Ask Me Anything 2017: Do I ever scrap ideas? Does my inner critic still pipe up?

Notes

Today I’m wrapping up this session of Q&A by answering these last few questions from readers.

djpaterson asks:

Do you ever get a fair way in, say 20k+ words, and decide that it’s not working, and scrap the idea?

Yes. I’ve written more than twenty thousand words and scrapped the idea. The photo above shows a binder containing 100 pages of notes and the first few chapters of an espionage novel I worked on for months, and months. And finally abandoned, because it was an absurd and doomed idea.

And I wrote the opening chapters to an Evan Delaney novel that ground to an unceremonious halt about sixty pages in because I simply ran out of ideas. I put that story away for six months, picked it up again, and clawed my way through to the end. I should have left it unfinished — the plot was weak, and in the end, no matter how many times I fiddled around and jammed crazy subplots into it, that novel wasn’t published. The story wasn’t strong enough.

But that was a long time ago. I’ve learned since then. Now I brainstorm ideas with my agent and editor before I start to write. I discard the ones that fall flat. I work up an outline. I rework it. I tear my hair out. I work it again, until the professionals I work with think it pops.

Easy peasy. It only took me twenty years to learn this.

Lisa asks:

A little late getting a question in, but here goes anyway. After all the books you’ve written and all of us readers who love your work, do you believe you are a successful author, or does your inner critic pipe up once in a while?

I can’t legitimately deny that I’m successful as an author, because I can look at my bookshelf and see a dozen published novels. I see everything I dreamed of as a kid, as a teenager, as a college student, there in black and white.

And of course my inner critic pops up. Regularly. It sticks its head up when my editor suggests I dig deeper into the emotional conflict between characters, and when my agent says that my outline still needs work because it’s fat with exposition and riddled with plot holes. It pokes a finger in my back at times like this morning, when I draft a scene and think: Where’s the tension? What’s the revelation? What difference does this make?

I’m glad it does.

My inner critic spurs me to dig in, do the work, and improve my writing. If my inner critic didn’t flick spitballs at me, all I’d have on my bookshelf is that reeking binder with notes for a disastrous, never-written thriller.

Bill Malloy writes:

I still want to know about those flying monkeys, and, whether
they will someday make an appearance?

Right now they’re too busy in my basement, typing away at my next novel, so… wait, what’s this?

Dan writes:

Shhh, You’ll wake the flying monkeys.

Well, you’ve done it. Fly, my pretties! Fly!

3 responses to “Ask Me Anything 2017: Do I ever scrap ideas? Does my inner critic still pipe up?

  1. Thanks Meg, I love the visual. You’ve written several posts about outlining and I would love if you be willing to post some pics of pages from a previous outline (or even better, from Unsub)? I’m always fascinated to see the process from writers I enjoy. Thanks!

  2. That sounds like a great topic for a post. When UNSUB gets closer to publication, I’ll see what I can provide as a teaser. 🙂

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