Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Stuff of Dreams

I’ve heard the question a dozen times. “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How do you determine what to write?” The answer comes a thousand different ways.  Years ago, Elizabeth Sherill told me, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” The trick is figuring how which ideas to bring into reality. It’s the struggle that writers have about what to write but also the struggles of publishers about which books or magazine articles to publish. When you find that match between what the market needs and the writer who can produce it, then you have discovered something special.  That discovery doesn’t happen in an instant or overnight but may require years of persistent work and study and effort.

So often, I find writers are expending a lot of time and energy to write a novel when they should also be learning how to write (and publish) shorter magazine articles.  Yes, I understand their love of fiction and their desire to write this longer work. At the same time, they tend to be incredibly naive about the work of publishing and what it takes. These writers will get caught in their story and write 180,000 words then try to interest a literary agent or a publisher.  They don’t understand many publishers will reject this submission on the basis of the word count. It’s way off the expected mark—much less their writing style or storyline or content.  Or writers will send me a query letter to pitch their story. These letters are often incomplete. Maybe they don’t tell me the completed worth length or they tell it in pages (which doesn’t mean a thing inside publishing—only words count). Maybe they neglect to tell me whether the book is completed or not and whether they have published anything else anywhere.  Then when you get such a pitch letter, as an editor you have a choice. 1) You can reject it outright and send them a form letter (the most common solution). 2) you can write a short email asking for the missing information. or 3) set it aside in hopes to get to it later—often where you get to it and slap a form rejection letter on it. None of these choices are good for the writer because it simply causes more anxiety and doesn’t really get their project into the consideration process.

Jeanie lindersBack to my idea theme where I started this entry about the writing life. In the last few days, I was flipping through the November issue of More magazine.  I found a little story about Jeanie Linders who at the age of 51 wrote her first play, Menopause the Musical. Writer Marion Winik wrote Linders’ words saying, “By 50, I had been a travel writer, an event planner, run an ad agency—even lost everything I owned producing jazz festivals. Then, one night six years ago, I was on my way to a banquet when I found myself drenched in sweat—as I stood in front of the refrigerator door to cool off, I started singing, “Hot Flash” to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs.” Soon “Stayin’ Alive” became “Stayin’ Awake” and I suddenly had a comic musical about menopause on my hands. Five months later, I converted an empty perfume shop in an Orlando strip mall into a small theater.” See the amount of work and energy Jeanie poured into her idea and ran with it? Today this musical is wildly popular and during this year it will travel to Israel, Malaysia and South Africa.

The direction of writing a play and producing it took Jeanie Linders in an entirely new direction for her life. It is the stuff of dreams but dreams based in reality.

As writers we need to work hard and find that niche where our writing will be published. It may not happen on your first or your fiftieth attempt. But if you persevere I believe it can happen. So when those ideas come in the middle of the night or in the middle of something else, take a few minutes to scratch them down so you will remember them. Then plot a course of execution so you get them into a book proposal or a magazine article. It’s part of the writing life.

3 Comment:

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Darlene Left a note...

I wouldn't have thought that a silly song running through my brain could be a hit. Bravo to Marion for packaging just the right idea. Thanks for the thought.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Camy Tang Left a note...

I know that lots of my writer friends talk about the zillion ideas they have running around in my brain. I'm very different. I have only a few ideas that stew and percolate and bake into my next novel storyline.

It works for me because it guarantees that I'll care passionately about the issues in my next novel--the ideas that coalesce are always very dear to me.

But the whole thing about a bazillion ideas? I can't really relate. But I don't feel so bad because I heard that author Brandilyn Collins is the same way. Hahahahahaha


At 8:54 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes Left a note...

Terry, it seems your posts always go along with what I'm dealing with. Hah. I'm brainstorming my next novel so this was a good think piece for me.

After writing 2 novels, I'm just now realizing how important it is to choose the right story to write.


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