Have you ever wished you could take out wanted ads for life?
Wanted: one house elf to wash dishes, scrub baseboards, clean toilets and complete other equally annoying tasks
Wanted: a Lewis to my Tolkien (Don’t laugh, but I actually wrote this one out and got mine a few weeks later…no lie!)
How about this one?
Wanted: a literary divining rod; used by holding over various works-in-progress and scribbled brainstormings to point out the one on which to focus
Choosing a story to follow may be the hardest obstacle I’ve faced since overcoming the fear to push toward publication, though I do provide much more clarity in a later post. My issue with this question begins not with what I can possibly write about, but which idea I should pursue first. You see—in case I haven’t already mentioned it (or you haven’t figured it out)—I over-analyze EVERYTHING.
Seriously, I annoy myself!
Examine with me, if you will, my thought process in this dilemma I’m currently facing.
Choosing a story: What if it’s the wrong one?
My brain often drives me a bit nuts; and I would often like to take a little break from it. Since that doesn’t seem possible, I’m going to just indulge it a bit and follow where it leads on this question. According to a quick search, L. Ron Hubbard (yes, the founder of the Church of Scientology) wrote a whopping 1,084 books over a span of 72 years. If my math is correct (remember I diagram sentences for fun, not work out Pi to a hundred places), that breaks down to approximately 15 books completed EACH YEAR! Not sure about you, but I’m a bit flabbergasted at those numbers! Now, I have no fortune-telling abilities and I’m certain of very little in life; but I can tell you quite confidently that there is absolutely no way I’ll be churning out that many books a year.
That leads to my first concern: Given the finite number of books I can reasonably complete in my mortal life, what if I choose the wrong one? What if I spend a decade on one book that’s a great big fat flop? What if I pass right by the Arkenstone in my haste to grab a handful of gold?
(Yes, that was another Tolkien reference. I can’t promise I won’t keep throwing those in to every post.)
Choosing a story: What if I waste the first one?
Now, I cannot recall exactly where I’ve read this, but I know I’ve stumbled upon it more than once: often your first attempt at a book is a bit of a dud. Call it your trial run, your internship, your frog-before-the-prince, whatever label you’d like to give it. So—I warned you my brain tends to run a bit off-kilter—what if I choose the story idea that gives me the greatest warm fuzzies and I think it shines with all the soaring promises a manuscript could possibly hold. But, it gets nowhere. So, being the determined lass I am, I self-publish it. And I buy it. And my best friends buy it. And…it lies in the graveyard of writers’ broken dreams.
I pick myself up, dust myself off, write again…and get published! This one gives me enough success to earn the attention of the publishing world. And, I’m off. But…you see that first book back there, disheveled and discarded? That one was my heart, and I can’t do it again. Now, I do realize that that is not entirely true and there could be hopes for a redo on it to bring it to its rightful place of glory; but this is my brain we’re journeying through, remember? How could I possibly condemn my first book baby to such a fate? (I promise I’m not actually this dramatic in real life; blame the brain.)
Choosing a story: Which genre comes first?
As you already know if you’ve followed my posts for a bit, I write across genres. That has given me some consternation as well as I’ve begun this journey; check out this post for more of my musings on that. Here’s how the conversation in my head goes:
Practical Me: “You already have two picture books close to completion; one’s been through more than 16 drafts, for Bob’s sake…not to mention those other two you have all written out in your head! Why on earth aren’t you starting here? Get out the submission guidelines, sharpen your query skills!”
Stubborn Me: “But, I don’t want to be a children’s author only. And, if I start there, that’s the exact label I’ll get and I’ll never break into adult fiction.”
Other Me: “Um, guys? Remember that non-fiction book you’ve been working on for…is it six years now? Yea, you made a commitment on that one. Plus, look at all the work you’ve already done! You have a binder FULL of notes from research, interviews, etc. You have an entire recipe box jam-packed with index cards of more notes. That chapter outline sits there, waiting for you to follow it to the end. All you lack are a few more interviews…doesn’t matter that those are the most important ones; you’re almost there. And this is the one that means the most.”
Stubborn Me: “Yes, that one is important, but I really think I need to get to work on a fiction book now, too. I can do non-fiction and fiction simultaneously—I really think I can. I mean, I’ve kind of done that my whole life.”
Practical Me: “We need to start making some money here, guys; and I think your picture books are more marketable!”
Stubborn Me: “But this story about faeries has me all tingly; and isn’t that one of the most important details to look for when choosing a story that will consume the next decade of my life? And, in that other story, the one that could be a historical fiction—that character keeps whispering to me; I really think I should listen.”
Practical Me: “Ahem! Did I mention you have one picture book that’s ready for a stamped envelope?”
Hungry Me: “Burritos or pizza?”
Choosing a story: What do you think?
If you haven’t already clicked off my site, you’re either as crazy as I am or a kindred spirit (maybe both). I realize this post overflows with questions, but I do have some answers for us in this post.
If you’re a writer, where do you start? What factors do you consider when choosing a story?
If you’re a reader, what do you look for when you’re searching for books. Obviously, you likely have a genre in mind and you may head to the bookstore specifically for your kids or specifically for yourself. When it comes right down to making a purchase, what qualities could an author possess that may sway your decision between two books?
BURRITOS!!!! I totally lol-ed your conversation to yourself. It’s so familiar! 🙂
I’ve spent years trying to figure this question out. I’ve come up with a few tricks for me. This might not work for everyone, but here it is…
If I were in your shoes, I think I’d set out a plan for each idea. Each project vying for your attention would get a due date and a step-by-step plan. Your Yous will be appeased, I think, to let you work on what’s assigned if she knows that her project is next.
So, for example, give your first children’s book two weeks of your time. Then you have three days/one week/whatever to query agents with it.
While you wait for an answer start your second children’s book. Work on it until*insert date here*. Send it out to CPs in whatever state it is in on that date. While you wait for CPs to answer. Plot and/or character study fiction book until *insert date here*. When the that’s done, maybe you’ll have a query answer (fingers crossed!) or your CPs will have things for you, but have a plan on what to work on next if you don’t get anything back from anyone. You can dig through non-fiction research and create a timeline for scenes, something like that. Then, go back to fiction book, etc., etc.
For me, it’s easier to focus on one thing if I have another project “doing something” whether in query or competition or with betas. It feels like multi-tasking and quiets the discontented Me’s within.
Oh, and have a plan for when inspiration hits one of your Yous. Like if you Fiction You decides an integral MC character trait while you are working with your Nonfiction You, have a notebook for just your fiction project where you can write the info down, and then get back to the project at hand. That has REALLY helped me. (I would chase so many rabbits it would take me years to remember what I was doing. Literally. Years.)
It’s about promising your Core You that you will stick to the plan. (If the plan changes and you want to swap nonfiction project with fiction project, cool stick to that new plan. But ONLY if you are not in the MIDDLE of the first project. Currently, my thinking is to only leave a project mid-way if you are planning on scrapping it for parts. You had passion for your current WIP or you wouldn’t have made room for it in your life to begin with. Find the passion/the plot hole/whatever and push forward if you can.
Right now your Yous don’t know if you are planning to make their ideas reality. Placate them with a promise of something tangible, and then create something you’re proud of. You can totally do this, and do it well.
Disclaimer: My experience with this method is that I fail at this as much as I’m successful at it. But getting back on the horse feels way better than sitting on the ground, flicking mud. 😉
I’m so sorry this is so long! I was just typing and pushed submit, and there it all was… 😮
No such thing as too long to me, my friend!! ????
But flicking mud is just so much fun, Mea!! Lol
I seriously LOVE this! It makes total sense for me, and I can see it working with my ideas and desires. This past week was my get-away-from-reality week (which I highly recommend for everyone every once and a while); but my brain has still been whirring with how I can implement some of these elements, where I’ll begin, etc. I do hope to report some creative writing productivity soon. My babies need lungs and muscles and hearts; this lit mama’s ready to craft!!
I definitely relate to this post. I’ve had some “great ideas” that, after seeing a character sketch and outline, didn’t look so great anymore. But once a work in progress reaches a certain point, it seems wrong not to finish it. My first novel was simply the story I couldn’t get out of my head. It maybe wasn’t safe or strategic to start there, but I knew I had to go to the end of that path before I could have my full heart on any other trek. Marketing and money-making are important, but if I’m not writing what I care about, it’ll show.
You are so right, Jimmy! A reader can tell if your heart’s not in your tale. I have found as I’ve embarked on this journey that when I sit still for a bit and stop fretting, answers and guidance come. I tend to be a bouncy fretter, but I’m learning! Thank you for sharing your experience!