I get this question a lot, especially after something I’ve written strikes a chord “out there” and/or gets a lot of shares and likes.
Oh how I wish I had a direct line into the big, juicy zeitgeist, but the truth is this: I write about the things that interest me, the ideas I can’t not write about.
I love writing most when it feels urgent, and it’s also what makes me [more] insufferable [than usual] because when the writing is urgent, I have difficulty paying attention to anything else. Like eating. Or showering. Or my family.
This week, I have been quite insufferable.
That’s because last week I had a wee little idea, one that stuck around long enough to become an article. Usually, I can appease my insistent brain by spending a week or two or four or twelve with the idea in geek heaven (reading, interviewing, sticky-taping and and underlining vast swaths of dense text) until I’ve figured the idea out, translated all the geek heaven materials into 1200 words other people might like to read.
One out of every thousand ideas sticks around after its 1200 words have been filed, and just refuse to remain article-sized. It grows through aggressive aggregation, idea smashing into idea smashing into idea until the messy clump of words organizes itself out into something greater than the sum of its parts (fig 1).
NB: I am the zombie cockroach in this scenario.
Now, I’ve had lots of book ideas. So many, many book ideas, most of them total crap. You can ask my agent
Every once in a while, though, one drops into my lap, a gift from the intermittently benevolent writing gods, nearly fully formed and I JUST KNOW. It’s so clear, so obvious.
It happened with The Addiction Inoculation.
Less than a mile south of the Hooksett tolls on Rt. 93 in New Hampshire, on my way to a speaking event in Boston. I had to pull over to take notes and text Sarina Bowen
and KJ Dell'Antonia
, my two best friends, constant writing group and #AmWriting podcast
co-hosts. I don’t have the text I sent them, but I’m sure it included a truly grotesque number of exclamation marks.
It happened again last week. I woke up at around 4 in the morning and LEAPT OUT OF BED IN A FRANTIC SEARCH FOR PEN AND PAPER.
Now that sheet of paper is taped to the wall in my office and it contains the Sharpie-broad strokes of what I’m pretty sure is my next book project. I’d love to show it to you, but I’m in the writing with the door closed
phase of this crazy process, and any writer will warn you (as Stephen King has
) that opening the door prematurely can cause otherwise viable ideas to shrivel up and die.
So that’s where I am now. I’m hardly sleeping, my husband has noted the telltale signs of increasing mental absence, and Finn (who has been through this twice before) is upstairs right now likely pre-writing texts such as, “Hello? Are you picking me up today?” and “Are we eating at all tonight?”
I’m flying across the country this weekend to conduct the first interviews for this proto-book…thing, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
When it’s time to open the door.