Challenging ourselves and the fear of writing beyond our capabilities

I think there’s something to be said for recognizing what you’re good at and showcasing it. And also working to make those strengths even stronger, building on them and allowing them to be featured more prominently. But what about venturing into something completely new? I have a book I’ve wanted to write for a few years, but deep down I’m afraid it’s beyond my capabilities as a writer. Have you ever not written something you really wanted to write because you didn’t think you were ready? Have you ever started a project, then realized you couldn’t do it, that you didn’t have the skill?

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses?

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Interesting question. I have a thriller in mind that will require extensive research. The thing is, I'm not at all fond of research, so that would be my weakness as far as this project is concerned. I'm pretty sure I can pull the writing part off, so it's more a matter of forcing myself to become an expert in my characters' occupations.
jude, at least you won't fall into the trap of spending way too much time on research! I tend to go that direction, and have had to make a conscious effort to stop.
What an intriguing question, Anne. I think as writers we're always trying to challenge ourselves. At least I am... sometimes in big ways, sometimes little. I'm writing a thriller now... and part of it takes place in the 1960s. It's all backstory, with none of the heart-pounding suspense and momenturm of the rest of the book . It's more (dare I say it) conventional fiction... and totally character driven. I've never done that before. And I have no idea if, in the long run, it's going to work... It's scary.

I love research, btw. Can get lost in it. I've had a great time going back 40 years. But I think I'm finally ready to put it behind me. For good.
And I have no idea if, in the long run, it's going to work... It's scary.


libby, that's exactly how i feel about my idea/project. i don't think i'll know until it's written.
Funny you should bring this up. No. Wait. It's NOT funny.

This happened to me & it's taken me ages to get around to the fact that I won't know if it sucks until I finish it & that while I may not have the skills for this particular madness yet, that doesn't mean I can't/won't learn them as I go along. Unless, of course, I chuck in the towel. Not learning a damn thing when I do that.

There's a fair amount of anxiety about heading into the unknown. I guess the trick is to see it as an adventure rather than the intro to disaster. The biggest problem is that that takes additional energy that could be going into the writing. Not unsurmountable, but kind of like tying a cinderblock to the back of your car. Slows you down a bit, but at some point it will fall off and let you vroom ahead.

Uhhh, yeah. Gots to love the lame metaphors!
The biggest problem is that that takes additional energy that could be going into the writing. Not unsurmountable, but kind of like tying a cinderblock to the back of your car. Slows you down a bit, but at some point it will fall off and let you vroom ahead.

angie, i so agree.

i think the one thing is to not become so obsessed with your weakness that you forget to use your strengths. i'm guilty of that. i become focused on the weak part rather than allowing my strengths to help overcome the weak area.
With regard to energy, I think maybe it's valuable to do just one thing at a time. You're an author used to working under deadline, so I imagine you must've had to learn to multitask, right? Tackling different issues instead of using each draft to focus on one thing? I would go back and approach it like a new author would - use the energy as you have it.

Of course, though, that runs into the problem of income! Any way you could work on two projects at once? One paying and then this one, say carve out one day a week to work on it?
I think I have a good idea of my limitations. I have an idea for a story that will cut very close to home in terms of characters and motivations, and I know I need to achieve some distance before I can write it effectively. That will take years, so I'm working on "easier" material first.

I like research but I don't have time to do it right now! So anything requiring a lot of research will also be a few years off.

In general though, I think it's useful to question whether it really *is* a limitation/weakness, or just a fear that you have one. If it's just a fear, I think it's important to pursue the project. But if it's a true limitation - only you can determine that - best to put it off and think about it a little more.
christa, that's basically what i've done -- and now i feel it's close to the time to write this damn thing -- and yikes! i'm scared! you are so right about it maybe being fear rather than a limitation. it's impossible for me to know, so i have to just do it. but i do hate to find once i'm done that i've wasted a year on something nobody is going to want to read. that's a risk with all writing, but if you're targeting a hot market it reduces the risk. i prefer to write for a specific market, and i don't like the idea of not doing that. i think that's what also makes me really nervous about this project -- i'm not targetting a market. wow. i've almost talked myself out of it right here! :D really.
I tend to think that if you write something you're passionate about, you'll produce a quality product that people will want to read. And that could open even more doors in the future.

I don't know if this is too overly simplistic but I keep coming back to what I read years ago in this article by another professional novelist:
http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/feature7.html
I've been waltzing for years with an 800-pound gorilla named "A Good Plague." The science and research are impeccable; it's based upon stuff that is really going on, but I ask the horrid, "Yeah, but what if?" question. And then "What if? happens.

I've got all that part down right, because I am something of a geek girl and an avid researcher. The part that eludes me in this particular story is the interpersonal relationships. My female protagonist has a boyfriend who's a brilliant scientist but also a whack job, and then there's the man who really loves her that she keeps at arm's length. I am trying to make myself understand why she stays with the creepy guy who ultimately betrays her when the great guy is right there trying to save her.

And that one little conundrum has held up this book for years. So is it because I am not skillful enough to write my way out of this particular corner? Or am I scared because a couple of production companies expressed interest and wanted to see the book once it was published? By conveniently not finishing the book, I am totally avoiding the possibility of being rejected by the production companies. I keep finding other things to do besides addressing this problem and finishing this manuscript.

Oh, well, time for another nice cool bottle of Coca-Cola on this fine Saturday morning.
I am trying to make myself understand why she stays with the creepy guy who ultimately betrays her when the great guy is right there trying to save her.

if i knew the answer to this, i could straighten out my daughter's life. :D

i have a friend who had been published with no enthusiasm or backing by her publisher. another house came along and made her an A-list author and put a lot of money behind her. She froze and quit writing. Hasn't written since. They had her last book slotted and even had the cover made -- and she'd never even started it. so once she was finally, after years of struggle, presented with the opportunity for success -- she couldn't continue. i have theories, but i still don't understand it.

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