Write what you love.
Every fledgling novelist hungry for the piece of advice that will make it all come together for them has heard that little gem. It--like most of the advice we receive--is fairly common sense. I mean, if you write something just because you think that's the way the market is going, at the very best, you could end up with a contract to produce more stuff that you don't even enjoy writing. More likely, you either won't finish at all, or perhaps will finish only to have a story that doesn't excite editors any more than it does you.
I know this as well as anyone, but when Kelley Armstrong announced the Shomi contest to her Online Writing Group, I jumped. Pushing aside my misgivings about the writer's guidelines, I decided that I would write the best sci-fi meets fantasy meets magic ever written. It would be the love child of William Gibson and Nora Roberts with heavy influence of the anime I try so desperately to ignore when my husband monopolizes the TV with them. And it would have dragons!
Surely, my excitement over the dragons would outweigh the youth of the characters, the irritation at the automatic happy ending, and everything else that told me this wasn't for me. I launched into character creation and world building. I got a notebook and started brainstorming, then plotting. I wrote the first chapter. And I wrote it again. And, I think, one more time.
The story was interesting; if I ran across it in a bookstore, I'd pick it up. So why couldn't I write it?
Well, part of it was that I didn't really feel like it was my story. My characters generally seem more born than created, arising out of my subconscious until I notice there's someone new there who wants attention. The bigger part was that I wasn't writing what I love. I would enjoy reading it--and I think I can work on the story until it deepens for me--but it wasn't it.
One night during the struggle for over all this, I had a dream. I was me, but not, and still in the military, but not as graphic specialist/admin role I'd taking to get into military intelligence and psy-ops. This me was trained in what such units actually did. And in the middle of this weird adventure, there was an ex-boyfriend. Not the skinny kid I knew, but a sexy, almost dangerous man. I woke up knowing that I had my story.
In fact, I had too much of my story. The more I wrote, the less sci-fi/anime it was and the more it became the sort of urban fantasy I enjoy.
I gave up on Shomi, put the story away, and went on--just a little bitter that I'd done so much work with nothing to show. Until, maybe, yesterday.
While I was not panicking about misplacing my memory stick, I sat down to write something brand new and found...nothing. Oh, characters danced in my head, but they mocked me. "What of your current stories?" they asked. OK. They didn't, really. I may be odd, but I don't hear voices. Usually. Yet, though that isn't literally what happened, there's truth to the sentiment.
Eventually, I stopped pushing for old stories or new. I stopped grappling with my muse or my subconscious, or whatever it is that drives me nuts at times like this. I did the laundry, I hung out with the family, I listened to music....and I got slapped on the back of the head with inspiration. There, out of nowhere, appeared what was missing with this story. It may not make it perfect, but that's not the point.
I've gotten the progress that I needed, and I may have just learned something new along the way.
(Shomi novel written by fellow OWG member, A.J. Menden.)