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. 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 and I have given no valuable answers, but perhaps you can help. What do you think?
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?