you’ve been as busy as I have, you probably asked Santa to tuck some
extra hours-per-day into your stocking. But just in case he didn’t
come through, I have a plan. It was born in the wee hours of the
morning, when my too-long To Do list haunted my dreams. Those of you
who know me personally won’t be surprised to hear that while awaiting
the calm that might lull me back to sleep, I decided to put this time
to good use. And so into my office I went, where, after my eyes grew
accustomed to the glare of florescent lights, I dug through my files.
Yes, all of
my files. Almost a hundred story ideas, each at various stages of
development, crammed into cuticle-shredding folders in my filing
cabinets. If a manuscript had no hope of selling, I decided that into
the trashcan it would go, even if it hadn’t yet been submitted and
An hour later, I was left with
about two dozen stories, some fully fleshed out, others just topics I
felt might one day be written into salable novel plots. I gave each a
thorough read to determine which might sell in today’s market (and
which cannot), and a few more files sailed into the already overflowing
Next I sorted through the
remaining six story outlines and put them in “easiest to complete and
submit” order, so that on January 2, 2011, I can perch on my purple
exercise ball, fingertips curled above the keyboard, and dig in on “the
story of my heart”: working title Defiance.
Why save this one? Easy! Because
the Defiance characters and storyline fits today’s
publishing trends. This industry is difficult enough to navigate
without spending time, effort, and energy on a book nobody (well,
except maybe me) wants to read! Instead, I’ll put
my all into Defiance, and when I believe it’s
ready, I’ll submit the synopsis and first three chapters to my very
And hopefully, before editors’
fingers turn the pages, I’ll be hard at work on the second story, Tuxedo
Bend, in my newly formed short-stack of ideas.
Now, I’m the first to admit that
I’m organized to a fault. (Some who know me put extra emphasis on the
last word in that sentence, but I digress . . ..) If my life isn’t in
order, I can’t focus, can’t concentrate, can’t get anything done.
Chaos—even a small amount of it—puts me into a never-ending tailspin to
fix this and do that; in order to concentrate on the task at hand, my
tiny brain needs to see and feel (and believe) that all my ducks are
quacking in a tidy row, all the Ts are crossed, all
the Is dotted.
I’d cleared the filing cabinets and my computer
files, there was no turning back, because I wasted no time in lugging
pounds of paper to the curb. Tempting as it was to drag it back, I
forced myself to sit at the kitchen table, sipping hot black coffee to
await the trash truck. I’d barely filled a second cup when I heard the
telltale rumble . . . and cringed as two burly guys hefted the silvery
can and dumped its contents into the back of the truck. Well, I
thought, maybe the rats and roaches at the landfill would enjoy reading
what no agent or editor ever had.
manuscripts are miles from
my office, but their distance disproves the old
“Out of sight, out of mind” adage. I think of them every day, sometimes
more: Could a few have been rewritten? (If so, which?)
Could I weave elements of Novel A into the plotline of Novel B? Might
this character perform better in that story?
knowing that they
were as gone as last year’s Christmas fruitcake opened my mind in a
As an avid gardener, sometimes
when a plant malingers, harsh pruning is in order. Lopping dead stuff,
whacking back to the original plant, is often the only way to get
healthy green chutes and encourage big fragrant blooms.
I’m sure you see where I’m going
with this. Cutting those dead, never-salable stories from my files made
room for stronger ideas that will, God willing, bear publishable fruit.
So my advice to you? Instead
wishing Santa had delivered more hours-per-day, try setting aside three
hours . . . and use them to prune your files. I
promise, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, for the space you’ll
create in your office will cry out to the Universe, “Fill me!” as fresh
new ideas form in your brain.
I’ll close by saying that I hope
the good Lord will bless you with a happy, healthy, new year that’s
filled with too many joys to count . . .
. . . and story ideas that will
make your publishing dreams come true.