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Robert's Rules of Writing #54: Fall in Love

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Falling in love is almost always a wonderful feeling. Finding that special someone, that person who is just right for you, can make you feel like the happiest person in the world.

So, Masello notes, it's just as important to fall in love with your writing project. If you're not in love with your subject, you might find it difficult to see your project through to the end.

This is one rule that I agree with one hundred percent. If you don't love what you're writing, then why are you writing it?

Ahem. Okay, I will concede that there are many situations in which this may come up. If you're working as a freelance writer, taking on business assignments, it's unlikely that you're going to fall in love with the material. Or if all you know how to do is write, and you're desperately trying to pay the bills, then you might very well take on a project simply because it pays and you need the money.

But when you choose to take on a project of your own devising, or to write something on spec in the hopes that it will sell, you'll be a lot better off if it's something that you love.

Frankly, I find this valuable advice to remember when it comes to anthology invitations. Every so often, I get invited to contribute to an anthology. Usually, these anthologies have a specific theme for the stories. For example, perhaps all the stories have to be written from the first person PoV of an alien (I, Alien). Or maybe from the first person PoV of a woman, and all the writers are men (Men Writing Science Fiction as Women). Or your protagonist has to be a hero in training, at the start of a career (Heroes in Training).

Now, it's very easy to say "Yes!" the moment you're invited to contribute to an anthology. After all, you know that the editor expects you'll write an appropriate story, and chances are more likely than not that you'll have an easy acceptance to the book. But...if the theme is one that doesn't immediately get you thinking of an idea you'd like to play with for a week, chances are you'd be better off declining the invitation.

Going back to Lawrence Block again (I cite him a lot in these essays), in one of his books on writing he mentions how he hated confession stories, the kind that used to appear in pulp magazines, and he could never manage to write one. But one day an editor who knew him had three holes in a confession magazine, and he asked Block if he could help out by providing him with three stories by the end of the day. As Block put it, the editor bought the stories because he had to, and that was some of the hardest money Block ever earned.

Like many writers, I always have more ideas than I have time to write. So I sometimes do an exercise to help me choose my next project, an exercise I will share with you. I take my list of five or so ideas that are currently clamoring for my attention, read it over, and close my eyes. I let images from each idea come to mind, and whichever images seem most vivid, whatever idea is calling to me most loudly...that's what I write next.

Copyright © Michael Burstein

Comments

FWIW, I'll generally accept an anthology invite as long as I think I'd have a story to tell around the theme (and the deadline is sufficiently distant) -- but the theme doesn't have to spark an immediate "Oh! I know what I'll write!" for me. Usually, the lead time is several months, and I'll set a reminder in my calendar for a month before the due date, and let the subconscious mull things over in the meantime...

So far it's worked, though there's been a few close calls. I have turned down a few invites where the subject matter/theme just wasn't something I thought I'd be interested in exploring.
My most "interesting" anthology experience was when I agreed to write a story with a month deadline -- and I knew that in that month, I'd also be going on vacation and studying for and taking a standardized test. Made for quite a full month...but I got the story done.
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