Mwarriage is what brings us here today. Or, rather, a discussion of it. To expand on this post at my blog from July, I'd like to reiterate something.
I do not think books are our babies.
That metaphor made sense to me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I don't feel like I give birth to books; my process is one of excavation, chipping away pieces, discovering something full-formed beneath, uncovering layers. Further, I have manuscript graveyards with partially finished things, random ideas, and one does not leave children in partial stages of development scattered about the house, tucked in drawers and under the couch. I mean, one can, but it's not the sign of a good parent, now is it?
No, for me books are relationships.
Sometimes I see an idea or it sees me. We eye one another from across the room. Flirt with the possibility of it going further.
Sometimes you get pretty far but there's no fixing things and you need a divorce. Sometimes separating for a few months and then you come back anew. There are lightning-fast relationships where just days pass between flirting, engagement, and eventually marriage as you know this one's for real and you can go the distance. Other books are a slow burn, going from friends to lovers over time.
I am a slutty, slutty polygamist. I have a lot of book relationships. I'm choosier now than I used to be but I still over-commit and struggle to give as much as I can to each of them. And no matter how committed I am, when a Shiny New Idea flaunts in my peripheral vision, I am right there. Part of getting older, though, is that I don't have patience for ideas that waste my time. I evaluate what comes to me, weigh it, and decide whether or not it's worth the investment.
The point of this post, however, goes back to a conversation I had with a writer friend the other day.
While my literary self is a polygamist, my human-dating-self is a monogamous, mate-for-life, gunshy dating newb. From a young age, I spent ten years with the same man, all during my formative dating years when I should've been figuring out who I am and who is compatible with me. So now I'm thirty-one with the dating-mind of a fifteen-year-old.
Part of the benefit of dating widely is developing an intuition for people, for knowing the signs of who is worth the time commitment from you, and what you think could grow into something long term.
So it is with books.
This is why I think it's important for writers to write a hell of a lot. To explore various ideas, to play, to spend time in different worlds. It's okay if those ideas don't go anywhere; one of the skills no one talks about but is absolutely necessary for a writer is learning to intuitively know what ideas are going to work long term and what ones should be discarded. To see past the Shiny New Idea to the core of the story and whether the temptation to play with it will be worth it in the long run.
I don't believe this is something we are born with; we learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes with The Wrong One and trying again. If you've been writing for a long time on only one thing and you look around at all of these other people with a couple different series on the go, it's not that you're broken or a one trick pony. It's just a skill you haven't fully developed yet, like every other writing skill.
The longer you've been at something, the harder it is, IMO, to let got and allow yourself the room to make mistakes. But it's that trial and error where we develop intuition and it requires the same time as learning grammar, pacing, structure, and everything else.
If this is an area you have trouble with, here is my suggestion: have a trial separation from your WIP. Then go on dates. Either try writing prompts or start playing the What If? game. If you have peripheral ideas, maybe commit to trying NaNoWriMo with them, or take a week where you write 1K a day on the idea. It doesn't have to go anywhere. Let me repeat that for emphasis: it doesn't have to go anywhere. This is a dating exercise for you and you alone, not publishers or crit groups or betas. Just you.
It's hard at first. Like going out on dates and meeting new people when you'd much rather sit home with your cats. But if you show up every day and give the other ideas a chance, rewiring your brain little by little, it'll not just open the possibility of loving other stories as much as you love your current one, but it'll give you skills you can take back to your current WIP. We learn something from every story we write just as we learn from each person we meet.
I'd go on but I'm afraid I can't; there's another Idea across the room. His lips are quirking into a flirty grin.
My heart is going pitter-patter. You guys, I think this might be The One...