Archive for the ‘Underneath It All’ category

Why I write: Ideas

September 14th, 2010

It’s been a long weekend, one that had me unable to do much of anything yesterday despite a growing To-Do list.

Not on the list, but always on my mind: Write. Write write write.

Right now, I’m not writing. Right now, I’m trying to sell something I’ve written, and that to me is frustrating work. Oh, I understand why the system is the way it is. Throughout the process of writing my first novel, I heard the cliched “Oh, I wrote a book once; it’s in a box under my bed” sort of sentiment. I bet it wasn’t always in that box, though. That person — those hundreds of people, just in my life, and so those thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands worldwide — dreamed of that book sitting alongside Stephen King and Dan Brown at their local Barnes & Noble.

It’s a good dream. I worked as research assistant on two non-fiction books. I wrote parts of them, interviewed people for them, spent hours on the phone sussing information out of often-reluctant sources. In the end, I got to hold each and marvel at my name on the cover of a hardback. There’s no real way to describe the feeling, though I imagine (and soon will know) fatherhood is much the same.

Back to those books under the bed, though. Let’s be honest, most of them can’t have been good. And so there’s a system in place wherein writers query agents, who must act as gatekeepers to the publishing houses.

That’s where I am, that maddening but necessary step in the process. Querying is a mix of luck and guesswork. What’s your genre? Okay, that’s relatively easy to figure out. Done. Now, which agents rep that genre? Plenty of sites online provide that information, though I’ve found it’s sometimes inaccurate. Got a list? Great. Now flail blindly. There’s very little way to tell, you see, whether a query letter is hitting the wrong notes, is including not enough or too much information, is presenting the work in a marketable way or is just plain bad. You can have other writers critique, and sometimes even agents, but in the end it’s a bit less than an educated guess.

Most important, it takes attention. It takes time and focus. You need to know who’s repping, what they’ve done, what’s selling, what’s being made into movies, what markets are saturated and on and on and on. Fun? Sure, for the first few weeks. And then…

And then the ideas creep in. “Write me!” shrills a plotline inspired by a bumper sticker. “Come on, buddy, write a few pages of me,” grunts a lighthearted superhero deconstruction. “I’m next,” insists a sultry supernatural thriller.

That’s why I write. The ideas won’t stop. I love them all. I want to explore them. I want to meet the characters and follow them into tangled plots and see how the world changes around them.

But, I have to resist them. I have to, right now, dance with the one what brung me. I have to devote the time to selling this book, and then I’ll let myself move on to the next. So: Someone rep my book! The ideas are piling up, and nobody here wants my head to explode, do we?

Next: Adventures in Flailing, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Query Process.