Friday, November 09, 2007

A Jump-Start to Creativity for the Weekend!

Over the past several months (years?), I have felt my share of Writer Envy. We all suffer it to one degree or another. And you know it when you feel it. It’s that familiar, stomach-sinking sensation that hits you when you hear of another author’s success…again. Even if you like the author. Even if you’re a fan of the author…sometimes you feel it anyway. The old why her and not me? question. Or, as I encountered last week, hearing about an author who’s already a bestseller being courted by publishers to write yet more books, when she’s already got several due to another publisher and is stressing out because she “doesn’t know how she’s going to get it all done.” (Hint: she could always have refused the assignment and let the rest of us have a chance…but funny how that option never seems to occur to any of these lucky people.) Or the same ol’ same ol’ people in the industry seemingly reaping all the rewards—teaching the plum workshops, speaking at the great venues—while a larger majority of us here in the trenches slog away, growing increasingly disillusioned and/or desperate about anyone ever noticing us in the shadows while the spotlight is so firmly fixed on those fortunate few. So what’s to be done about that? Well, it seems to me we have a couple of choices. The familiar choice is, first, to get peeved. (Admit it. It’s okay.) To sit there and smile on the outside while on the inside thinking about ways to provoke spontaneous human combustion. Close on the heels of the urge to see that other author’s head explode, at least on my part, comes a second set of emotions and self-talk. This usually starts out with “What’s wrong with my stuff?” and ends with, “Well, if I had_____ like she does, I’d be where she is, too.” My favorite use of the “If I had ______” phrase is, of course, “Well, if I had the luxury of being able to stay home and write full-time, I’d have all this success, too.” Sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? And it does have more than a grain of truth to it. Having more time to write is always a good thing. There’s only one problem with this assumption: it’s only half true. Because having all the time in the world to write, and no financial worries, and nothing else standing in the way, only truly works if you have some idea of what you’re going to write. In other words, without some ideas that have you jumping in your shoes, without some sparks that have you unable to stay away from the keyboard, you’ll be just as frustrated as you were when you thought the only obstacle between you and the Great American Novel was the financial ability to spend unlimited time pursuing your muse. You’ll stare at the screen, you’ll noodle around with some sentences, maybe, but mostly you’ll just avoid writing…and then you’ll beat yourself up for it. That way, ladies and gentlemen, does not lie success. It’s a path that leads nowhere, and I’ve come up with an idea to jar us off that path and onto a better one. I have to admit, this idea is stolen, and not new. It comes from the history of a particular author I know who, when she was working on a couple of ideas at a time and still hadn’t sold her first book, had an agent challenge her to do something that changed her writing life. The agent looked at her stuff and said, “This is promising. But I want to see more. Way more. So I have an assignment for you: go home and write six new synopses for six new books. When you have them, send them to me, and we’ll talk.” The author nearly fainted at the sheer idea of just going home and writing six brand-new synopses—for the simple reason that she writes much like I do, in a very methodical and logical, linear, plot-driven manner, so that having those synopses done would basically mean she knew exactly what each book was going to be about and would just have to write from an outline. She couldn’t send the agent one page and a wing and a prayer; when she was done with those synopses, all that would remain was to pick which book she wanted to write first, and go for it. Yeah, it was hard. Yeah, it took some work. But after she did it, she had even more ideas popping out of the woodwork—and what was more to the point, she had books an agent could nudge her on and say, “This one. This is the one I want to see more on.” A couple of years after she did this, she signed a two-book deal with a major publisher, sold her first book with virtually no revisions, and was on her way to building a career. She’s since become a college writing teacher, sold at least two more books, and has started to snag some of those speaking venues and some “street cred” that just might turn into the kind of career we all dream about. And she started this while working full-time outside the home and raising several sons. The difference between being a very good, unsold writer and a good, sold one? Lots and lots and lots of options. Productivity. And more productivity. That came from…you guessed it. Ideas. So I’m going to take on a challenge, and I hope you’ll join me in it. I may or may not write six synopses—that remains to be seen. But what I am going to do, since I’m sorely in need of more book options than I have now, is to make an effort to concentrate on becoming an idea-generating machine. Specifically, I’m setting a public goal: to have ten new story ideas by the end of the month. Ten new ideas that are at least to the scene-and-chapter stage, which is the preliminary stage I always go through before I write a synopsis. Think that sounds insurmountable? Maybe it is. But I’ll never know that until I try. So I’m going to try. And, I suspect, once I put these wheels in motion, there’ll be a lot of others that start turning as well. Because God does want us to demonstrate that we can be trusted with “small things” before He gives us the “big ones.” Maybe the only thing that’s standing between me and that success I crave so much isn’t that the universe hasn’t provided me with the perfect situation in which to wallow and create at leisure. Maybe, in the end, the only thing that’s standing between me and success is not having enough trust in my own creativity. But no muscle gets stronger until you exercise it. So starting now, I’m going into full-blown aerobic idea-sparking mode. Wanna join me? If you do, just register in the combox! And then let’s keep track of what we come up with as the next couple of weeks unfold… Thoughts? Janny


Deb said...

Yes! Yes! Yes!

And I think you will come up with much better ideas than this unnamed author (I think I know who this is, but will keep lip zipped). You're exactly the sort of writer who can do worlds with this sort of impetus to get you going.

I'm cheering for you.


Donna Alice said...

Cheering you on!

I already have about ten projects in various stages that I'm working on and seem to have no trouble coming up with ideas for more. A case in point is my NANO project. Halfway there and only 25K to go. I think I can, I think I can, I think, I can.