realize that any time that little voice talks up and asks me if what I’m writing is good enough, I should just tell it to fuck off…
And then write two hunky brothers listening to awesome tunes into the mix.