Beware that book you "always wanted to write"

I think I've learned a lesson, which just goes to show that no matter how long you've been writing, or how much you've been published, it's never too late to learn. There are always surprises.

Case in point: A while back, when I finally crawled up out of my depression over no longer having a current book contract, I was actually kind of exhilarated. Even given that my track record is so poor that my agent said I'd have to write under a pseudonym. I thought "I can write anything I want to now." Freedom! Wasn't long before the light bulb lit up over my head: There was something I'd always wanted to write! I set about doing it in a leisurely fashion, enjoying the lack of deadlines. I read other people's books under the guise of research, to my heart's content -- I had wanted to get deeply into this stuff for a long time and I enjoyed every minute. Then I hit a glitch. A BIG glitch. One of those can't get over it, under it, or around it glitches. But I finally smashed my way through anyway, and guess what I found on the other side? Nothing. Big fat emptiness. During all those weeks of trying to get through the glitch, something happened: my subsconcious mind had been telling me a message I hadn't wanted to let through, and here it was: That book I'd always wanted to write isn't such a great idea after all. It isn't fresh, it isn't new, and it isn't timeless either. It is not, in short, what I thought it was.

What I've been going through has a lot in common with writing one's first book, the first novel one writes all the way through, from beginning to end. The feeling is the same, the excitement, the discovery, the sense of "I can do this." (In my recent case it was "I can still do this," and no less keen a feeling.) Yet the question must always be asked: How good, really, is this thing I wanted so much to write? Whether it's the first or the last book, the question pertains.

When I was doing one-on-one manuscript analysis, which is not editing but somewhat akin, I couldn't help but notice that I was seeing quite a number of mss that were good learning experiences, and showed promise in the quality of the writing, but in themselves should be put away without pushing, revising, submitting them for publication. I felt the aspiring writer's time would be better spent going on to the next thing. It is very hard to tell an aspiriting writer that, but when I was paid to analyze, I did it. (At this point I want to say I think we are all "aspiring writers" because we all want other people to read our stuff, so I hope nobody thinks the term is denigrating; I don't mean it that way.) My own first novel was never published. It did get me an agent and I've always been grateful for that; in retrospect I'm grateful too that the first one wasn't published, but at the time of course I was disappointed.

I have been disappointed again now to realize that this book I've been working on, the one I'd waited a long time to write because its basic concept is not very marketable, is most likely unpublishable even if I were to finish it. I'm forced to acknowledge that my idea was not one of those timeless and universally true things that are always worth reading, no matter when they're written. My big idea was actually old news by the time I got going on it. I just had to write to a certain point before I could admit it to myself.

All is not lost, however. For one thing, there's all that great stuff I learned doing the research -- that's always worthwhile in itself. But more important, I'm a great believer in what I said above, going on to the next thing, whatever that next thing may be.

I even know what the next thing is. I'm not brain-dead yet. Rejoice!

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Comment by Dianne Day on June 25, 2007 at 5:43am
That depends on whether or not you want people to read what you're writing. If you want it read, then you have to put it in a form that's publishable. As I posted in answer to someone's thread on the main Crimespace page recently, if you're a published writer with an agent (as I am), you're in a bit of a bind when it comes to small publishers and e-books. My agent sees what I write, because he's been waiting for a new book from me for 5 years now, and he hasn't given up on me yet. I feel I owe him at least a little something for that, and he wouldn't take it well if I were to set out on my own.
Comment by Nikki on June 24, 2007 at 10:01am
I'm just wondering.... Would you hold back from writing a story you feel passionately about just because you knew it wasn't commercially viable?

Many "classics" probably weren't held as commercial enough when they were published, but it's good we have them to enjoy now. It seems too much emphasis is put on selling these days. If I hear one more person come back from a Don Maas workshop (or some such thing) and tell me how they rewrote their intro chapters because they didn't get to the action soon enough, I may just have to venture into thoughts of murder, or at the very least serious bodily harm. IMHO, some of the best books I've read were character-driven and a bit on the introspective side, certainly not get-to-the-point-because-the-readers-are-ADD things that get published these days.

Is it a waste of time to write without the thought of getting published?
Comment by Lois Reibach on June 18, 2007 at 1:38am
I second Naomi's comment.
Comment by Dianne Day on May 17, 2007 at 6:40am
Thanks, guys. I seem to have loosened up the log jam by writing that blog, because this morning I woke up with lots of words in my head that seemed worth writing down, and a title -- sometimes it takes me a long time to come up with a title -- and now I'm two pages into the Next One. Like I said, it's always good to move on. Anne, I hope your 100 pages are what you want them to be.
Comment by Naomi Hirahara on May 17, 2007 at 1:13am
I'm just happy to hear that there may be another Dianne Day (or whatever name you may publish under) book!
Comment by Anne Frasier on May 16, 2007 at 12:36pm
oh, wow. thanks so much for such a honest post. this really hits home with me because i'm embarking on the book I always wanted to write. it isn't trendy and i don't know if there will be a market for it. i've been concerned about turning out something that is just what you described.
i plan to write 100 pages and send it to my agent . he'll probably tell me it's crap and i'll move on.

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