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September 13, 2018

What Do You Want to Write But Haven’t Yet?

Dandelion seeds blowing away with text: Insights from the Story Seeds We *Don't* Write

I saw an interesting question on Twitter by author Delilah S. Dawson the other day:

“Is there anything you’ve wanted to write that you haven’t attempted yet? Themes, characters, genres?”

As authors, we often have more ideas for stories than we actually write. Some we might not write because we realize we’re not passionate enough about the idea to put in the work of actually writing the story. But for some ideas, we might have other reasons behind our decision to not write.

Delilah’s question prompted me to think about those “other” reasons. Why might we not write a story idea that we’re passionate about—and is there anything we can do to overcome those reasons?

Let’s take a look at a list of reasons we might have for not writing a story idea we love and see how we might approach overcoming each of those reasons. The list below is just off the top of my head and bound to be incomplete, so please add other reasons you can think of in the comments. *smile*

We’re Passionate about the Idea But We Haven’t Written the Story Yet Because

Think about what stories you’d love to write and then try to identify why you haven’t written it yet.

…We Have More Ideas than Time

This is probably the most common reason out there. As I mentioned above, we often might have more ideas than we could possibly write in a lifetime.

But one thing we should be careful about is falling back on this reason as the easy answer when there might be other issues underlying our choices. So if this is the answer that popped into our head, we might want to dig deeper and read on for the rest of the possibilities.

That’s not to imply this isn’t a valid answer, however. So if we simply have more ideas than time, we can:

…We Haven’t Developed the Idea Enough

This is another extremely common reason. Sometimes an idea is still percolating in our head, and we need to allow more time for our subconscious/muse to develop the story. Like the above reason, however, we need to be careful that we’re not falling back on the easy answer of “not yet.”

Some of us rely on our subconscious/muse to develop a story, and there’s a limit to what we can do to speed it along. But for others of us, a “not yet” answer might really be procrastination. If we’re not sure which situation applies to our story development process, we might want to push deeper into our answer.

To help us decide—and to help us reach that “enough” point—we can check:

…We Have Other Obligations to Finish First

This might be a less common reason, but it’s one that often doesn’t come with a lot of wiggle room for avoiding or overcoming. In addition to “life” obligations we might have outside of writing, we might also have contract obligations to meet our publisher’s or editor’s deadlines, or we might have made promises to our readers about what story we’d release next.

The most we could do to “get rid of” this reason is to either finish up our obligation quickly or work on our passion project during whatever free time we have. For example, if we know we need to hit a certain word count each day or week on a contracted story, we might allow ourselves to work on our new idea after we’ve met those word count milestones.

…We’re Procrastinating

Now we’re getting into the reasons that might express themselves in those other lazy answers above. *smile*

We might procrastinate writing a story idea we think we’re passionate about for several reasons:

  • We’re not as passionate about it as we think. Maybe the characters, themes, etc. aren’t developed enough to grab us, or maybe we like the premise but not the characters that have come to us to play out the idea.
    In that case, we can identify what’s dulling our excitement and see if we can make tweaks to reignite the passion.
  • We’re more passionate about our other ideas, so we’re writing those others first.
    If so, our situation might be similar to the “Other Obligations to Finish First” category.
  • We’re not sure how to fit the idea into our plans, such as if our idea doesn’t match our brand.
    If so, we can think about what we’d rather do: drop the idea, try to broaden our brand, create a pen name for the idea, etc.
  • We’re intimidated by the idea—such as by its large scope—and thus keep putting it off with a “not ready yet” excuse.
    If we put a name to what’s intimidating us, we might better be able to overcome our worries. For example, with a large-scope story, we might want to do more worldbuilding development than normal to find our comfort level.
  • We don’t feel qualified, often related to the intimidation issue.
    If so, check the next section for insights.

…We Don’t Feel Qualified

If we don’t feel qualified to write any story, that’s an issue of self-doubt and needing to learn enough about writing that we attain a measure of confidence. Remember that “qualification” is more about the perseverance to learn the skills we need than about talent. *smile*

However, if our doubts are about a specific story idea, we might be able to point to one or more of the following reasons:

  • We’re not that familiar with the genre.
  • We don’t have the background knowledge or research.
  • We know our writing craft isn’t up to the skill level needed to properly tell the complex idea.
  • We might not have the right voice for the idea (such as a children’s story or other genres that have an unusual voice or style).
  • We worry we might be the wrong person to tell the story (such as a story that would benefit from an #ownvoices author).

For the first three issues, the problem might fix itself over time—if we’re putting in the work to address whatever is triggering our sense of being unqualified and not just brooding over our lack of qualifications. *smile* As we’re learning the genre, doing the research, and growing our skills, we’ll either reach the point where we become qualified or decide our passion for the idea has cooled too much to bother.

On the other hand, the last two issues are closer to deal-breakers. With the question of voice, we might be able to develop a voice that fits the new genre, especially if we focus on reading exclusively in that genre for a while to get a feel for the conventions and how they apply to our internal voice.

However, with the last issue, we do sometimes have to recognize that not every story is one we should tell. The publishing world doesn’t need more Nazi love stories or more tales of African American pain written by white authors. Some stories will do more harm than good.

What Can We Learn from Our Reasons?

By thinking through our reasons for story ideas we’ve put off, we’ll gain insights into our priorities. Maybe once we understand our reasons, we’ll be able to set aside an idea that’s been pestering us. Or maybe we’ll rearrange our to-do list to make room for our passion project.

Do you have stories you'd love to write but haven't yet? What's holding you back? Click To TweetFor example, one of my favorite genres to read is historical romance, so I used to think I’d “love” to write one. However, I’m not a student of historical details, so thinking of the research I’d have to do for every page was daunting. Plus, I don’t have the right voice for historical.

In other words, while I like the idea of writing a historical romance (especially a paranormal historical romance), the reality is far more intimidating than my interest level. Long ago, I wrote the first few chapters of an idea, but it wasn’t something I felt truly passionate about. Looking at the list above, I don’t have the time, the irresistible story idea, the qualifications, or the motivation to overcome procrastination.

I won’t say “never,” but it would take a story idea that made me obsessive to overcome those obstacles—much less rise to the top of my to-do pile. So…likely never, and I’m okay with that. *smile*

Do you have story ideas that you’re passionate about that you haven’t written yet? What reasons apply to why you haven’t written it yet? Does knowing your reasons change anything for you? Can you think of other reasons to add to this list? Are there other lessons or insights we can take from understanding our reasons?

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Useful to contrast the idea of writing a story with the skills and time required to write a good one!

I’m often keen to go on with SF when my crime readers are looking for more, and I only have one romance out so I need another for those readers. Tough decisions. Sometimes you just have to write what will (probably) sell.

Sieran Lane

My main reason for not working on those ideas, is that I want to finish the story I’m writing first. (So an “other obligations” reason.) Also, I would love to write horror one day, but I’m scared. Not because I think I’m unqualified or won’t have the skills, but simply because I’m afraid of horror, LOL! But this is not an urgent wish, so it can wait. It wouldn’t fit into my “brand” of writing predominantly fantasy and sci-fi either, though you can always write horror with fantasy or sci-fi. Hey I like the point about not being the right author to write the story, and this ties back to the idea of whether we should write about characters very different from ourselves. (Like your example of a white author writing about African American stories.) I think it’s fine for a cisgender author to write about trans protagonists, or for a cishet woman to write about two gay men, especially as I have read so many of these books. People are just people, after all. As long as the authors don’t rely on stereotypes or report inaccurate information. (However, even LGBT+ folks can have inaccurate information about their community. For instance, I’m transgender but I am continually learning new things about trans folks and trans culture.) But maybe LGBT+ books are a different issue? I think many would raise eyebrows at a white author writing a novel where all of the characters are Japanese. A male author who writes a…  — Read More »

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