As I write this now, I have three short stories in process. I’ve found some online publications that take submissions based on specific themes for each issue. These are what amounts to writing prompts only less specific. They are fairly open. “This month is about Superheroes,” one said (I’m paraphrasing). So it’s something to bounce ideas off of, but not shackling you to a specific idea.
I think that personally, I write better when there is something there to start with. My brain craves some parameters, some kind of structure to play with. When what I could write is wide the hell open, I get all ADD and can’t stick to a single idea. My aforementioned NaNo from 2011 was one of these. It started off as a kind of anime-tropey western, that then mutated and evolved into a dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare with zombies and mad scientists and whatever the f$%& else I could throw in. I chased every plot bunny down every rabbit hole. When it was finished, I looked at my frankenstein of a story, I looked it right in its puppy dog eyes, I looked at it and promptly buried it in a folder deep in the bowels of an 8-gig memory stick that I no longer use. I put it out to pasture.
Don’t look at me like that. You know what you did.
I think when it came down to it, I doubted. I doubted my own voice. I doubted my ability. I doubted myself. I pulled from everything else that interested me and mashed it all together, and what I saw, I hated. Because what I created wasn’t mine, it was a hodgepodge cobbling-together of other ideas, because when it came down to it, my ideas were so all over the place that I couldn’t listen to any of them. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
When I look back on that story, I know there are good ideas in there. I know that the work I did was not wasted because I learned from it. I will never write that poorly again because I’ve already done it and seen it for what it was. I can glean from it some of the good ideas and use those as a starting point, as some parameters for works in the future. Probably not the zombie ones though. They weren’t even good for zombies.
You suck, zombie.
When it comes right down to it, I’ve got to work past my doubts. Even with these short stories I’m working on, I’ve got doubts. I wrote one that I am super excited about. It is currently marinating, and will get final edits this month. I wrote it in a flash. 3500 words in a manner of days. I wrote downhill. Ideas were quick and plentiful, and I wrote with swagger coming off a contest win from January. My doubts were specks in the rear-view mirror. I love this thing, and whether it’s published or not, I am proud of it. (if it is published, I’ll be sure to shout about it on here.)
Successes like that are a double-edged sword, because as I found out, it won’t always be like that. Not even close.
I see you back there.
The one I’m writing now has me doubting again. I’ve changed the beginning three times. I’ve changed my main character twice. I’m looking back. I'm second guessing. It’s an uphill battle this time. But, I’m doing it. I’m putting one word in front of the other. Even if I only write 200 words in a night, it’s getting there.
The other night I had a panic attack. What am I doing? Why does this story suck so hard? Is this even worth it? So rather than change it and keep changing it and freak out, I stopped. I moved my cursor to the end of the story. I picked up the pieces and started putting one word in front of the other again. I wrote for awhile, calmed down, pushed the laptop away, watched a show, and went to bed. When I woke up, it wasn’t so bad anymore. Since then, I’m still doing just that. I’m putting one word in front of the other. And you know what? I shoved doubt into the mud. I gave my doubt a shoving that it won’t soon forget.
As Neil Gaiman said in an interview, no one will read your first draft. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. It can be fixed. Just get it down however you can.
And as I say now, punch your doubts in the face.
Here’s a condensed version of that Gaiman interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drMuQqLLEe0