I am great at starting novels. When an idea pokes through the fertile soil of my imagination, I nearly smother it. I can write half of the first chapter in just a couple of hours, typing away furiously in an attempt to get the whole thing on paper before I lose track of my vision. The rest of that chapter is usually finished over the next few days as I alternate between writing the actual story, mapping out the details of my characters, and choosing an actual plot.
Chapter two usually takes over a week as it competes for time with my other commitments, which are often overshadowed by the emergence of a new idea. And then chapter three… is nowhere to be found. It is either lost in a mire of commitments that stretches on endlessly, or a new idea takes its place. Whatever the reason, it is rarely more than an excuse to set aside an idea that no longer has that seductive glow of promise it had when I was rushing through chapter one.
I’m a commitment-phobe. Not with relationships, but as a writer. My rationalization for backing off tends to sound similar, however: what if this idea isn’t “the right one”? What if it isn’t good enough to be a real novel? Do I want to waste all of that time and effort if it isn’t going to become anything?
My tendency is to decide that the answer to that last question is “no” and move on. The process that I take when it isn’t is what ends up making the effort worthwhile.
The problem I am really facing in these moments of self-doubt is that as is, my ideas are not good enough to sustain themselves. They need polishing; they need specificity; they need expansion. As they sit when I choose to abandon them, they lack the twists, turns, and developments that make a novel a page-turner (or even worth picking up off the shelf).
All ideas need room – and time – to grow. But if you’re too afraid of giving them that time by encouraging them, then they’ll remain little more than a single bud poking through the surface. The worst that could happen is that the bud you hoped would grow into a beautiful plant withers, or turns out to be little more than a weed. But even if the idea ceases to grow, you will have learned something from your time nurturing it, and those skills won’t go to waste no matter what happens to the novel.
How do your own struggles with committing to a project manifest in your process?