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Putting the Cart before the Horse

I’m currently hot and heavy writing the first draft of a new project. When polled to pick their favorite step in the writing process – prewriting (outlines, research, etc), first drafts, revisions, editing, and/or publishing – writer’s responses are typically all over the board. It’s a no-brainer for me. The first draft is when I feel the most alive, creatively, and if I’m not careful I can become so absorbed in the process I let other parts of my life suffer. Not a good habit to fall into.

But even when I’m conveying my random thoughts into a tale with some sense of structure and arc, I still find time to daydream. No, I’m not talking about taking quick peeks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even your blogroll. That’s something else entirely. What I mean is sitting back when you reach a chapter break or a certain word count you’ve set as a goal, and letting your mind wander. Inevitably it will drift into the future and allow you to experience what life will be like when the book you’ve been sweating over is finally revealed to the world. Doing that can serve as a great motivational technique, sometimes yielding thousands of additional words in an effort of reaching your musing more quickly.

While this is happening it is very easy to get caught up thinking about the various things you might want to do to market your book. You’ll want it to do well, so it’s natural to develop strategies to help maximize its exposure. I’m guilty of this myself. But here is where I feel things go haywire sometimes, and it involves putting the cart before the horse. During my tenure out here in the blogosphere, I’ve come across multiple posts that devote a great deal of time discussing promotional activities for books that have not even been completed yet. Now this is going to the extreme, but I’m sure plenty of writers spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about future moves on the checkerboard instead of focusing on the task at hand. It’s just another one of those procrastination quirks we have to fight through, but this one is more romantic than the others because it still involves our book, albeit not directly.

So take it from someone who knows, don’t get caught looking down the road and end up running into a ditch.

Write What You Know...But Be Warned

There's been a lot of debate about this lately, with one faction claiming that the idea of NOT writing what you know panics people for two reasons. First, writers have been encouraged, explicitly or implicitly, for as long as they can remember, to write what they know, so the prospect of abandoning that approach now is disorienting. Second, a great many of us know an awful lot.

I'm not here to tell you what to do - or not do - but to tell you what I do and some possible consequences.  I write what I know. Most of my characters, their characteristics, their motivations, are lifted (in part) from people I know or have met in the course of my travels. I feel I can paint a more realistic story by using these core character elements and molding certain features where I need to.

But you should be warned, if you do like I do and commonly use friends and family as first draft readers, then it is likely that you could accidentally piss one of them off.  This particular reader pool can and will easily pick up on traits you've borrowed from a shared acquaintance and try and match them to their respective owners - which sometimes are themselves. When that happens accidental transference can take place.  I've experienced it. You could be using a moral stance, or an ethical quandary, one that is totally imaginary, and a reader could see it as your interpretation -- mistakenly -- of a belief of theirs and feelings can get hurt. Most of the time its out of your control because the people involved rarely tell you how they feel.  Heck -- even when you are describing them in the most honest way you can, that person might still not like what he see's in your mirror.

Just some food for thought. If one of those inner-reading circle people stops returning your calls suddenly, maybe you should take a closer look at your manuscript. :)

Breaking Up With Your Book

“It just wasn’t working out.”

I’m sure most everyone can relate to this popular phrase.  There could even be someone reading this who is experiencing it right now.  But if you can’t relate, then consider yourself lucky to be one of the very few (see below) who’ve managed to avoid the ending of a relationship.

For those of us who have been there, remember the forensic microscope we put ourselves under in an attempt to figure out just what went wrong? Sometimes it’s pretty easy (“sleeping with my best friend was kind of a deal breaker”), but other times one of the two (sometimes both) parties involved are left scratching their head. Relationships are a complex business, governed by volatile emotions, which commonly elude predictability, so it should be no surprise that failure is more than probable…but often-times expected.  In fact a recent poll of married people reported that the average number of individuals they dated before eventually tying the knot was 24. Another way to look at it is 24 failed relationships before claiming success. Then factor in this statistic…50% of marriages end in divorce. It all paints a rather dismal picture, doesn’t it?

That’s all very fascinating…and a little depressing…but what does any of it have to do with writing?

How many books have you started working on that ended up being abandoned – for whatever reason -- before they were finished? One? Two? Twenty-four? You could make the argument that writing a book is very similar to a romantic relationship. For example, an idea pops into your head…not unlike like eyes meeting across a crowded room, quickly followed by a knowing smile…and soon it’s followed by a rush of excitement. As you explore the possibilities it becomes all you can think about. The link between the two of you is passionate, electric, and intoxicating. You welcome each new day because it offers undiscovered ways to deepen your bond. 

Then things change. It could happen right away, or slowly over a longer stretch of time, but little by little the romance begins to fade. At first you wonder if the lull is only a phase (it’s not like us writers experience that at all) or is the connection slipping away entirely. There comes a point where the relationship feels more like work than anything else and the amount of enjoyment you derive from it is disproportionate to the effort required to sustain it.

That’s when something else catches your eye. Another story idea…and this one is REALLY exciting. It’s not long before this new idea is all you can think about and the current story languishes on your hard drive. This internal tug-of-war festers inside of you until one day you wake up and make a hard decision…one that’s best for everybody…it’s time to break up with your book.

But what went wrong with that first book? All the signs were there at the beginning pointing towards a long and fruitful relationship…just as it is now with this new idea…so what’s different this time around? What makes this new idea “THE ONE”…when the previous idea felt the same way at first?

I’ve already mentioned how relationships are unpredictable, so the person who figures out how to foretell whether or not a coupling will endure the test of time will become a Gazillionaire…or a reality TV star…or both. Writing a book is no different. Just because you fall in love with an idea today doesn’t mean it’s destined for the NY Times Bestseller list…or publication…or even completion. Some of us writers “date” a lot, constantly bogged down with false starts and premises that don’t pan out.  Others, like myself, go to the other extreme and are more cautious, spending a lot of time researching before committing to a concept.   

In the end, all we can do is keep going on book dates and hoping for the best. Because if you place your bet on a single idea/book…the odds are against you.


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