There is a sense of irony that one of the greatest strengths for fiction writers can also be one of our biggest downfalls: our imagination. I’m sure that most of you out there can agree. But for the rest of you, follow along with me here.
What’s the one thing that we need in order to write stories?
I don’t mean paper or computers; those are just tools and easily replaced. A skill in writing? I’m sure that everyone has run across a story which is horribly written, yet still made it on to publication. It could be a novel, an essay, or something that your kid wrote for you which made you cringe yet you still praised them. Being unable to put two words together in a coherent manner isn’t necessary for writing a story.
But imagination? Creativity processed into clear idea that revolves around a particular notion? That’s key. Even the dullest of writers know that no one wants to read about Average Johnny’s average day. No, they try to spice it up. Average Johnny’s journey to save the world. Or better yet, Crazy Joe’s journey to save the world. We know this innately as creative writers.
Yet this creativity kindled by our imagination can also be a distraction. It helps us create these fantastic worlds full of monsters and men, while giving us these “wouldn’t it be cool moments” that have nothing to do with whatever we have in our current work pool. And while some of these ideas would be awesome to use and may actually fit within our work-in-progress, I would bet hard money that a goodly chunk of them wouldn’t.
Take for example this:
I’ve written only two novels in my writing career; a mystery and a thriller. Both of them set in separate worlds that you could, theoretically, open your door and interact with. Then there is the “cannonball scene” as I call it. Been holding on to this one for a while, but it just doesn’t apply. First off, there is cannonballs and sailing ships—the tall men-of-war that once roamed the oceans during the height of Britain’s empire.
“But that could go in a historical novel,” you say.
Yes, but then there is the magic. Does it need magic? No, but for what I have in mind, I feel that it ups the cool factor. And come on, as writers, we love that cool factor. Hell, as people, we love that cool factor. I won’t tell you what the magic does, but I have confirmation from others: it’s pretty cool.
So where does that leave us? Off to write a fantasy novel. But oh, wait, I have this other novel I’m already working on that needs finishing. Do you see where I’m going?
Imagination is fantastic. I love it. You love it. We all love it, but it makes things hard for us as well. That is where discipline comes in, I suppose. The infamous D-word. Ugh. It makes me shiver just thinking about it.
In other words, discipline isn’t my strong suit. But somehow, I’ve made it work for me so far. I mean, I’m stocking up on ideas; both in my head and in my many, many notebooks. Yet I am still doing well focusing (for the most part) on one particular idea or novel. Am I proud of that? You bet I am. When your mind works as if it was powered by a hamster running on a wheel, you take pride where you can.
But somehow I continue. I keep on ticking and writing and letting my imagination run wild. Just as I’m sure that you do. That is how we as writers survive.
What are some of the great ideas you’ve had to shelve while waiting to finish your current project?