Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Challenging History

Choosing what to write is always a challenging experiment. Usually there will be several ideas that, for whatever reason, garnered my attention and inspired a "that'd be cool" when I first thought of them. Selecting which one to devote my attention to is a bit like a beauty pageant, only the most attractive, Passion inspiring contestant will ultimately win out. And what, pray tell, has given my current WIP the edge?

It's simple. Out of all the options I had, this story seemed to be the most challenging one to write. How so?

Well, for one, it is an illustrated novel. That means that I am pulling my longtime hobby of drawing cartoons out of the closet and opening it up to professional criticism.

Also, it is about 50% inspired by my own life. That means that there are a lot of memories from my Middle School days, like the loneliness of homeschooling or the pain of being a nerd, that are being fleshed out. And, as it turns out, many of the painful memories are still just as painful today, twenty years later.

Another challenge is that the other 50% or so of inspiration comes from one of my best friend's life, and a time of family crisis I was with him during. My best friend is African American, and the unique family dynamics and cultural roles he experienced during this time helped craft such a wonderful, unique story, I wanted to retell it (with his permission) so that others can experience it as well. As such, my main character and his family are African American, and that presents another set of unique challenges for me as a caucasian writer. (hopefully someday I will wrote a blog post on the importance of writing stories about non-white people that aren't centered around race or racism. If we ever want to overcome racism and stereotypes, we have to paint the world with a broader brush and a more inclusive palette. But I digress.)

It was these challenges and others that made my current WIP, The Power of Zucchini, rise above the others. I think it is immensely important that writers, no matter where they are in their writing life, be on the lookout for the most challenging project. When you have set as your goal to overcome challenges, your success rides on your own shoulders. Even if you're never agented, published, or profitable, if you are willing to take on the challenges, you've exemplified courage and character.

And that, to me, is the measure of success.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is that all you've got?

I watched a documentary on Harper Lee and the legacy of To Kill A Mockingbird recently. One of the topics discussed was the singularity of the novel, as Lee never again released another work of fiction. They speculated of reasons for this, whether it was the pressure of a debut novel winning the Pulitzer and attracting the attention of Hollywood, or perhaps this was evidence of a different author of the novel (some speculate Truman Capote, a longtime friend of Lee and the inspiration for the character Dill). The reigning belief was that Harper simply never wanted to be a public figure, a celebrity, and thus wished to retreat from the fame she had begrudgingly won.

In the back of my mind, this discussion raised a question that I had been avoiding for some time. How many good books do I have inside of me that I can write?

Granted, I currently have one book with an agent, another being written, and a folder on my computer with five or six more embryos working steadily toward maturation. I also have a notebook of scribbled loglines, some good,some not-so-good, that haven't been fully conceived yet, which give me a measure of hope.

But what after that? I want to be a career writer, and that inevitably means writing more books than I have ideas for at this point, at least I hope that's what it means. How will I maintain creative integrity, avoid recycling plots and characters, and still generate appealing stories that are worth telling? Should I even be worried about that right now?

The answer is, no, I shouldn't be. Even with only one book to her name, Harper Lee is still one of the most successful writers in recent history. More than that, she was happy with what she had done. Truly, at every stage of the writer's life, that is all that matters.

Be happy with where you are right now, and let the future take care of itself.