Something I read in Chuck Wendig’s birthday post here, resonated with me the other day:
“For a long time I thought ideas were everything. I thought them precious pearls, when the reality is, they’re just driveway gravel.”
Then today another author, Rachel Johns, said she had an idea for a book, then found it was already written and on the shelf.
What is it with ideas? I have a great idea for a novel every couple of days. I tend to write them down, give them about a page of space. Otherwise, they crowd my creative space. But I think probably 90 percent of those ideas will never take the next step and be made into a novel.
It’s okay. Because they are probably not new ideas anyway. Mark Twain said:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
You know what? I’m cool with that. I’m cool that other people have had my ideas. In fact, they’ve probably had better ones. I know some of my ideas are totally dreadful. And done to death. AND I’ve read some stories – holy cow! – where the ideas totally blew me away.
But they haven’t been done MY WAY. I have a specific voice, a special way of telling a story. I’m no Mark Twain. Come to think of it, I’m no Chuck Wendig or Rachel Johns either! But I am me. And I bring that little bit of me into each word I write down, each phrase I painstakingly put together, each sentence.
My author’s voice has always been there, I’ve just been a bit slow in understanding how it works. To begin with, I tried to sound like the successful authors I loved. Waxing lyrical like Georgette Heyer is really hard. I mean really, REALLY hard. I suggest you don’t do it. Also, avoid trying to sound like Oscar Wilde.
Trying to copy Lisa Kleypas or Courtney Milan’s style? Just no. When I write historical, it doesn’t sound like them. But that’s a good thing. That means I sound like me. When I write contemporary, I don’t sound like Nora Roberts or the abovementioned Rachel Johns. But that’s a good thing. It means I sound like me.
I actually really like the sound of me. It’s taken me a while to get used to it, but now, I like it. I like how I construct sentences and use words. I like reading back over stuff I’ve written. Even my earliest stories (which are a total dog’s breakfast) have my voice lurking in them. Even as I cringe at the poor structure and cardboard characters, I can hear my lilt.
The point I’m trying to make is the main thing when writing is to be true to your own voice. Your ideas? Probably been had before. But no one will write that story quite the same way as you.
Chuck no longer writes his ideas down, until they’ve had time to fester and multiply in his mind. That’s cool. Me and Chuck – we work a little bit different. I still want to write my ideas down. There may come a time when I say “Holy cow, I have enough story ideas here for two lifetimes! Time to quit scribbling them down!” – but I don’t think that’s going to happen too soon. Firstly, I don’t have enough ideas yet for even one lifetime. Secondly, jotting down the ideas does clear a little bit of brain space for me.
However, I’m glad to see that it’s not only me who has too many ideas, nor is it only me who has ideas that have been done before.
It’s good to see the professionals suffer the same.