How Many Ideas Actually Exist?

Writing has a lot of questions but very rarely does it provide concrete answers. Like the short story post I wrote recently, if you google this question you’ll get answers that range from 1, 2 or 7 to 36 or even hundreds.

Take Avatar for example. The highest grossing film of all time. Is it not very similar to The Last Samurai, which in turn is very similar to Pocahontas which is probably very similar again to a film that came out before that. Ideas are recycled, reused and resold. And audiences love that.

Hollywood has taken this idea very literally in recent years by churning out sequels, prequels, spin-offs, adaptations and remakes like nobody’s business. Hollywood being lamented for a lack of originality is becoming as common as Meryl Streep bagging an award. Yet the types of films mentioned above – more often than not – become hits.

There’s something to be said for being similar to other projects, especially successful ones. Despite the fact that agents, publishers and competition hosts will often ask for something different, what they seem to really want is a new slant on an already told story. Think about it, when Twilight was all the rage, how many more Vampire television programs and films were made? They all – as far as I know – had a different slant on the Vampire story but I’d wager every one of them featured a human falling in love with a Vampire as is so often a trope of the genre, but because they were similar to something successful, they were given a shot. If people like one Vampire project, why wouldn’t they like another? It’s logical at the very least.

The reason I bring this up is because last night I discovered the film Splice. The plot of which “concerns experiments in genetic engineering being done by a young scientific couple, who attempt to introduce human DNA into their work of splicing animal genes”. For those – if there are any – that read my blog regularly, you may notice that sounds incredibly similar to the short story I’m writing at the moment. I have never seen Splice before, yet I fear now I may be inadvertently ripping it off.

I think there are two ways you can go when this happens. Either let it put you off and try (and inevitably fail) to find a brand new story that’s never been done before, or you use it as inspiration and motivation to make yours the best version of the story there can be. The latter is what I hope to achieve, but I feel like I should watch Splice first.

Fighting Distractions – and Losing

I find myself with an incredible urge to do absolutely anything BUT write.

It makes me really angry and disappointed in myself because I can’t force myself to focus or be motivated to write when there are so many more things to do. Some would call it lazy but I prefer to think of it as unmotivated.

Whenever I have had to do anything to a deadline I have had no problem whatsoever in getting myself motivated and determined to finish, be it an essay, coursework or a script for university. When you have a deadline – in work or at university, college or school – there is a reason for it. And there will always be repercussions if you do not hit those deadlines.

Since leaving university and having only myself to write for, the pressure and the motivation of looming deadlines no longer exists. And this is what troubles me. Because I know that if I decide not to write for a week or so, nobody will care, nothing will happen, I won’t fail anything and the rest of my life won’t be affected by it, at least in the short term. On the other hand, if I did spend a weeks worth of my free time writing, I may be able to accomplish something, maybe even finish a short story and have something tangible at the end of that week. So why is that not motivation enough?

More and more I find myself turning to television, reading a book and convincing myself this is just as good, or turning on the PlayStation and working on returning Ajax to their former status as European heavyweights (mission accomplished by the way). Then after a couple of hours I feel bad that I have not written.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m trapped and I don’t know how to get out.

The Overbearing Second Draft

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For someone who has so many unfinished projects, you wouldn’t think I’d have a lot of problems with second drafts. But this isn’t a post about how difficult it is to write a second draft (though I’m sure that will pop up somewhere), this is more about how difficult it is to finish a first draft while continuing to populate ideas which are so much better than what you’ve already written.

Allow me to explain as this has become a huge problem for me in writing my latest short story. I’ve had a story I’ve wanted to write for quite a few years now about a scientist who is experimenting with genetic modification and combining the DNA of different animals to make them ‘better’.

So I embarked upon my short story with this premise: a former Nobel prize winning scientist invites a disgraced child prodigy turned blogger to her secluded laboratory for an exclusive interview about her latest experiment. What should be the scoop of a lifetime could be his last when he uncovers the true intentions behind her experiments.

I wrote around a thousand words and found myself at somewhere just before the halfway mark when I realised a couple of major flaws with my story: the stakes were not high enough and the relationship between the characters just seemed…forced. And I stalled. While I had started my story with full of hope and great vision it just did not seem to translate to the page, I felt like my pen was plotting against me.

But my brain was not going to let this stop me, instead it brought to find fresh ideas and different approaches that I could try to get it right. Now I’m intent on writing the story again, this time shaping it more to fit the Gothic monster theme, think Dracula or Frankenstein. I feel like my story is purpose built for that particular style. And with that I want to remove the ‘blogger’ aspect which I now can see was only added to make my story seem modern and I want to replace him with a spouse who my scientist has finally decided it is time to open up to. Although who’s to say that it won’t end in the same way?

I’m really excited by the new relationship at the centre of my story and trying to give it a more Gothic feel (Dracula is one of my favourite books of all time) yet all I can think about is that half-written first draft. I’ve always been told the hardest part of writing is actually getting to the end of the first draft and I cannot believe how true that is. But when I have such exciting ideas for the second draft why would I bother finishing the first? Why do I need to know an ending to a story that’s going to change? These are the questions I ask myself to try and justify tossing aside hours of work and planning – not only with this short story but with so many others too.

Then on the other side of that argument, what if I get halfway through my second draft and then come across another idea that I think would be even better. In the end I may have put in days worth of writing without really ever getting anywhere, only a stack of unfinished papers that aren’t going to get read.

I desperately want to finish, but I desperately want to finish something good and something that I can be proud to show people. Should I continue to the end of my first draft so that I have a template to work on? Or should I just start from scratch on my ‘better’ version of the story?