I had just about quit writing altogether. I’ve been trying to build up enthusiasm for a number of different writing projects recently, getting just a little enthusiasm before losing interest in each. I had nowhere near the spark necessary to see an entire novel through to completion. Basically, writing wasn’t fun anymore, and it hadn’t been in years. And I’d gotten to the point where I was almost ready to give it up completely.
Yesterday I noticed on Twitter that one of my favorite authors, James Rollins (@jamesrollins on Twitter), happened to be here in Denver and was going to do a book signing at The Tattered Cover, Denver’s awesome independent bookstore. More to the point, he was going to do the signing on my side of town, at a store I didn’t even know they had. Seeing as how I didn’t have to take my oddly-overheating car all the way downtown, there was no way I could pass that up. I even happened to be reading his latest book (finished it today).
I’d admired Rollins for many years. Like me, he had no formal training in English or Literature, and continued his veterinary practice for many years before switching over to being a full time novelist. He writes exactly the sort of books I enjoy most, a mix of adventure and really interesting science. He’s one of the authors publishing today whose books I’ll buy as soon as they hit the shelves, sight unseen. I’ve got a number of interesting observations about the talk (which will be available as a podcast soon), but that’s not the point of this post.
After the talk, I walked up and had him sign my iPhone (getting his autograph in SimpleDraw, then sending a screenshot of that to my camera roll) and asked him my question. I told him I’d been a storyteller in one way or another most of my life, but that I’d started to lose the faith. Writing wasn’t fun anymore. What advice did he have?
First he told me to keep sending out queries. Subterranean, his first novel, didn’t find an agent until his 50th try. He’d send out ten queries to ten different agents. If he got back a rejection, he’d immediately send out a query to a new agent. If he got two rejections, he sent out two new queries, always keeping 10 in circulation. This is good advice, but in and of itself didn’t help much as I’ve already published all my finished works, and indeed did so a decade ago.
But the corollary to this first bit was what really got me thinking. He also said to keep writing, because once you were writing something new you weren’t quite so attached to what you’d already sent out, and it getting rejected didn’t hurt quite so much. I confirmed that this only really worked if you were writing individual stories, not an ongoing series in which everything you wrote was dependent on everything else, and you could be sunk if the first item in the series didn’t sell.
I thanked him, shook his hand, and wandered out of the bookstore with my mind racing. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really had a new story idea, well, this century. Or at least since Josh Curry and I were working on Heroes 101, back in 2003. Everything else I’ve done this decade, even my NaNoWriMo 2006 novel and my attempt this year at Script Frenzy, were ideas I had a long time ago and just finally got around to doing. I haven’t come up with a new idea, a character I don’t already know, in years.
And suddenly, I knew why writing wasn’t fun anymore. Because there was no sense of discovery, no suspense, no adventure. No matter which project I tried to work on, it was all well tread ground. I hadn’t finished any of these works (although I got 80,000 words into the sequel to Between Heaven and Hell, just a few scenes from the end), but I’d been picking at them for so long they were little more than bleached bones.
I need new stories, new characters, new ideas. And I’m starting to believe I can find that wellspring of creativity again. That I don’t have to keep clinging to ideas I came up with in my 20s. More importantly, I’m starting to believe I want to.