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When Your Ideas are Great but Your Writing is Boring

Banner - penEver had a story that started out with a great idea, and then… died?

Like the first chapter is amazing. The second is OK. The third is so boring you want to rip it all out.

What you’re describing is the moment where the brilliance of the idea fades.

See, all ideas are created amazing. There’s a spark that sets us free, makes us soar, widens our horizons and makes pink unicorns dance the cancan with sprinkles.

Then comes the reality of turning that idea into reality. And there’s a gulf between what we want to do, and what we can do. That gulf is where the spark grows stale, fades, and eventually dies.

We can see the effortless magnificence of the idea, because that’s what ideas are – effortless.

But when it comes to making it reality, we see words instead of images, dialogue instead of characters, letters instead of thoughts. It’s an imperfect medium, incapable of conveying the grand feeling of our idea.

And that’s all right.

Because what we want to do is set it down in a way that other people can create their own ideas from. The best writing isn’t a meticulous description of the hairs on a character’s head, it’s a suggestion that makes others see their haircut.

But we still see the idea, the artisanal Sino-Coatian barber that cut our character’s hair into a perfectly ruffled do. We want that. We want the idea.

Problem is, ideas fade. Even if we keep thinking about them, they fade in our minds. And then, BOOM! New idea!

It’s glorious. It’s magnificent. It’s the best darn thing that we’ve ever done. Except that we haven’t done it. We’re still struggling with our old idea. This is the danger of shiny.

“Shiny” is a term that I freely steal from Mary Robinette Kowal (SFWA President, amazing writer, and great writing instructor – look her up!). Shiny is that thing that has a pull on us. A new idea. A magazine we want to get published in. A new novel by our favorite writer. Chocolate chip cookies.

We want shiny. And it makes us stray.

Stray from the idea we were working on in the first place. Stray from what we thought was our THING. The story that we wanted to tell.

We need to stick with that first idea, or we’ll never finish anything.

But how do we do that? How do we get past the middle doldrums?

Never heard of them? They’re the part between the spark of the shiny idea, and the mad dash toward finish, when we see how our story is turning out, we can feel the ending, taste it, yearn for it, to hold our story in our hands.

The doldrums are the slow, lagging, middle part. The part where we struggle. Where we either don’t now how to move forward, or know it too well and it’s all boring anyhow.

You got to write through them. Maybe you need a fresh idea to get your character forward. Maybe you need to figure out what they’ll do next. Maybe it’s you – that you’re fearing the approaching moment when someone will look at your words and judge you. Or maybe its something completely different.

Point is, it’s natural. We all have it.

For some, it’s short. All they need to do is go get a cup of tea, do five push-ups and they’re good to go.

(That’s not a bad idea, BTW. Exercise that increases your heart rate clears away stress, reinvigorates the brain, and makes you more creative. Just saying…)

For others, they need to sit down and think, and mull it over. Or they need to power through, keep writing until something pops up. I’m one of those last ones, and let me tell you, powering through is a stoppered bunghole. I hate it. But often it’s the only thing that will make the story flow again.

Or maybe you need to write a snippet of something else, to reignite your creative energies.

Just don’t make it a habit. Make sure that you finish what you start more often than not. Make sure that the larger the project, the more often you finish it. If you don’t you risk ending up with dozens of half-finished manuscripts, and dozens of years wasted.

You don’t want that. I sort of fell into that trap, and I can authoritatively say that you don’t want that. Finish what you start. Follow Heinlein’s Rules if you want a career in writing. Just finish, if you want to be a writer, regardless of career.

Because in the end, it’s natural to occasionally feel bored with your writing. It’s a point you need to learn to pass – and lean that it does pass.

Nothing will come close to the shininess of your brand new idea. But as you write and learn your craft, you will find a new relationship to your ideas, valuing not their shininess, but their execution.

And that’s how you write great books!

Luck and Persistence!

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