Sometimes writing is easy. Sometimes it feels like swimming in a bay, surrounded by a tropical paradise. You can breathe a long sigh of stress-releasing contentment. Other times, writing is like climbing a mountain, lugging a fifty-pound backpack and gasping for every breath. Or, worse yet, dangling off a cliff by your pinky finger. All the time, the life of a novelist is a rollercoaster.
I’ve recently been climbing the mountain. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I fell off the cliff and had to have someone pull me back up. Around 90% of the rollercoaster ride is a result of the internal war that we authors have with ourselves over whether or not what we’re writing about is “good enough.” We’re worried about people rejecting our stories. Naturally, we want to be accepted, but too often, the fear and insecurity caused by the possibility of rejection makes us slow down writing—or worse, stop.
But how do you know if your ideas are worth writing? Let’s take a look at a few things that every good story has.
• Unique characters
• An exciting plot
• A compelling theme
• Enjoyable prose
Four things. They aren’t complicated, but often, we make them so. We agonize over the details, and constantly compare ourselves to others. Maybe you just finished a novel in which the protagonist was a brilliant undercover agent who also happened to be hiding a deadly secret, that, if exposed, could cost him his career, and his life. And maybe the protagonist in your story is a farm boy who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and has to find a way to regain his former life. Each of these characters is beautifully unique, but the temptation is to compare your protagonist to someone else’s. To think he’s not good enough because someone else wrote something different. The same is true for plot, theme, prose; everything. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean your idea isn’t worth writing.
Now let’s look at a few things that good stories are not.
• Boring to the writer
• Told out of obligation
• A copycat of someone else’s
As long as your story interests you, it’s worth writing. If you’re writing out of obligation to create something others will like, it’s probably not going to work. If it does, it will be hard, and possibly fruitless. Certainly not enjoyable, to say the least. And stories that are enjoyable to read are the ones that were enjoyable for the author to write.
One of the biggest pitfalls for writers is the idea that someone else writes better than you do, when in reality, they simply write differently. You have your style and they have theirs. Trying to mimic another author’s prose does not make a good story. It makes a shadow. And who wants a shadow when you can have the real thing?
Of course, I’m not saying this means you should never change your style. It’s certainly not wrong to desire improvement. For those of you who seek a career in writing, you should always be looking to improve your craft. But improvement doesn’t mean copying someone else. It means developing your own style.
This is the part where doubts start to creep in. Things like, “What if people don’t like my style?” or “What if it looks like I’m copying someone else, but I’m really not?” Some people’s styles are similar, and it’s okay. All I’m saying is don’t try to make yourself into something you’re not.
However, I think that one of the biggest doubt-evoking phrases is, “But I’m just a young writer.” The idea that somehow, age is relevant to whether or not you are capable or generating good plots and writing good prose.
I’ve seen many people under the age of twenty come up with spectacular ideas and write gorgeous prose. And they all write differently. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of, “My ideas won’t be appreciated because I’m too young.” Writing well takes practice, and it’s true that expertise comes with experience. But don’t write yourself off because maybe you haven’t had as much as some people. Remember what I said about improving? While you’re still improving, so are they. I’ll bet you that Tolkien was still hoping to improve after he finished The Lord of the Rings. Don’t think of yourself as a “young writer.” Instead, just think of yourself as a writer, always going up.
So how do you tell if your ideas are good enough? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you excited by it?
2. Are you writing for yourself rather than someone else?
3. Do you think you can use it to help improve your craft as a writer?
4. Is this a story you would love to read?
If the answer is yes, then write your story. You never know who might love it.
Emily Tjaden is a novelist, editor, and blogger. At nineteen, she is the oldest of five, and a Lord of the Rings fan who likes hobbits, dragons, and coffee. Aside from writing weird, speculative fiction, her passions include music, photography, and helping others see the potential they have to make a difference. She can be found blogging about various creative imaginings at www.dreaminghobbit.com.
Also, we have two contests currently open. One is for poetry, prose, and art, which you can find here. The other one is a holiday themed contest for poetry, which you can find here.