Obsession: Is It a Key Ingredient to a Story’s Success?

From Writer Unboxed:

To frame today’s subject matter, let me first give you a little background about me: I’ve been making my living as a novelist since 2007 and am now seven books into a career that’s had some wonderful highs (three NYT bestsellers and a TV-series adaptation, to name a few) as well as some crushing lows (my third novel, Exposure, was DOA in hardcover and sold so poorly that the publisher decided not to give it a paperback release). I’ve written women’s fiction, biographical-historical fiction, and general fiction, first with Ballantine Books, then with St. Martin’s Press. All of which is to say that I’ve been swinging my pickaxe at the rocks for a long time, now.

Here’s something I’ll bet you already know: for most of us mortals, writing a novel is hard. It’s damn hard, and it usually takes a long time, even if we’re able to work on it daily for hours at a stretch. Months of work. Years, sometimes. Maybe we’ve had rejections or disappointments with previous efforts, which makes choosing and writing a new novel even more challenging. How best to do it? This issue has been on my mind for a lot, lately, and came up in a conversation I had with Therese Prima—i.e. Therese Walsh—this spring. We are both currently “between books” and were discussing what it takes to make it through the long and arduous journey from premise to (ideally) publication.

As many writers do, I find story ideas everywhere I go and am forever making notes for later reference. Interesting people I’ve seen someplace form up as interesting possible characters. Interesting situations I witness become intriguing plot possibilities. When I am in between books, I feel itchy, unsettled. I need to know what’s next for me.

. . . .

So I’m perpetually exploring new story prospects—even to the point, sometimes, of drafting ten or twenty thousand words derived from the initial spark of interest, hoping for flames. In the process, I evaluate the prospects and try to determine whether they seem to be the “right” next book for me. And because I make my entire living from my novels, “right” has to take into account factors like publisher expectations, reader expectations, and career trajectory, as well as being sufficiently intriguing to me.

The course of my career has seen me writing from what’s felt like divine inspiration as well as from “Oh, sxxx, my deadline is looming, better come up with something soon.” I am capable of writing a publishable book from a place of what seems to be a “logical right choice” and have done so, but time has taught me that my best successes each arose from a place of real passion. Actually, more than passion: Obsession.

If you’ve experienced this, you know the feeling: it’s as if the story has chosen you and not the other way around. As if you’ve been enchanted. When you’re writing, you disappear into the world you’re rendering. Hours pass without your being aware of it. You emerge from the work confused for a moment as to where and when you are.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

1 thought on “Obsession: Is It a Key Ingredient to a Story’s Success?”

  1. Well (ignoring all the trad publishing considerations), I will agree that writing under obsession with a particular story (or even series) does work for me as great whistle-while-you-work stuff, and the indie world lets me indulge that without excessive penalty. Life is too short to do creative work you don’t enjoy, given any options.

    But what does it say about being dependent on a hardcover release and someone else’s judgment before a paperback is even considered? And did she have a digital edition? Sheesh! If you’re going to spend massive parts of your life writing, at least control some of your destiny.

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