If you’re anything like me (and for your sake, I hope you’re not), then you have developed a finely-tuned idea “diagnostic.” Any idea, however fragmentary, is run through a gamut of parameters meant to test its viability—for writing, for reading, for selling. And if it fails any of these parameters, it is discarded.
Sometimes these parameters come from what you think the market wants; sometimes they come from teachers and writing books and “experts” on what makes good writing; and sometimes they come from within, from your own sense of what you think you like or want to write.
For the sake of the professional writer, or a writer who wants to write well, these parameters are a necessary part of the process. However, these parameters are designed to stop whatever you’re doing—and if you let them run rampant, or if they become coupled with your fears of judgment, they will quickly become out of control and take over.
And before you know it, the parameters you thought were vital to evaluating your ideas have become lies.
Myth #1: You have to be original.
This is one of those parameters that starts out useful—although even at its most obvious (such as blocking an idea about a magic school and a boy wizard), it’s still okay to write something unoriginal. As we’ve seen more and more in recent years, you can create something deliberately derivative (such as fanfiction), and probably get away with publishing it. Sure, you’ll get called out for being unoriginal, but you’ll get called out for things anyway.
The key here is that while it’s nice to be original, and you should try, if you come up with an idea that isn’t original—you can still write it!
Myth #2: The idea has to be something everyone would like/want to read.
This is literally impossible to achieve, but for some reason, it’s tempting to apply this diagnostic to your idea. Would my parents like it? My friends? My coworkers? Almost immediately you’ll find someone for whom you’ll answer: “no, they wouldn’t.” And if that’s all it takes for an idea to fizzle for you, then you will struggle to write anything.
The reality is that people read a lot of different things—that’s why so many books and genres exist. Even for the most popular books of all time, you’ll find people who wouldn’t want to read them.
The only question that really matters here is whether the idea is something you would like/want to read. Sometimes the answer is no, and then you have to decide whether you still want to write the idea anyway (and there’s nothing wrong with doing that). But if the answer is yes, even if other people’s (hypothetical) answer would be no, then you should give it a try.
Myth #3: You have to love everything about the idea.
This is another tricky one, because it starts from a well-meaning place. You want to write what you love, because that has the best chance of success (as in making you happy). But then you come up with an idea, or start developing a plot or characters, and suddenly you don’t love everything about it. Should you still write it?
I’ve struggled with this particular one a lot. Ultimately, I spin through a cycle of ideas until I realize that none of them are truly what I love, since what I enjoy most is worldbuilding and not stories. But I’m determined to give writing stories a real try before I give up, and so I have to learn how to pursue ideas that I may not always love.
For me, this is a question of relativity. Overall, enough of the idea and its suggested development should be something I love; so if an idea sounds like something I would hate, then I probably shouldn’t pursue it. But even if I have to slog through a bit of boredom or unwanted conflict in order to make a better story (or a story at all), I still think it’s worth doing.
You may have different myths that have built themselves up in your mind into truths against which all ideas fall flat. These are a few of mine. But I’m working hard to dismantle and question these myths until I realize that they’re actually not true at all.
And whatever your myths, always remember that writing is freedom—you can write whatever you want, however you want. Just write.