The creative process (on speaking too soon)

Amanda Hocking had an interesting post up the other day: Ideas vs. Things

The basic concept behind the post is that she’s learned the hard way that she can’t talk about potential ideas she’s working on, because people then expect to see those ideas come to fruition and get published.  She had one idea that she blogged about that ended up just not working out, but now people ask her when that project is going to be published.  They assume that since she blogged about it, it must be going to happen.

Unfortunately, that’s just not how writing novels works.  At least not for me (and not for Amanda Hocking it would seem.)

The novel I wrote is not at all the novel I set out to write.  I still have that first novel idea percolating in the back of my brain.  But when I sat down to write it and to tell one character’s life story, I instead ended up with a story about the lives of three characters over a period of about six months.  And the most minor character of the three was the guy I originally set out to write about.

I happen to like my novel, but it’s quite possible I could’ve reached the end and hated it.  Or that it could have fallen apart about ten times along the way.  If I had sold this novel based upon a synopsis it would be absolutely nothing like what I said it would be.  And it’s also quite possible it will never see the light of day.

I have the benefit of being an unpublished nobody.  So no one is actually expecting to read my novel.  (Or if they are, they know me personally and have already requested the novel, and have read it as one of my betas.  My accountant currently has a copy of my novel.  Poor dear.  I’d say that’s going above and beyond the call of duty, but it is one of the reasons I love my accountants.)

Successful novelists have to deal with a whole new layer of challenges on top of the already substantial challenge of simply writing a novel.  They have to deal with reader expectations.  So, not only do they have to watch what they say to fans or on their blog, they also need to keep in mind what they’ve already written and how their fans might react to what they write in the future.

(Peter Watts has interesting comments in his bio about how the publication of his first book “marked the beginning of a diffuse cult following of angst-ridden blogging teenaged girls who identified with Starfish’s central character” and how the publication of his second book marked “the end of a diffuse cult following of angst-ridden blogging teenage girls who identified with Starfish’s central character” since the second book took place mostly on land and involved a “sprawling entropic dystopia in which Sylvia Plath might have felt at home.”)  (And if he sees this comment he will now know why someone was searching his blog with the keywords “teenage girls” and “fans” today.  Search words which I doubt are seen too often on his blog.)

Creative writing is different from work writing.  For work I have to write reports all the time.  Lots of times someone else has already written a report similar to what I need to write.  So, I take that earlier report, keep the formatting and general approach, and change the actual words to reflect what I’m writing about.  It’s derivative and meant to be so.

I can say I’m writing a report on XYZ and my boss knows without a doubt that I’ll deliver a report on XYZ.  It might be a crappy report on XYZ, but it’s not going to suddenly be about ABC.

Writing on the other hand seems to be a bit of a crap shoot.

Maybe this is something you get better with over time.  The more you write the more you know how your novel is going to turn out.  (I suspect that’s not actually true for all novelists, though.  Those who do detailed outlines, sure.  Those who wing it, I suspect always wing it.)

Anyway.  If you ever get famous and have fans who care about what you write, try to be a little circumspect when you tell them about your next big project so they don’t drive you nuts for the rest of your life by reminding you of that “failed” idea.  (Or why the book you just published which is amazing and awesome isn’t that book you said you were working on.)

(This just randomly reminded me of one year at work.  My boss’s boss kept telling me how much I was going to love my bonus that year.  I finally had to tell him to stop telling me that, because every time he said it my expectations for what my bonus was going to be went up, and we were going to soon reach a point where my expectations exceeded the actual bonus even if it was a fantastic improvement over the prior year.  There’s something to be said for underpromising and overdelivering.)

(And I don’t know if it’s true, but I think this may be the only blog post in existence with links to both Amanda Hocking’s blog and Peter Watts’ blog.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to The creative process (on speaking too soon)

  1. Keri Peardon says:

    I don’t know how some people can sell a publisher on only an outline (even if they’re someone famous, like Stephen King)–moreover how they then manage to write to the outline. I never outline before I start, so I frequently don’t know where my story is going. I’m like you; my vague idea could become something complete unrelated in the process of writing.

    • mhleewriter says:

      I think sometimes people sell on outline and then end up writing a completely different story and then just hope and pray that it’s so much better than their original idea that the publisher will still take it anyway. And maybe that’s where a good agent can help. The contract says the “next book in the XYZ world” instead of “the book tentatively titled ABC as outlined on June 10, 2012.”

      To someday have that problem…(being under contract and needing to write a novel that someone wants to pay me for.)

  2. My WIP is stars a minor character from the first draft of the same novel. This character’s story turned out to be much more interesting than the first main character.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Yeah, I sometimes wonder if the backstory for one of my characters isn’t more interesting than his current story. But he came from a much more complex world and I just don’t think I’m at the point that I can do that story justice. So, hopefully this novel and it’s sequels do so well that I can someday circle back and write that character’s story as a nice prequel. (Or I grow as a writer and circle back to that story before I get published.)

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