MORE ON COMMITMENT
Last week I had lunch with a friend who is not only a gifted and successful novelist, but a savvy businessman. Among the many topics we covered during our wide-ranging conversation was the nature of my next project.
"You have to write another book on creativity!" he said.
"I've started a new novel...."
"But you have the perfect platform! Listen!" And he proceeded to outline a fascinating concept--a book I would love to read. I began to imagine such a book. I started throwing out ideas. "Brilliant!" he said. "You can sell this as a proposal. There's no way this won't be snapped up. It will be the next Blink!"
I floated out of the restaurant, a bit surprised that the waitstaff wasn't more deferential to the new Malcolm Gladwell. On the train, I opened my Moleskine to jot down a few more scintillating ideas--and found pages of notes for the novel I have been working on, sporadically, for the past two years. And my stomach sank.
I have had very good luck getting my stories and essays published. My two completed novels, on the other hand, have gone nowhere. They are too weird. They don't fit into any category that marketing departments recognize. I have told myself, repeatedly, that there is no future for me in novel writing. Friends, including my lunch companion, have encouraged me to stick to nonfiction because it is much easier to place, especially when you have a built-in platform.
And yet this novel really wants me to write it. I'm fascinated by the subject matter. Getting a grip on the topic requires extensive research--and everything I read pulls me more deeply into the story I want to tell. I find myself composing passages on the train, in the swimming pool, while washing dishes. I have pages of outline that I revise continually.
The only things holding me back from writing it full-steam are a) lack of time; and b) the conviction that I should put other, more practical projects first, because, based on history, the chances of publication are slim to none. Working on it is pure self-indulgence.
This projected nonfiction book, I told myself, did have promise. I have the background and understanding of the field to write a very good, helpful book, and the qualifications to sell it. It would be only practical to set the novel aside (again!) and work on a proposal. If it did sell, that could only help in placing my novel down the line. Right?
And yet there was that sick feeling--the one I get when I'm in danger of betraying myself, of doing what I'm "supposed to" do, according to some outside standard, instead of following my internal compass. I've done that too often in my life, and I'm trying to stop.
So I had to ask myself--did I really want to write this new book? Would I be completely committed to, and engaged in, the process? Or did I just want to have written something that had a reasonable chance of publication?
The topic interests me--I would certainly read such a book if someone else wrote it--but enough to spend years researching, writing, revising, and promoting? Years that I could use to finally get a handle on my novel? Or to live my life in other fulfilling ways?
I would love to be as successful as Malcolm Gladwell. But his books are so good because they reflect his authentic interests and enthusiasm.
Or am I just naive? Or manufacturing reasons not to take the next step?
To be continued.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007) is now available in bookstores. Send your questions to her at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.