Doing the work, staying inspired, and moving on to the next book

Colleen and I spent the morning at Starbucks, pouring over a recently completed manuscript with a friend. This is a person with a lot of talent, rock solid technical skills, and a big time fire in the belly. She's been published in the past, but not big published. The breaks just haven't gone her way yet. Now she's adding a third novel to her bank of unsold (no, make that pre-sold) manuscripts.

After we talked through all the elements to celebrate, tweak, beef up, whittle down in the ms, conversation moved on to her next project. Having finished this book a whole five days ago, our friend is already blazing away on something new. She shared her idea with us, and it's a great idea.

"It's waking me up," she said with that familiar spark of divine fire. "I've been sitting there at 3 AM scribbling notes as fast as I can."

In the "many are called but few are chosen" world of publishing, hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers boil down to a only few thousand (if that) actually making a living. What makes the difference? Could it possibly be as simplistic as "just do it"? In many cases, I think it is. The majority of aspiring writers labor through a project and then, instead of moving on while that project works its way through the pipeline, they sit and tweak and masturbate and agonize over why it isn't sold yet. What separates aspiring writers from working authors is working. You don't start the next book after the first book gets published, you start the next book after the first book gets written.

I feel my friend's pain. Because I spent a large share of this year without an agent, I'm sitting on two un--no!--pre-sold manuscripts myself. But I'm blazing away on a third, and it doesn't even cross my mind to do anything else, because this is what I do. I write books. Whatever else happens -- in the industry, in my agent's office, in the acquisition meetings, in the conference rooms and ladies rooms and cocktail parties of Manhattan -- I write books. Of course, yes, it's tremendously frustrating when I don't see a deal for whatever stretch of time, but I know that the worst thing I could possibly do is allow myself to be paralyzed by that.

My father used to tell me, "Luck is preparedness meeting opportunity." When the opportunity arises -- and it will -- my friend will be prepared. She has those three manuscripts in the bank, opening the potential for a two or three book deal. If an editor tells her agent, "This one's not for us. Does she have anything else?" Wha-bam while the iron's hot. Beyond all that is her fresh, forward moving attitude, which attracts opportunities and invites collaboration. And then there's her most valuable asset: her next book.


Suzan Harden said…
Joni, your father is a very smart man.

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