Yesterday I started making notes for a book that is not the book I am working on. It’s sort of like cheating on a long-term lover, except not – it’s more like just meeting someone else for a drink. Maybe lunch. (Not dinner. Well, I made world-build-y notes – maybe that is dinner. And at least two of the characters have names now. Oh, dear, maybe it was dinner.) Some people might see it as cheating, I suppose. After all, you’re committed to your book. You’ve said to yourself that you’re going to see this thing through. Going to see where it takes you. You haven’t cited irreconcilable differences just yet – you’re still going to go home to your book that night. So what are you doing, out for lunch or maybe even dinner with this new book? Such a flirt. Clearly.
But the thing is, the new idea always seems shinier. Always. It’s untainted. It exists only in your head – it’s perfect and glossy and brilliant and you haven’t tried to put it down on paper yet. You haven’t seen what happens when the words don’t instantly match up with the image you had in your mind. And even if it is pretty from a distance… it doesn’t mean it’ll work long-term.
Because books – they’re long-term. They’re more complicated than just that instant jolt of chemistry, the buzz of a fresh new idea. They’re not just about one idea, one nifty thing you’ve thought of, or one particular conflict, or one dynamic character. They’re about several ideas, building from that first idea, several characters, several plot threads, and, you know, that ‘hard work’ part of actually sitting down and writing 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 or 120,000 words. And sooner or later you realise that the shiny-new-idea is not immune to this. It’s not different, it’s not special – it’s just in that hazy high that comes with something (ahem) novel.
But I made notes. And I do try to do this, where I can, rather than leaping into yet another ‘chapter one’ and seeing what happens next and running out of steam. Let it simmer. If it’s any use, it’ll still be there when the current book is finished, or some version of it is finished. Because sometimes, I think, you need to go for that lunch or drink just to make sure. Otherwise that potential of a spark is hanging there, seeming brighter and better than it really is. Otherwise the possibilities start clouding everything else – from a distance you can’t see the imperfections and the fixer-upper aspects of that initial idea. Up close, you see it for what it is, and who knows, someday things might work out. But not today.
(Additional note: I think my books-as-relationships metaphors tend to explain why relationships and myself do not always get along that well.)