A dreamer, not a writer
I'm writing my first post here, but really, I'm worried that all I can do is dream.
About a year and a half ago, I had a vivid dream. I got up in the middle of the night to write it down so that I wouldn't forget it. When I read what I had written the next morning, it became clear to me that I wanted to try and turn it into a novel.
In my dream, I had a distinct sense of what the two lead characters would look like and what type of people they were. It was a "mood" that came through to me more than anything else. The plot, such as it was, wasn't anything special. But there was something about that "mood" that struck me, and that has stuck with me to this day. My desire to make a novel out of it was, and still is, about prolonging that mood, and finding out more about who those two people were. There was no ulterior motive, no desire for praise or even publication: nothing but wanting to memorialize that feeling to myself.
This became a kind of ritual for me. One or two nights a week, I would do what I could to evoke that mood. I did the same things, I drank the same things, and I listened to the same music I did on the night of my dream. I was astonished at how well this worked. For while there was never another "real" dream, new details and events would occur to me. In a hypnagogic state between waking and sleeping, I would learn new things about my characters. I saw what they said and did with a clarity of imagination I thought I had lost a long time ago. Just like I had done on that first night, I wrote down what I had seen in the morning. Over time, many plot details coalesced in this way.
But as much as I would like it to be, I'm not sure that my ability to imagine these things so vividly makes me a writer. While it's totally unrelated to my current idea, it's true that all I wanted to be as a young kid was a mystery novelist. Americans on the Midnight under a certain age might remember "writing a book" as part of their elementary school experience. The student writes and illustrates them, and their parents fork over $20 to get it bound. It might have been a little morbid, but I wrote a murder mystery that way in the fourth grade. I loved it and hated it, but I was glad that I did it.
It wasn't long after that that I tried to write a novel in earnest, getting some eighty pages into one in the fifth grade. I quickly developed a tremendous complex about my writing. I have a clear memory of emailing what I had written to a friend of mine and talking to her about it on AIM. I complained about how things were "happening too quickly," as I struggled with filling space between events. One thing would happen; a few pages later, another thing would happen. It felt to me like there were no breaks, that too little characterization was going on, and that I totally lacked ability. My friend reassured me in a friendly way, but even though I had gotten more or less positive feedback, I was deeply discouraged, and even humiliated. I stopped working on it only a few days after that chat, even though I'd been spending most of my free time before then typing it out on my older brother's computer.
That was twenty years ago. I never wrote a word of fiction again after that. When I was assigned to write a short story once for a high school English class, I paid someone to do it for me. The very idea gave me a horrible feeling in my stomach. It's still embarrassing for me to think about.
Yet all these years later, I had a dream that made me want to try. It could very well be that I've only gotten this far on the project because I thought of it as something other than writing, as something more like dreaming, or being the documentarian of things I saw in my head. But so far, this has gone nowhere. The notes have just piled up. I can still tap into that mood, and see these things so vividly. But I cannot write them. There is some huge obstacle in the way, or a fundamental disconnect. I don't know what it is, but I wish that it wasn't like this.
I suspect there are a few fiction writers here. Maybe this will resonate with them, or maybe I should stick to dreaming. Perhaps I'm still in front of my brother's computer, on AIM, and waiting for the validation that I thought I didn't get back then. Maybe some comment will shock some sense into me and get me going in earnest. I don't know. All I can do is dream.
I think you're just gonna have to practice writing and write a few subpar first novels to get into it. Who knows, maybe one of your original fast-paced/choppy novels will inspire a future story when you're more experienced.
Also recurring dreams are epic. Great starting points for ideas to write about. You have all the tools at your disposal, now you have to put em to use.
It definitely resonates, as I've thought about trying my hand at fiction as well. I really enjoy the act of writing, but have a lot of the same hang-ups as you (I'm extremely self-conscious about my writing). I don't want to be some stereotype hipster with no self-awareness, but I absolutely over-correct in the other direction.
I'm not sure that my ability to imagine these things so vividly makes me a writer.
What makes you is a writer is writing. I know we want there to be something more than that, but that's really it.
I also am much better at dreaming than at writing... I believe it is a separate gift that bt seldom coöcurs, as in the late Randolph Carter of Providence.
That said, I fear you are suffering from perfectionism, and that you should work to overcome it by confidently publishing dross, perhaps under an alternative pseudonym. Everyone has to, it can't be avoided if you want to eventually write something good.