When I first started to take my writing ‘seriously’ in 2010 I’d never tell a soul what I was working on. I’d keep it to myself until it was done (the project I started then, my first-ever Nanowrimo novel The Last of the Steamers, sits unfinished awaiting a substantial rewrite even now) – even telling people that I was simply working on a ‘secret project’.
In retrospect I came across to the unaware as aloof and utterly irritating, and I’m a bit embarrassed vicariously for past me. Why was that? I suppose, back then, I simply lacked confidence to discuss my project – either through a lack of confidence in my abilities or a lack of confidence in my prospective story – a story that I know probably does have legs but needs major development. I didn’t want to discuss it in its embryonic stages out of a perception of embarrassment.
Anyway, I am pleased to say that these days I am the opposite – and I think this is an important development in my writing psyche. These days I am always chomping at the bit to talk about plot and ideas with fellow writers – a great deal of the best ideas are borne out of these discussions. I’ve had some of my best a-ha! plot moments from having chats about ideas with other writing friends and it’s genuinely, in some cases, reshaped how a prospective plotline goes.
For instance, I’m throwing around an idea I had in 2018 for a climate-apocalypse adventure called Heatwave. The premise would be that due to reasons unknown for now, the Earth’s climate has heated up, and this has rendered much of Southern England uninhabitable. Instead of writing a complex political-based thriller (Scotland not being happy at being essentially annexed by England for its water and living space is the baseline for that strand of the idea) I had a chat with a friend about my thoughts on this and eventually instead of an ‘escape to the North’ plot, the story would be a journey into the uninhabitable zone for the protagonist in search of some unknown, taboo truth.
In effect, the entire thread I’d planned for the narrative got flipped and I’m extremely grateful for that friend for taking the time to chat about it as it would’ve been a lot of work to do this later down the line when I had thousands of words down already.
Even writing the above paragraphs show how my mindset has changed in that time. For Steamers you’d have been lucky to get ‘I’m writing a book…’ out of me. Early writer me wouldn’t have even dreamed of divulging plot details or ideas like that – maybe out of some fear of them being ‘stolen’? I considered plot ideas like the Crown Jewels, the most valuable parts of my writer’s armoury that I had, so they had to be kept totally secret and secure. Or, worse than the possibility of idea theft, having one’s ideas rebuked as rubbish or juvenile or unworthy. Those wounds would’ve cut deep.
But largely I’ve found the writing community, and the writers I know, are not amoral jackals waiting to pounce like vultures on the scrawniest morsel of plot-related meat; they’re more supportive and helpful-minded. I’m fortunate that I have a decent – and slowly expanding – network of writers to throw plot ideas off of, and I’m always more than happy to provide the service in return.
Plus, I feel I’ve grown in confidence of my ideas because I have faith in their virtue and value. I know that they are good ideas, but more importantly, I can defend them with the knowledge of why they’re good ideas. That’s not to say a debate or discussion isn’t welcome – indeed it’s often useful to honing or refining those ideas.
Reflecting on this, some of my most valued and treasured times studying Creative Writing at University came from my writing workshops where a group of like-minded writers would workshop a piece and offer constructive feedback, criticism or thoughts. Those discussions would often result in excellent plot additions or alterations that simply the writer may be oblivious to, or otherwise would never arrive at. Sometimes it takes that external input to accomplish that lightbulb moment. I think that being able to workshop a piece – especially an unfinished piece – is the most valuable opportunity and would highly recommend doing so for fiction pieces.
I also feel that my writing confidence has grown because I’m happy with my choices of genre. Perhaps, in those early days, I was embarrassed by my idea for The Last of the Steamers because it’s a bit of a pulpy adventure novel, it doesn’t break the mould of what those kinds of stories they are. But now I find myself comfortable being a writer of genre fiction as it’s what I truly enjoy, though my thoughts on genre vs literary fiction are for another time.
The point regarding genre confidence also means that, while I am at home in my current genre – I’m also confident to know where I’d perhaps like to break the myths. I was set a challenge a good while ago by a university friend to try my hand at a romance story. This would be very much a new thing for me as it’s both a genre I’m deeply unfamiliar with for a variety of reasons, but also because to my knowledge there’s not a lot of male romance writers. Why? A good story is a good story regardless of those labels and if it’s derived from a burning desire to tell that story then I say go for it.
Overall though the development of a writer’s confidence an important journey to go on but very rewarding as it can reap benefits. And especially let yourself be open to workshopping your pieces, even if it’s only to a couple of trusted writer friends as growing that confidence in presenting unfinished ideas is important – those workshopping your piece will never (if they’re decent and good) ‘tear it to pieces’, so open up and realise that they want the piece to do as well as you do and they’re offering their own advice on how to get there. You’re always free to accept or ignore this advice but it’s worth taking on board, especially if it’s well-reasoned, constructively-critical advice. Don’t be afraid!