Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Shiny New Ideas

Happy birthday to me! I'm giving myself ... a new story.

When it comes to writing, I do tend to have something that looks a lot like ADD (actually, when it comes to a lot of things, which is the source of many family jokes about finding me with one sock on and holding a shoe in one hand and a book in the other because I got sidetracked while getting dressed). The more I write, the more creative I get and the more ideas I get, and it's oh so easy to get excited about the new idea while I'm slogging through the hard part of what I'm working on. The new idea is all fresh and shiny, while the current project is hard work. Because they don't publish partial books (unless you're already famous and dead), in order to go anywhere as a writer you need to learn to stash some of those ideas away and keep plugging to finish the thing you're working on. That's a very good discipline to learn, and writing a book all the way to its conclusion is an essential part of learning to write, even if the book does suck. At least then you know what it feels like to slog through the middle and to wrap everything up at the end.

But if you're going to make a career out of this, you also have to learn to recognize the zing of an idea that is truly special and that needs to be written NOW while the iron is hot. Not every story deserves to be finished. I don't know of too many writers who've finished absolutely everything they started. Sometimes when the book fizzles out around chapter five, it's not because you suck as a writer or lack discipline. It could be because the book just isn't there -- or at least isn't there yet. If you force yourself to slog on and finish it, or even just finish the proposal, you'll just have wasted time that could have been spent on something that does work. It's a very important kind of discernment to learn when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, when you're just having a bit of a slump with a project that needs to be finished and when you've got something worth putting everything aside for. Come to think of it, every book where writing just the proposal was sheer torture ended up being rejected. Forcing myself to get through and finish the proposal was a complete waste of time. If I was hating the proposal that much, how would I have tolerated writing the whole book? Of course, once you're contracted, you have to slog through to the end, no matter how many other brilliant ideas you get. The trick is telling the difference between just hitting the hard part and something not working at all when you get distracted by something new.

Here's how I test it: When I get the shiny new idea that won't let go even though I'm in the middle of slogging through something, I give myself a day to play with the new idea. If I'm really in a writing slump, and that's what's causing the lack of enthusiasm, then I'll struggle just as much with the new idea. I may get a few pages, but then I'll have worked out the new idea and run out of things to say. I may even find myself thinking about the other thing while I'm trying to work on the new one. But if the new idea is really something, then it will fly and develop, and I'll find myself having lots of fun with it. If that's the case, then it might be a good idea to switch gears.

So, yesterday, that new idea I wanted to play with? I wrote 37 pages and only stopped because I couldn't keep my eyes open and my laptop battery died. I know what happens in at least the next two scenes. In contrast, in my attempt to just blaze through the book I was working on, I was struggling to get 16 pages in a day. Oh, and all of this is without any plotting or character development on paper. I figured out names for the characters, and that's about it. I don't even forsee a lot of rewrites. There's tons of action, the voice is strong and the characters are really coming to life. I may have some tweaking to do once I really figure out who these people are, based on the way they act, and then I'll go back and beef up the characterization earlier in the story. The plot, though, is totally working (so far). I don't think I've been this excited about a story since I started working on Enchanted, Inc.

I had come up with a variety of plans for what to do on my birthday, most of which involved taking the day off and maybe going to a movie or renting a video, but oddly enough, I actually want to work, which is rather unusual and I need to take advantage of it. I also don't really want to get into someone else's characters right now, so I don't want to read or watch a movie until I get a little further into this thing. I want to keep these characters as the most interesting and exciting people to me, and if I get into something else, that could fade. I'll go out and do a little shopping this afternoon, as I have a 30% off Borders coupon that expires soon, and my parents told me to buy something I want as a gift, and they'll pay me back. Within reason, of course, so I'll be staying away from the BMW dealership. I may pick up some takeout for dinner and hit a bakery for a nice slice of cake. Then after I get enough of this book down to have a proposal I can give my agent, I can give myself a big celebration day.

1 comment:

Janet Laudett said...

Hi, Shanna--and Happy Birthday to you! I just started reading your blog, so I'm still catching up. Can't wait to see where your new story ideas will take you! Again--Happy Birthday; hope it's great. Many Blessings to You! Janet Laudett