Joe’s recent post about theme put in mind this quote from The Boss:
Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. – Raymond Chandler
John D. MacDonald wanted to bury the corpse. In this case, the corpse was one of his books. In 1963 he accepted an offer to write a novelization of a movie. The movie was Judy Garland’s I Could Go on Singing. MacDonald took the gig because the money was good.
The book wasn’t. Even he knew it. After it went out of print, MacDonald never gave permission for it to be printed again.
Since I collect MacDonald, I snagged a copy from a bookstore owner I know, who charged me a fair price. I did read it. And no, it isn’t up to MacDonald’s usual standards.
It’s pretty obvious why: his heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t his material.
Lesson: If you’re going to get your writing noticed, read, published and re-read, you have to put your heart into it.
You’ve no doubt heard that before. At least once at every writer’s conference, you’ll hear someone on a panel say, “Forget chasing the market. Just write the book of your heart.”
I understand what’s being said, though I would tweak it a bit. You have to find the intersection of the market and your heart, then get that heart beating.
I’m a professional writer. I cannot afford to frolic in the fields of eccentric experimentation. But that doesn’t mean I only write what I think will make money.
There are those who have done that. Nicholas Sparks is right up front about how he chose his genre. He saw the tear-jerker-romance-by-a-male-author slot as a great business opportunity. David Morrell talks about this in his fine book, Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing. Morrell himself says he couldn’t do it that way. He has to have something “gnawing” at him to write. He has to find the heart of the matter.
It’s like when I was a criminal defense lawyer. (Spare me the jokes. When your son or daughter is arrested, you’ll call someone like me.) Anyway, defense lawyers have an essential part to play in our system of justice. It’s called upholding the Constitution. That’s what you have to believe when you’re defending someone who is pretty much cooked as far as the evidence goes. You have to believe that, or you’ll do a lousy job.
I write for readers. I write so that readers will enjoy what I write and buy my next book. But to do that, I have to find the heart of the story and ramp up the passion level.
See, the unexpurgated “book of my heart” would be a post-realistic satirical look at the philosophy department of a major university, written somewhat in the style of Kurt Vonnegut channeling Jack Kerouac.
Could I sell such a book? I don’t know. I know I’d enjoy writing it, but I also know it would be tough to sell a marketing department on it.
I could write it for fun, and might someday, but right now I need to keep earning a living.
So what I do is take my favorite genre, thrillers, think up concepts and then make them the book of my heart. I find ways to fall in love with my story.
The way it happens for me is through characters, getting to know them deeply, creating a colorful supporting cast –– and then scaring the living daylights out of them in the plot.
How about you? What gets you amped about your writing?