“It just wasn’t working out.”
I’m sure most everyone can relate to this popular phrase. There could even be someone reading this who is experiencing it right now. But if you can’t relate, then consider yourself lucky to be one of the very few (see below) who’ve managed to avoid the ending of a relationship.
For those of us who have been there, remember the forensic microscope we put ourselves under in an attempt to figure out just what went wrong? Sometimes it’s pretty easy (“sleeping with my best friend was kind of a deal breaker”), but other times one of the two (sometimes both) parties involved are left scratching their head. Relationships are a complex business, governed by volatile emotions, which commonly elude predictability, so it should be no surprise that failure is more than probable…but often-times expected. In fact a recent poll of married people reported that the average number of individuals they dated before eventually tying the knot was 24. Another way to look at it is 24 failed relationships before claiming success. Then factor in this statistic…50% of marriages end in divorce. It all paints a rather dismal picture, doesn’t it?
That’s all very fascinating…and a little depressing…but what does any of it have to do with writing?
How many books have you started working on that ended up being abandoned – for whatever reason -- before they were finished? One? Two? Twenty-four? You could make the argument that writing a book is very similar to a romantic relationship. For example, an idea pops into your head…not unlike like eyes meeting across a crowded room, quickly followed by a knowing smile…and soon it’s followed by a rush of excitement. As you explore the possibilities it becomes all you can think about. The link between the two of you is passionate, electric, and intoxicating. You welcome each new day because it offers undiscovered ways to deepen your bond.
Then things change. It could happen right away, or slowly over a longer stretch of time, but little by little the romance begins to fade. At first you wonder if the lull is only a phase (it’s not like us writers experience that at all) or is the connection slipping away entirely. There comes a point where the relationship feels more like work than anything else and the amount of enjoyment you derive from it is disproportionate to the effort required to sustain it.
That’s when something else catches your eye. Another story idea…and this one is REALLY exciting. It’s not long before this new idea is all you can think about and the current story languishes on your hard drive. This internal tug-of-war festers inside of you until one day you wake up and make a hard decision…one that’s best for everybody…it’s time to break up with your book.
But what went wrong with that first book? All the signs were there at the beginning pointing towards a long and fruitful relationship…just as it is now with this new idea…so what’s different this time around? What makes this new idea “THE ONE”…when the previous idea felt the same way at first?
I’ve already mentioned how relationships are unpredictable, so the person who figures out how to foretell whether or not a coupling will endure the test of time will become a Gazillionaire…or a reality TV star…or both. Writing a book is no different. Just because you fall in love with an idea today doesn’t mean it’s destined for the NY Times Bestseller list…or publication…or even completion. Some of us writers “date” a lot, constantly bogged down with false starts and premises that don’t pan out. Others, like myself, go to the other extreme and are more cautious, spending a lot of time researching before committing to a concept.
In the end, all we can do is keep going on book dates and hoping for the best. Because if you place your bet on a single idea/book…the odds are against you.