Are you struggling with finding an idea you think is good enough to spend a whole month writing? Today, award-winning author Karin Tidbeck, a Season of Stories writer, shares her own experience with being the “ugly duckling of ideas”:
So you want to write a novel, but maybe you’re not sure if your idea is good enough. I’m here to tell you that you’re fine.
When I was in my early twenties, I started to get serious about writing. There was just one problem: my ideas, or rather, the lack of them. I was surrounded by creative, amazing people, and they all seemed to create incredible works of art without the least bit of difficulty. I was the ugly duckling of ideas. I found that I was great at building on other people’s ideas, improvising from them, developing them. But when I had to come up with something on my own, I froze. It seemed like there was nothing there.
My actual problem was that I discarded all of my own ideas because they didn’t sound cool enough, or clever enough. They were too silly, too weird to implement, too trite. What I didn’t understand at the time was that a lot of works of art start out with ideas just like that.
I got it once I took a creative writing course where we were forced to come up with ideas on the spot and just write them down. No second-guessing, no automatic self-criticism. I learned how to take that silly idea and set it spinning. I learned, gradually, that values like “good” or “bad” don’t really apply.
I wrote my debut novel, Amatka, in 2011. I had previously written poetry and short stories, but a novel felt like a different beast entirely. I had a basic concept that I wanted to explore: what if matter responded to language? I had thought a lot about it, I had written some texts that related to it, but the draft itself I wrote in a six-week rush, much like you’ll do during NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know whether my idea would carry all the way through to the end. Is this good? I asked myself all the time, or is it terrible?
“I learned, gradually, that values like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t really apply.”
My story “Reindeer Mountain”, which is included in the Season of Stories, was also a piece that I drafted under pressure, with a quickly approaching deadline. I had an idea: two bickering sisters in a family with a curse. I had no clue where that idea would take me. I just went along for the ride.
So much like me, you might have doubts. You might even feel like you shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard, because your idea isn’t good enough. It’s completely normal. I still have moments when I wonder why on earth I haven’t been struck by lightning for putting such an idea on paper. I think most writers do. But “good” and “bad” don’t really apply here. What matters is what happens when you take that idea by the hand and tag along.
Karin Tidbeck is originally from Stockholm, Sweden. She lives and works in Malmö as a freelance writer, translator and creative writing teacher, and writes fiction in Swedish and English. She debuted in 2010 with the Swedish short story collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?. Her English debut, the 2012 collection Jagannath, was awarded the Crawford Award 2013 and shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her novel debut, Amatka, was published in June 2017 by Vintage. She devotes her spare time to forteana, subversive cross-stitching, and Nordic LARP.