One of my biggest regrets as a writer is that I didn’t trust my own ambition.
I had an idea for a story. I knew what I wanted to happen; what I was struggling with was a mechanism for it to happen. I tried a few things on for size but nothing seemed to be quite a la mode.
What, after all, is a story? Is it setting? Or plot? Or is it the high concept behind it all? I had the latter but not the former. I needed to anchor my idea and shape the reality that held everything together.
My initial idea, the one that I turned many ways and almost put together, was to set the idea in space, on an isolated end-of-the-road station, where bionics played a crucial role.
The idea worked, or could have been made to work. But I retreated. I didn’t trust myself to write that story. I pulled back, pulled back, instead relied on simpler causes.
I did this because I was afraid. Because it took less mental effort to keep closer to the ‘real world’. And this I regret. This choice forced me to make ever more convoluted (and less plausible) explanations to keep some semblance of the original concept. I feel like I’ve wasted that idea.
That’s not to say I haven’t done good things with it; what I eventually produced is coherent and, I think, well written. But it’s not what I set out to do.
That’s not to say that you should never back away from an idea.
Starting a project that would take years to bring to life – even as just a first draft – might not be what’s best for you right now. Certainly, when learning your craft (as I was then), the creation of a whole new world – whether that world is a fantastic planet or an extra-solar empire or a mafia family – might be enough to stall your writing altogether.
Creation requires effort. A space station, isolated though it may be, requires a polity to create it. It requires scientific knowledge (which might be made up, but still). It requires structure, a place, a transit system which might take years to reach it. Communication lag needs researching. Oxygen must be generated.
So I don’t blame myself for not wanting to send months researching, reading and creating. I was impatient to get to the story. And to do that I scaled back my ambition.
What I regret is losing the chance to exploit the potential of an idea that’s fascinated me for years.
Fortunately the world is full of ideas. And they’re all out there just waiting until you’re ready.