What do you do when the idea in your head is better than it is on paper?

Posted: November 13, 2013 in Writing
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I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year because I just don’t have enough time to dedicate to it, but I did promise myself that I was going to write more this month than I have in the last previous months.

So far, that’s not going too well.

A few weeks ago, I had a complete story pop into my head — from start to finish. I knew the characters, their motivations, their secrets, and their journeys as people. I even had whole scenes floating in my head with the dialogue and everything. That’s never happened to me before, and I was quite excited to get it all down on paper.

The only problem was that the story sounded so much better in my head. Once I started writing it, the voice fell flat, the characters became unlikeable, and the story started going in a direction that I didn’t really like once I really tried to hammer out the details.

So I put it on pause. Meanwhile, a new character jumped up fully formed in my head. It was a completely new story, but since the other one didn’t really work out, I thought I could begin this one. Maybe my writing muscles just needed a little exercising and then I’d be able to get back into the swing of things. Once that happened, I was hoping to go back to the first story.

Only, it didn’t. The same thing happened: I wrote what was in my mind, and nothing really worked. Suddenly the story began morphing on its own, and it was a far cry from the original idea. The problem was that I couldn’t get back to that original idea. It was gone, and I don’t think I’ll be able to find it again.

I’m sure this has happened countless times to all of you guys at one point or another, but I’d like to know what you do whenever you have trouble getting the right words out on paper. Do you stop writing for a while, and take a break? Do you push through it? Do you work on something else? Do you edit another project instead? I’d love any input! I really want to be writing on a more regular basis, but lately it’s becoming difficult to get what’s in my head out through my fingertips.

  1. EM Castellan says:

    I would advise writing your draft without overthinking it. Put it aside for a while, then revise, revise, revise (using other people’s feedback) until the story on paper matches the one in your head. My point is: I don’t think anyone can get a story right the first time. It takes tons of revisions to get there…

  2. This always happens to writers! It occurs because the idea is a concept – a shape or pattern. Those have to be translated into words. Therein is the issue. The challenge is overcoming it, and that’s difficult. Try outlining – what are the key elements you are trying to convey? How do they interlink? This is a layer beneath the actual narrative of the story. Hope that’s helpful.

  3. ddog13 says:

    I can totally relate. It stresses me out to think about but yes: Many attempted stories, many incomplete stories.

  4. TJ Edwards says:

    I have the exact same issue. Want to know how I overcame it? Write. Keep writing. And then, once you’re done that? Write some more. The beginning will suck. The middle will suck less. By the end you will be doing pretty decent writing. And then you edit. That’s where I’m stuck, I just imagine Michelangelo staring at David and shaking his head while saying to himself… “I’m glad I started at the feet and legs.” If you need structure the method I used was 5 events that had to happen at 20000 word intervals. This gives the characters plenty of time to develop and act, while you set the scene or stage. Good luck Karen, the others like you are out there working on it too!

  5. Julie Glover says:

    I could really talk about this issue. It’s the story of the novel I’m editing now — for something like the 5th time. Scrunching the timeline, here’s what happened: The original story was good, the first draft was meh, the edits didn’t fix it, I was flummoxed, I wasn’t willing to give up, I took a long break, I came back and it still didn’t work, I walked away again. Finally, I replotted the whole thing, getting the major points down and cleaning up my character list. Now I’m rebuilding the novel with those plot points and rewriting/editing as needed. I finally love how it’s coming out!

    I don’t know if I could have done the plotting first, because I really got to know the characters as I spent more and more time with them. But I wish I’d outlined/plotted after the first draft.

    I wonder if the story is always a little better in our head, because first drafts are so difficult. For me, this is taking focus and persistence to make the words on the page live up to my story’s potential. But it’s paying off.

    Best wishes, Karen!

    • Karen Rought says:

      It’s always surprising to me that the first draft of a story is so unlike the final draft. It truly makes sense, but no one really teaches that to you when you start writing, you know? You think the story is done once you’d finished that first draft, but it’s just the beginning.

  6. i always hate it when my fantastic idea won’t behave itself. what i first try to do to tame it into submission is to keep writing and let it just come out in a huge ugly mess. i can always clean it up in the editing process. if that doesn’t work, i lake a break and let my brain work on it for awhile as i do other things. sometimes the solution presents itself like a lightning strike out of nowhere while i’m driving or taking a shower.

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