When what’s in your head is better than what’s on the page…

I’m forever struggling with this.

In 2006 I had an idea for a really elaborate and beautiful novel. I started writing only to quit in frustration because what I got onto the page, was nothing like what was in my head. It always came out sounding childish and simple. I started the novel multiple times over the next few years and finally got a finished a draft out onto the page this year – Wrapped in Darkness. And I’m still not happy with it.

Unfortunately, I seem to be having a similar struggle with my new YA Fantasy. Again, it’s a pretty epic idea and I have huge ambitions for it. I know what it needs to be and it always seems to be… I don’t know, lacking.

Does anyone else have this problem?

Why is it that what’s in your head never sounds as good on the page? And how do you get past it?

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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92 Responses to When what’s in your head is better than what’s on the page…

  1. bdonbavand says:

    Omg say it sister! This is the most annoying thing ever when writing. I have a fantasy story in my head and I think yeah woo gna be great, but on paper it just doesn’t have oomph! Times like this, I let my head spew out onto paper as much as possible just to get it out. Once it’s out and looking awful, I take a step back, ignore it and research. I read other books and watch films of the similar genre, I jump on the net to find pictures for inspiration, I’ll read articles in regards to a topic that may touch on what I’m writing, I’ll find historical events and read up on that. All I’m looking for is perspective that might enlighten me and put something deeper on a page. Good luck!

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  2. zabbsterz says:

    I can relate. I wish I could write stuff that sounds beautiful but it never turns out good!!! Same goes for drawing. Hands cannot reproduce the images of the mind. Lets just all accept this as a fact. hehe

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  3. writergurlny says:

    I know the feeling all too well. You have an idea, but your nowhere near anyplace to write it down. When your finally in a place to write it down, it doesn’t sound like the idea in your head.

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  4. glenn2point0 says:

    Yeah, everything makes sense in my mind but getting it onto the page is another issue all together.

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  5. I had a fantasy novel that was like that to me. It was Shattered Paradise and after struggling with it for almost 3 years I just threw it out. It was never going to work and seemed too immature an idea to be written just yet.

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  6. embrystical says:

    Same here. Especially with scenes that include a lot of physical action. I’ll plan and plan and plan, but it’ll never be quite good enough.

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  7. tisfortea says:

    This always happens to me! In my head my ideas are going to make me the next J.K.Rowling when they’re on paper. Unfortunately the result is often less than magical!

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  8. Marcus Case says:

    Keep on polishing, and you’ll get there in the end!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Some things I write sound terribly childish, and then I write in the brackets that I didn’t intend making the sentence that way, but that sounds childish too!

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  10. Nicola says:

    Do you write longhand or on the computer? I used to have a creative writing instructor who swore by writing first drafts longhand. Personally, I rarely do this, because my handwriting is slower and less legible than typing (and I have an unhealthy relationship with the word count display), but I do find it helps if I’m struggling to get a scene to work to switch off the computer, pull out some paper and my fountain pen (the pen matters πŸ˜‰ ), and try it that way.

    I’ve read about studies that found writing notes longhand (ie, actually forming the letters) can improve your ability to recall the information, so I think something similar goes on when writing longhand. At any rate, it’s easy enough to try; all you need is a pen (it doesn’t really have to be a fountain pen) and paper.

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  11. Maci Dillon says:

    Girl, I’m hearing your pain!! Awesome thoughts, amazing scenes, saucy, erotic and moving with intense chemistry and blah blah blah – I try to write it as I see it in my mind though when I read it back, it’s a completely foreign and very boring, basic and simple collection of words. Have you ever taken a chunk of text from a book, or a chapter, and try to rewrite it in your own words? It’s something I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t so far. This is probably an exercise to help more with writer’s block but it may help? Hang in there. All great things take time to mature x

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  12. Maci Dillon says:

    Reblogged this on Maci Dillon and commented:
    After a long day at work and a few hours at the pool and the gym, I’m completely exhausted! However, true to my commitment of writing 500 words per day in July I booted up my tablet and opened my OneNote file to continue where I left yesterday.

    Granted, I have not succeeded to write 500 words in a sitting so far, however I have been diligent in setting aside time to write daily. Even when I am almost too exhausted to think, I am choosing to do it anyway. Twenty one days to create a new habit πŸ™‚

    Almost instantly on my first day of diligence, a story flowed through my mind. I was writing outdoors and the cold weather reminded me of the first time I saw snow fall, on my travels to London last year. And there the story began. However, what I’ve written so far (very little) is nothing at all like what I’ve imagined. Partly I think it stems from a desire to get to the juicy part of the story, therefore I struggle with setting the scene and the mood in the beginning.

    Whatever the reason, this is not the first time I have written something that does not in any way resemble the image in my head. It is beyond frustrating! Why can’t words flow as naturally as thoughts run wild in our imagination?

    Consumed by this thought, and feeling a little anxious about what I would pen tonight, I opened my blog and scanned through the ‘Reader’. Funnily enough this post by Jodie Llewellyn, an aspiring Aussie author jumped out at me. I totally love when this happens.

    All of a sudden I’m not feeling as frustrated because it seems to be a common experience. I’ve picked up a few ideas from the comments left on the post too. Now to put them into practice!

    Feel free to share your frustration and/or any advice other than practice, practice, practice.

    Maci xo

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  13. Harliqueen says:

    I totally know how you feel, sometimes the words are flowing because of a great idea, but it’s just not to the standard as what is in my head! πŸ˜€

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  14. Seek an outside opinion. Constructive feedback from friends will help identify areas that need work & boost your confidence. Your writing is probably much better than you think it is, you just need to hear it. I often find good stories use very simple language – language that might seem childish to the critical eye. Study books in your genre, read like a writer not like a reader, if that makes sense, to see how the writing & action compares. Most importantly, keep at it! Good luck.

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  15. Yep, me too. Sometimes I just have to step away from my WIP and go on a reading binge. I read a genre that is totally different from what I’m writing. If I’m working on a YA fantasy, I’ll read adult murder mysteries or comedies, anything as long as the books are the complete opposite of my WIP. Then when I get back to writing, my mind is clear, less muddled, and my characters are ready to cooperate.

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  16. I had this problem with my trilogy for awhile. I knew what had to happen in the bigger picture, but to be able to express them getting there was difficult. I had to find a subplot or something else to motivate them to continue on. More than just sure will. I found it, you will find what is missing and I’m sure end up with a whole bunch of re-writes.

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  17. I’m a victim of this myself, quite a lot actually. But I’ve learned that just writing is the most important part. If it seems unsatisfying or lacking something, try to ignore it and keep going. Just crank the pages out. There is always time later for revisions. First drafts are rarely satisfactory.

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  18. Filmbell says:

    If one’s fiction falls short, in one’s own estimation, one desires to refine it, to reach a sort of perfection. As Beatles would say, “You know that can’t be bad.” Editors, even savvy proofreaders, are of great assistance in this refinement. Having someone who is willing to read and talk about one’s book is great, but having someone really take it in hand is an outright mitzvah. In addition, modern compact recorders, and accompanying transcribers, allow writers to work with a different scale and pace, by speaking instead of writing. The recorder-transcription combo, working by self-dictation, is the best method ever invented for writing dialogue, in particular, but it’s useful for lengthy description also. I believe in retaining as many versions, of any given work, as I can. Computers allow you to take artistic chances, while the original text remains untouched, just in case those chances don’t pay off. All of that being said, writing prose fiction remains one of the world’s daunting tasks, and I’m telling you nothing you don’t know. Keep exhorting your readers and yourself, it’s worth all struggles..

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  19. pauljgies says:

    I just think you have to let the characters write themselves. There’s some sort of Zen there. You’re the writer, but you’re not telling YOUR story, you’re telling the characters’ story. It’s not necessarily always going to be easy, but you can let go of being the controlling force and blame the characters if there’s a problem.

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  20. tjtherien says:

    My writing processes are a little different than most writers. I don’t make notes, character sketches, or anything like that. I my chose a few names, or as I did for NaNoWriMo13 write down 30 one or two word prompts to direct the story, but other than that I roll a story over in my head. I don’t try to capture images because I don’t see them, I don’t visualize a story in images, I see a story in words, an example is when I think of a tree I don’t envision a tree, but see the word tree, then I ask myself what kind of tree, etc… Words I select are meant to convey a certain emotion. I am a very deliberate writer and it can take me a long time just to write a single sentence. I wouldn’t suggest my processes to anyone as they can be quite maddening at times, just rest assured nobody can write gold every sentence of the story and even if they could it would make the story bland, the lulls bring out the important scenes and place emphasis on what should be stressed. I’m not sure if that made sense to you, it barely makes sense to me and I’ve been writing this way ever since I taught myself to read and write

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    • That’s what I think. When I write what I see or what comes, (I see pictures sometimes and hear words other times) I find that there are plain scenes and I think maybe it is because some parts of life even in the fiction world may be plain and that is cause there is a building of elements that will make other scenes able to happen.

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  21. Lauren says:

    I find the characters are the ones who shape the story and which direction the plot takes. I think each reader experiences and envisions a story differently, no matter the words.

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  22. M T McGuire says:

    I find that happens a lot with my painting, unless I’m trying to produce a cartoonised version of something with a cheeky grin. Luckily, with my writing it doesn’t although I do get big gaps where I’m not sure what’s going to happen next and I have to just do something else and let my subconscious come up with a solution.

    Cheers

    MTM

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  23. I console myself with the thought that maybe the novels in my head aren’t as perfect as they seem to be. They’re like movie trailers; it may not be possible to tie all those promising ideas into a cohesive story. (Hmm, sounds like an idea for a blog post. Maybe.)

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  24. Shauna says:

    That reminds me of this pic.

    I think that most people picture something really different when they envision their writing project (or art project) vs what they write down for the first draft. First drafts are generally crappy and that’s okay – they’re a place where you get to explore your story. It’s only in subsequent drafts that things start to come together (and get closer and closer to what you originally envisioned). You should have seen the vast improvements between the first draft I wrote for the Dark Crystal Author Quest contest and the final one I submitted! My advice is to turn your inner critic off for the first draft – don’t get hung up on technical issues and whatnot as they can be fixed later! πŸ™‚

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  25. OSuzyQuilts says:

    Strangely enough, what I write sounds almost as good sometimes better, sometimes worse than what’s in my head. But, m not writing fiction, yet.

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  26. alexxandriuh says:

    I am struggling with this now. The current novel I’m working on was started 6 years ago and then I dropped it after a year. I decided to pick it back up a couple years later, because I just felt like Her story needed to be told. I honestly can’t see myself ever letting this story die down, it will continue to haunt me until I’ve finished my last sentence. I’ve gotten so far as 6 chapters and then I just turn right back around and start the story over. I can’t count how many times I’ve switched from first person to third person. The plot has changed so many times, character dynamics etc. Now that I am on Chapter 2 for the third or fourth time, I’ve decided that I’ve become too personal with my main character. I’m writing just like I read, I’m in her head and I need to pull back a little and write the story as if I’m telling it to someone out loud. I’ve also realized that I am extremely critical, I pretty much am my own editor and I compare myself too much to other writers, which isn’t fair to myself or my character’s story. I am my own best, just like you are and my character’s story is different from others’ just like yours is.

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  27. Caitlin says:

    I think everyone who is ambitious with their writing struggles with this. What we see in our heads seems soo amazing, and then we look at the page and we just don’t get the same picture. When I feel like I’m missing something, I explore the picture/scene in my head and pick out exactly what’s missing on the page. Now elaborate on what’s missing. The only thing you can do is elaborate and enrich the words in front of you. I am no expert- trust me, I’m younger than yourself- but that’s just what I do πŸ™‚

    (P.S thanks for stopping by my site)

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  28. Cat says:

    The elaborate and beautiful novel you saw in your head does not reveal itself in the first draft. You probably won’t see it until your second or third revision. I’ve found that it also helps if you have a small group of friends who are serious writers (you can start your own writer’s workshop and set a schedule that works with everyone’s writing style). If you haven’t, I recommend that you read Stephen King’s On Writing…I found it extremely helpful when I doubted myself. Also, Brandon Sanderson (author of Mistborn series) is so freaking awesome. He’s a published author who teaches a creative writing class at Brigham Young University and was amazing enough to upload videos of some of his lectures on YouTube. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I do hope they will be useful to you as well.

    He’s also got a website with other lectures (which seem to differ from the YouTube ones).

    Hope this helps a bit.

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    • dustomundo says:

      WOW, awesome insight, Cat! I cannot recommend and agree with you more about the brilliance of King’s On Writing! Thank you for the heads-up on Sanderson’s lectures. I’ve been meaning to check out his Mistborn series.:)

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  29. michnavs says:

    I really believe you have that gift of words…and in the same way you have acquired the skills needed to make it happen
    …..

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  30. lelaj says:

    I feel this way most of the time when I try to write fiction. I have some amazing stories and worlds built and made in my mind but they don’t develop on page like I wish they would. I am hoping that with more experience this will become less of a issue.

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  31. I think this is the same reason why a kid who draws a picture of a face thinks they will draw a life like face but then end up with some corny stick arms and things like that. It is because while in our minds eye we know what we want we have not always developed the means to bring it out. But you know it is wrong and so through editing can get it closer and closer to the reality in your mind. That is what makes art truly special and amazing. This going back and forth trying to bring to the world the vision inside.

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  32. NovaSaber says:

    I’ve also sometimes been surprised by WHICH parts are farther from what I imagined than others.

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  33. Jimm says:

    What’s in my head is rarely stable, and can change while I write.

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  34. I struggle with this every time. I see the idea in my head like a movie scene, and I think it’s totally amazing, but then I don’t quite know how to describe it. Then when I come back and read what I wrote, it seems lame. I agree with other commenters who have pointed out that it’s part of the editing process; it can’t be beautiful on the first draft. I’m not sure I’ve been able to fully convey my vision on subsequent drafts yet, but it’s probably like any art: as we keep working with it, we get more skillful with our tools and technique.
    Thanks for visiting my blog! I’m enjoying reading yours as well.

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