Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: How do you know when a project is going to work and when it's not?

I know when things glow. Some stories have this buzzing electric current, which runs all the way through them, this bright sharp line joining up the characters. It’s the thing that makes me know that out of all my hundred thousand random floating ideas, this one is worth writing. This one has people who are fascinating, who are going to collide and leave a trail of sparks from their collision. It’s often a romance, because I have this whole endless obsession with love stories, but it doesn’t have to be.

Anyway. If I find something that glows, I know that I could have a story of pure wondrousness on my hands, if I could just write it well enough. Or sometimes I have a whole bunch of beautiful lines all through my head, and I keep coming across them at inappropriate times and having to sneak into the back room at work to write them down. And then I know it could be great, if I could just get the story behind them to make sense.

But that’s not whether a project will work. That’s whether a project can work. Most people have projects that can work floating around, whether or not they choose to do anything with them.

But in the end, whether it will work actually comes down to me. And that’s scary. It comes down to whether I manage to dislodge enough time for the damn thing from all the stuff time usually gets itself stuck in*, whether I revise and edit well enough and follow people’s advice on things that need fixing. And whether I keep going when everything about the project is making me outraged, or bored, or paranoid, or headachy, or all at once. And also, whether I do the idea justice. A good idea is all very well, but I could unwittingly write it so badly that you can almost hear the trees which fell for my notebooks groaning**, write it so badly that it turns into a Humpty Dumpty sort of thing where not even all the best beta readers in the world can put it back together again. Not to mention whether my judgement was right in the first place, whether my idea genuinely does work, or whether it was a waste of time. What glows for me might not glow for you. Or for an agent. Or for anyone. Except my mother. It will probably glow for my mother. But she likes everything I write, so that doesn’t count***.

So, in one respect, I know the answer before I ever start anything. I only start novels that I am absolutely certain could work. In another, it’s murky. Because whether something does work beyond the inside of my head is another matter.

I write. I revise. I hope.

That’s all.

How do you know when a project will work? And how about other writers? You should go see what my fellow highwayers have to say. And while you’re heading in that direction, you might also want to check out my Sunday post on being a New Zealand writer.

*Work, loved ones, cooking, insect warfare, Grey’s Anatomy.

**I’m actually quite sure they do this. But I try not to listen.

***The 987234th thing that I should maybe leave out of query letters: “My mother rather liked this novel.”


Kaitlin Ward said...

Even your blog posts glow, Ms. Leila.

Shari Green said...

Good post, Leila. I know what you mean about it being a little scary that it comes down to "me" - to whether I can pull it off talent-wise, effort-wise, time-wise... because it'd be a real shame to screw up a perfectly glowing idea, lol.

Kristin Miller said...

I love that this post both embraces the utter serendipity that comes with beautiful ideas and puts the smack down on the assumption that the idea is all you need. Even stunning ideas need a ton of time and effort to get written. Great post.

Kristin Briana Otts said...

Yeah, so pretty much this is exactly what I wanted to say...except that you said it so much prettier than me.

*sulks* :P

Kate Hart said...

Seconds KSr-- "can" versus "will" are entirely separate issues. Good post L!

Jess said...

You are so right. Whenever great ideas come along, it's so easy to just assume that it will write itself. Magic exists, right? But you hit the nail on the head: "whether it will work actually comes down to me."

No pressure...

Emilia Plater said...

<3 it is scary. But you can so do it! Because.. you are Leila. :D

Remilda Graystone said...

Nice post. Sometimes the idea is a great one but you can't pull off. That's when a little part of me just dies. But it's great that you know it before you even begin.

Michelle said...

God, Leila...your posts are so gorgeous. I second what Kaitlin said.

Sandy Shin said...

Lovely post. Finding an idea, a love story, something that glows is definitely the first step toward something that works. But even then, it needs a lot of nurturing, a lot of hard work, to survive. :)

Leila Austin said...

Thank you for the lovely comments everyone :-)

It's late at night, so any analogy that I come up with is always going to be bad. But anyway. Reading Sandy Shin's comment made me think of how my novels are like the little herb plants that I have growing on my deck. They're fragile. I have to keep watering them and sending nice thoughts their way.

Except that novels seem to need a lot more attention than plants. Hmmmm.

Abby Stevens said...

I write. I revise. I hope.

Very concise. Very true.

Medeia Sharif said...

I outline first, and if something is off about the outline, then I don't care to pursue the project.

At other times I get so excited about the idea and subsequent outline that I feel like the book is meant to be.

Leila Austin said...

Oh, how I wish I could outline!

Actually, I sort of outline. I write down very vague notes full of question marks about things that I think could happen. And then I get very excited about all the maybe-possible-upcoming plot developments. Anything more organised than that, and everything goes wrong.

I love having a notebook full of glowing plot possibilities. Even if I don't end up using them in the end. If I'm obsessing enough to keep writing them down it's always a good sign :-)