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.
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.”