Is it the idea or how it’s written?

Moving on from my first novel is not as bad as I was expecting as I have started to get all fired up about the next. There is regret and a little bit of embarrassment – can’t keep the Britishness out of the girl no matter how hard I try. The first one isn’t published, didn’t even get close, wasn’t shortlisted for any competitions I entered it into although a couple of agents I met were kind. However I had paid for their advice so maybe that’s why.
Anyhoo. Having spent the last year immersed in the world of amateur writers I have made my peace with the fact that I am going to keep going. I have tried to stop writing for the last twenty years and have failed to give it up as comprehensively as I have failed to get published.

So as I am scribbling notes about plot and structure and characters those pesky questions begin to creep in. I start to wonder whether the idea is any good. It is a big departure from the last one (probably a good idea and something in its favour) and there is nothing like it out there that I have seen. This leads me to draw two conclusions: it’s unique so it will stand out, it’s too odd to get anywhere. Do I go for it or find a new, more sellable idea?

We are told that books these days have to have marketability, they have to be easy to sell, readers need to quickly understand what they are about. Especially for a debut author without a bank of fans who who are eager for your next one. So anything too complex or off the wall is likely to be sent whizzing into the trash. Yet some of the most stand out books are the ones which I would have thought were not a very easy sell: a young girl in 17th century Holland has a dolls’ house, an elderly lady descends into dementia – I am paraphrasing for effect of course. The Miniaturist and Elizabeth is Missing are both wonderful books and stand out because they stand out. They are not a murder mystery, a courtroom drama or family saga.

I have considered abandoning the idea for my second book in favour of something a little easier to explain. As I am not a professional I don’t have an agent or a publisher or an editor to have a chat with who can give me a business like opinion of the story’s chances. I have to take a gamble. And that’s a big decision for any of us who are writing whilst working. Time is precious. If I decide to go for it, writing this book will absorb all my spare time like a massive car sponge. It will take me months to complete in the little scraps of half hours and the odd day here and there. I am reluctant to invest all that time in something that doesn’t have a hope of even getting looked at because the idea is no good.

But despite all my doubts I know in my heart I will give it a go. I am excited by the idea, I love my lead character (a man by the way for anyone who has read my previous post) and I can’t wait to find out what is going to happen because I know for a fact it will turn out different to how I have planned it. That passion and excitement should be revealed in my writing if I am any good and ought to be the thing that makes it shine. Maybe with one completed novel under my belt this one will be even better and will have the double whammy of a stand out idea and great writing. Another thing I have made my peace with over the past year is that this giant leap into the dark and huge investment of resource without knowing how it is going to end up, is the mill stone and also the thrill of the amateur writer.

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