Have you ever had this experience? You come up with an idea for a book or story. You write a few chapters, get some feedback, maybe write another chapter or two. Then your entire world comes crashing down. You discover that someone else has written a book that’s similar to what you have. It’s not the same of course, but it’s similar enough that you begin to doubt yourself and your story. You start asking yourself “Am I really creative?”
Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, talked about this idea of self-doubt in her closing speech at the BEA Blogger’s Conference this past Monday. It’s called imposter syndrome and I think many creative people have it. A not-yet-published author might think: “If only I could get a book contract; then I’ll know that I’ve arrived.” But then once published, that very same author might raise the stakes and say: “Being published is nothing. But if do a signing at a big event then I know I’ve produced something.” At a trade show like Book Expo America (BEA), where everyone is trying to find the “next new thing,” it’s tempting to pin all your hopes and dreams on that one book.
Dan Blank at WeGrowMedia.com wrote a great article about this today entitled: Your Writing Career is not a Lottery Ticket. The call to action at the end of his post is one all writers need to hear, but most especially those who encounter the experience I’ve described above. Because the truth is, ideas are just ideas. They’re vapor. They’re air. An idea is nothing until you make it happen.
When we place all our aspirations on one idea, that idea becomes precious to us and we feel that we must defend it. But the truth is, an idea is just an idea. Just because your book is a romance with vampires doesn’t mean you’ve written the next Twilight. Your book might be completely different… maybe even better. It also might not be nearly as successful. This is what happens when similar ideas lead to very different executions; you never know which one will find success.
And sometimes it’s OK to let an idea go. Because ideas are like subways at rush hour; if you miss out on one, you can always hop on the next. But to do this–to let go and not doubt your own creativity–you need to train yourself to generate a steady stream of ideas. This way no one idea is all that precious and you can always move onto the next.
This topic of generating ideas on demand is one that Dan and I have been discussing a lot lately. We have something in the works that will help writers to come up with ideas when they need them and also figure out which ideas to pursue. I’ll be sharing more details on this project as the summer rolls along, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, just remember this: you ARE creative. Every story you develop, each word you write helps build a track record of creative success. Trust in that. Because creativity isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something you can make happen.