Picking Your Project: Part II

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Picking Your Project: Part II

With my next book completed and revisions done, I’m waiting on the line edits and pondering what to do next.   

One of the questions that interviewers typically ask writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”  Maybe you’re like me, I get ideas EVERYWHERE.  The morning paper, family history, songs on my ipod, watching people at the grocery store, even weird foreign films can inspire a story. 

Women’s Fiction encompasses a vast universe.  There is no shortage of subjects and so many of them appeal in so many different ways.  How can a working writer ever make a good decision?

Last month I compared this process to the restoration of our sweet old house.  When we looked at all the potential and saw what could be done, our choices were almost overwhelming.  To help us, we came up with a few basic questions to ask ourselves when contemplating the next project. 

The same idea might be helpful in winnowing down the prospects for a next novel.  The answers may not change our decision, but at least they might insure that we’ve glimpsed the big picture.

Where am I in my journey? 

If you’re starting out, it can be a smart idea to show readers a good basic book.  The optimal framework for raw talent and evolving craft is not always something out of the box.  Gimmicks can, and do, change the market, they start the trends.  But they are risky.  And their staying power is tenuous. 

If you’re in a sophomore slump, don’t panic and throw away the gains you’ve made.  No trajectory goes straight up.  And, honestly there are no shortcuts to the top. 

A veteran writer has the luxury to weigh the balance of the career with her/his personal aspirations.  That said, it’s no time to stamp your feet and demand that it’s “my way or the highway”.  The highway can be very long and lonely.  And if you head in that direction, your readers will miss you. 

Speaking of highways, am I on a road I don’t want to travel?

         A writing career is not one book, it’s a lifetime of stories.  It can be a terrible mistake to write an “outlier”, a story that doesn’t fit in with the readership that you’ve established or that you’re hoping to draw to you.  If you’ve trained readers to associate your name with X, and your new story is totally Y, readers may feel confused, even cheated. 

The flipside of this, don’t create a readership for stories you don’t want to write.  All of us are quickly typecast into a certain kind of book.  If you don’t want to spend your life writing vampires in high school or rich people at the beach, then don’t jump into those trends no matter how hot and lucrative they seem to be. 

I’m not saying that all your stories need to be alike, far from it.  We grow and change and stretch our boundaries, and our readers do this with us.  But everything we write should build on the foundations we establish for ourselves.

Can You Welcome This To The Family?   

         Our storylines are not limited to our computers.  When you choose a setting, a theme, a plot and characters, they become a huge part of your thoughts and your perspective.  And writing “the end” doesn’t send them away.  For the rest of your life these fictional scenes, these places, these people become as much a part of your personal memory as any actual friends, locales and incidents.  Writing a book is a long period of intense concentration.  It can loom large in your mind the way four years of college seems so much longer than the four years you worked at the insurance company.  If you cannot live your life with murder plots on the back burner or images of the undead in your facial recognition, then don’t bring them home.

Will Anybody Want to Read This?

The publishing industry is very competitive.  Whether you are attempting to be snapped up by a traditional publisher, or hoping to attract attention in a sea of digital offerings, it is always hard to sell stuff that nobody wants to buy.     

Writing does not fulfill its potential if it is not read.  It’s like cooking a fabulous holiday meal that goes straight into the garbage disposal, a pure waste of time and talent.

Still, choosing your storyline based on hot trends or even “what readers want” seems to me like a terrible idea.  Do we really want to take the powerful, majestic waterfall that is our talent and constrain it into a fully-functioning kitchen faucet?

         Not as I live and breath…and blog!

         Bill and I began our bungalow restoration by leveling the house and shoring up the foundation.  Then we began doing the things that we knew how to do, learning new skills and honing our vision as we hoarded our pennies for the next big push.  Or as Anne Lamott might describe it, we did it room by room.  In little more than a decade, we’ve made a home that suits us, sturdy and safe, unique and beautiful, specific to our own preferences. 

         I think a writing career can be built just as solidly, by picking the projects that are perfect for us.    


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