Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Strategic Use of Lulls

Our gorgeous fall weather continues. Last night, I put the real comforter back on the bed, instead of the light throw I've been using, and I was even a little chilly in the morning. Yesterday afternoon, I had tea on the patio, and as I was sitting on my patio, having tea and scones while listening to Puccini and brainstorming in a notebook, I was definitely reminded of why I'm willing to put up with the financial insecurities and emotional rollercoaster of writing for a living. That counted as work, and I didn't have to sit in an office on a day like that.

I'm in a weird lull between projects. The New Project proposal is with my agent, and I don't really want to start anything major before I get her feedback. Plus, I'm not sure what to work on next as I now have two projects under consideration in the main genres I work in, and the result of those projects will determine what I do next. But at the same time, I don't want to get out of the habit of writing daily. I may do some just for fun writing that may or may not turn into anything "real." This is a chance to play and remind myself why I like doing this. I mean, beyond the ability to work while sitting on the patio on a glorious September day.

There is some strategy involved in a writing career. Like it or not, you do get put into certain categories as a writer, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's like having a brand image that lets people know what to expect. It is possible to move around a lot of different categories, but it's generally more effective in building a strong brand to stick to one or two things, establish yourself, and then broaden. When you decide to broaden, you can do it in a way that extends your brand by going gradually. Like, say, if I wanted to write thrillers (not very likely, but this is hypothetical). My current brand identity is funny contemporary fantasy. I might first write a funny contemporary fantasy with thriller elements, then maybe the next one would be more thriller and less either fantasy or funny, depending on what I want to do, and then eventually transition to thrillers.

So deciding what to write next isn't just about what idea is currently eating a hole in my brain. It's about which of the ideas currently eating a hole in my brain is most likely to be marketable in today's publishing climate and most likely to be a logical extension of my current brand and that will complement rather than compete with whatever else I have on the market. If any of the current projects sell, there will be contract language that says I can't sell a book in that genre to any other publisher, so there's not a lot of point in writing something else in the same genre, especially since the current projects are all first books in series, so the second book in any two-book contracts will be a sequel. And yet I don't want to start writing a sequel until I know the first book will sell. My agent is good about keeping those limitations very narrow, so there is room to work around them, but it's still something to keep in mind.

What I think I'm going to do for these cases is have some backburner projects, things that are going to take a lot of work and development over time. I can take them out and play with them in lulls until they're developed enough to become primary projects. I have a traditional fantasy that's been living in my head for about eighteen years that I wrote once when I didn't have the skill to pull it off and that I'd like to try rewriting from scratch, and I have the first glimmers of an idea for a sort of fantasy with a steampunk sensibility that's going to take a ton and a half of research and reading to develop. And I just came up with an idea that may only work and be marketable as a screenplay, so that could be something fun to play with.

But for today, I think I'm going to have that picnic and take a notebook for some more brainstorming and maybe even drafting.

And, yes, I'm being deliberately vague about prospective projects because I don't like to talk about them until they've sold. People in the publishing world do use Google, and I don't want to prematurely tip my hand about anything.

I do think it's a good sign that what I really want to do is continue The New Project. I even came up with the next scene in detail in my head last night. I just am not sure that's a good use of my time before I get feedback from my agent.

1 comment:

Angie said...

If you do decide to write a screenplay, I'd recommend reading Jane Espenson's blog. She's a former Buffy collaborator and her blog seems knowledgable as well as funny.

I hope the publishing world quickly snaps up at least one of your new projects. I'd love to have more Shanna Swendson books to read and love!