Sunday, January 30, 2011


Someone brought this up on Twitter a couple of days ago and it just now sunk in.
Just. Now. 11:40 pm.

It's such a profoundly simple question...simple like turning the wheel on your car, to get you back on course after running a guantlet of pot holes.

I'm here to tell you, Newanda, that I'm turning the wheel now. Yes, now. At 11:40 at night, I'm getting back on course. I'm nearly too excited to sleep, but I will. Santa can't come until you go to sleep, right? And Santa's coming tomorrow. I'll have to mark my calendar. January 30 is the new Christmas, baby. At least it will be for me.

2010 was a good year for me. Sorry, but it was. The year you sign with an agent is always going to be listed in the positive column.

But one major struggle I had in the past 12 months was with a particular manuscript. And tonight I clearly see the problem; I was so busy avoiding regular pot holes, I didn't realize I was IN one GIANT pothole.
Just like Matthew Broderick in Godzilla, I was missing the reptile's footprint because I was standing IN the reptile's footprint. It was so much bigger than I could imagine, and yet, so simple.

Get on with it? Okay, I will.

Here's the magic question: Are you writing something you would want to read? Are you? The manuscript I struggled with was certainly in the genre I love. The characters were the type I like of course. The situation was ripe with potential and plot, just how I like it. So why wasn't it something I would want to read?

Good question!

My problem was, I was trying to write a good book, a marketable book, a clever story with great characters. A problem, you ask. Why is that a problem?

The question should be, "What SHOULD I be writing instead?"

I shouldn't be trying to write a good or great book. My goal should be to write THE PERFECT BOOK. If I was writing THE PERFECT SCOTTISH ROMANCE, instead of a great Scottish romance, I'd put everything in the book that made me love the genre. My characters would be the perfect combination of...whatever. The setting would be perfect, etc. Scottish fans everywhere would praise the book and read it when they wanted to re-read a favorite, and so on.

But this fantastic book would never be written by someone wanting to write a great book. Throughout 2010, I'd pick up this manuscript, thumb through it, and try to puzzle out what was lacking. But what it lacked was my passion.

I was looking at the market, at the fans in the stands, instead of the catcher's mit in which I needed to throw the perfect pitch. I was settling for something over the plate, in the strike zone, fast enough to be swung at and missed. I put all my effort into throwing a strike, instead of throwing the perfect pitch--a pitch that would smack into that dark leather shadow with such a tight fit the folks down the block, who'd gone to bed too early, would wake with a start. A pitch thrown so hard, with every muscle woven through my arm, it would cause the catcher to pull his hand from his glove, his face a blend of satisfaction and pain, sure that his hand would look like shattered glass, but honored to have been a part of the event.

Look back at the first book you wrote. Weren't you trying to write the perfect book then? How long down the career path were you when you started thinking "great is good enough?"

Forget the market. Forget the fans in the stands. Remember the fan in your skin. Write the perfect book for you. Chances are, it will be the perfect book for someone else too. Maybe your sister...but maybe the world.


Tiffinie Helmer said...

Nicely said, lesli.

If I can't entertain myself with what I write, I'm not going to entertain anyone else.

stanalei said...

The warm-ups are done, baby. Put me in the game, coach!