Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 30:
“I can’t write because my idea sucks.“
Many academics do not trust the composing process.
They dismiss their initial ideas as derivative or silly and stop writing in the hope that better ideas will somehow show up.
As one of my students said, “I feel like writing should be perfect and easy the first time. If it’s not perfect, I feel I need more time to think before I start.”
But writing and thinking are a loop: thinking leads to writing, which leads back to thinking. I often write in order to find out what I think. Certainly, one need not have a fabulous, publishable idea to start writing. Writing generates its own answers.
So, to have positive writing experiences, allow yourself to develop ideas without immediately critiquing them.
Spend a page or two fleshing out an idea and then letting it ferment. If you encourage yourself in this way, you will find ideas flowing more readily and quickly. By ignoring your inner critic when developing a project, you encourage your mind to be a fertile ground for new growth.
Years ago, I happened upon a writing acquaintance at a book launch. I asked her how her writing was going and this is what I remember of the conversation that followed (no doubt my memory has done some edits on what exactly was said!).
She sighed and said, “I am supposed to be writing this novel that’s under contract, but this other novel won’t let me go. I’ve finally given up and am writing it just to get it out of my head and out of my way.”
I asked her what it was about. She sighed again, “Nobody’s ever going to read it. I’m just writing it for myself at this point.” Then she looked at me with this dejected expression. “It’s about this girl looking down from heaven on her family after she dies.”
I remember exactly what I thought in that moment and what I politely did not say, “You’re right; no one’s ever going to read that.”
We were both wrong. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones sold over two million copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year.
Sometimes we are terrible judges of the value of our work.
Sebold, Alice. 2002. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown, Co.
Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 30, one of the confidence obstacles listed on page 32 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).