You've heard of Management By Walking Around, the MBWA? Today, I practiced the not as well known WBWA, Writing By Walking Around. No words were actually put on paper, but I considered it a good work day nonetheless. I spent a glorious two hours in the fiction stacks of my local library. I had no agenda, other than to fill my tote bag with inspiration. I ended up with a mix of authors I've never read, but always meant to, authors whose past books I've read and loved, and completely new names I pulled off the shelf based on an intriguing title and/or cover.
I sat on the little wheeled stool in the aisle flipping open book after book and reading first pages. I'd estimate in at least 75 percent of the cases, I put a book back because I wasn't drawn in by the language or voice. In many of those cases, I couldn't find fault with the writing itself. It just didn't appeal to me personally. What a wonderful and timely lesson! You see, I'm in the hand-wringing process of sending queries for my first novel to agents and indie publishers, in the hopes that someday I'll find my novel right on these same library shelves.
Querying is a process that can drive a writer crazy. So much uncertainly and anxiousness. Is the book good enough? Interpreting comments becomes a full time job, searching for meaning where none may exist. If they say I'm a good writer, I am. If they say the book's not for them, it isn't. But writers are of course trained to look at every word, every scrap of punctuation even, and parse it. I do believe seasoned agents and editors know this and have learned to keep replies short and sweet as a result...
The best cure for the aches and pains of endless waiting are to write the next thing. This is easy for some writers. Some just dive in with a single line one morning and set off on a new book. I have no problem flying by the seat of my pants, when I'm writing a short story or essay. I know my time investment will be minimal if it doesn't work out. And it's good practice. But a novel is a different beast. I've written one now, and so I can't claim to be unaware of how it will demand all my mental energy. No one wants to think, at the outset, that this time will be "wasted."
And so I'm trying to redefine, "wasted." Any time writing makes you a better writer. Can't argue with that. But if a writer knew, as she started page one, that a particular book would never be published, would she continue? If she had that crystal ball? When it comes to my first book, I have to give a tentative "yes." Writing the book drove me in ways I can't explain or understand. I couldn't do anything in my waking hours without my thoughts drifting to the book. I'd dream about the book. I'd wake up with fingers itching to get typing. But, I admit, I'd still be very sad if the book didn't find a publishing home.
Book two is still a scattering of ideas. My trip to the library was meant to swirl those ideas around and see what shakes out. I'm trying to find my way into the story, to decide whose story exactly it is, to narrow in on the conflict. It's an exciting time, but a scary one, too. You never know where the project will end up. In the coming weeks and months, I'll be freewriting a lot, reading a lot, waiting for the moment that, even if I don't have the book entirely figured out, I'll have a firm enough grasp to start. E.L. Doctorow once said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Good advice.