Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Start Like This

I work with a lot of fiction writers on their stories, and one of the common things I see is what I call Story Ambition. They’ve got major ideas for the stories they want to tell–for a complex theme, a Concept that kills, and a character every reader can root for.

Problem is, they’ve never written a cohesive, engaging story before, not even a simple one.

And that makes it really difficult. Because you can’t just go from zero to 100 in one day. It takes time to learn how to implement craft and to understand it enough to be able to use it in your own stories.

You wouldn’t attempt to jump 100 feet in the air if you’ve never even jumped 50, right? No, you’d first practice with something simple, like jumping 10 feet in the air, and then 25 feet, and then 35 feet. You’d master the principles of being able to jump high. Once you mastered jumping 50 feet, then you’d go for 75 and eventually 100.

And that’s when you’ll actually hit it. When you’ve practiced enough and attempted enough simple heights, that’s when you’ll be able to do the bigger stuff.

But most writers’ Story Ambition causes them to go big right out of the gate.

Now I’m not gonna say that’s a totally wrong thing to do, because it’s not. But it will make your learning curve a lot steeper, and your story planning process will be that much more frustrating.

And let me just add that a steep learning curve and frustration are a part of the story planning and development process. But doing this process will save you from frustration, headaches and heartache later when you write the first draft. (Whereas not planning pretty much guarantees you frustration, headaches and heartache when you discover your draft is a total mess.)

So if you’ve been working on a story for a long time now, and it just doesn’t seem to be working, or you just can’t seem to make it work no matter how many attempts you make, it may be time to consider that your Story Ambition is bigger than your storytelling capabilities.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you may have bitten more than you can chew. It’s fine, we all do it.

What I’d recommend is setting this story aside, and focusing on planning, developing and then writing one that’s simpler. A story with a straight-forward storyline. One that doesn’t require multiple Antagonists or fifteen characters or a series of books.

Because that’s another thing I see a lot. Writers who have never written a cohesive story are trying to write an entire series of stories, sometimes all at once.

Again, not saying you can’t do it, but the level of skill required to pull off a successful series is more than most new or even emerging writers can handle.

Yeah, you know me, I’m positive and believe in unlimited possibility and being able to achieve anything you set your mind to, and yet I’ll still tell you exactly how it really is. And the reality is most new and emerging writers never actually finish or hit publish.

It’s not because they don’t have what it takes or because they’re just not good storytellers. It’s because their Story Ambition doesn’t match their storytelling capabilities.

Which is why I always recommend starting simple and growing from there. Don’t make your first attempt at writing a novel be a six-book series.

This isn’t because you can’t do it. In theory, you can do it. But if you’ve never created a successful story Premise before, how do you expect to create six of them? You’re jumping in the deep end when you haven’t learned to swim yet.

And that’s why your story isn’t working. That’s why you’re feeling way more frustration than you need to be. That’s why you constantly skip your writing sessions and procrastinate on working on your story.

Because your Story Ambition doesn’t match your storytelling capabilities.

Take a step back and focus on developing a really good simple story. When you can do that, try another one. Once you’ve got two or three under your belt, then try something bigger and more complicated.

But when you start with the complicated, you’re starting at a disadvantage. And that will only cause you to lose your confidence and feel like you can’t do this.

When the truth is, you can do it. You’ve just gotta start small.

If you want to knock it out of the park this month and finish 2016 strong, you have to stop getting in your own way.

There are already enough obstacles in a writer’s way without having to invent your own. So, stop.

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1 reply
  1. Jessie Kwak
    Jessie Kwak says:

    Thanks, Jennifer – this post is so spot on for me that it made me laugh. My first novel’s Story Ambition was certainly bigger than my capabilities, and I eventually shelved it in favor of other more succinct projects.

    Many years (and several novels) later I’m still circling back to it and testing the waters. I think I’m close to having the chops to tell it, but I’m willing to take the long road if that’s what it takes to tell the story right.

    Reply

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