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Writer Wednesday: When writing gets out of date

April 3, 2013

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I once started a wonderful novel. My novelist-daughter-in-search-of-a-publisher kept telling me, “Why don’t you write books people want to read?” To her that means fiction instead of nonfiction. (And if you check her blog, she’s been too busy writing and revising novels in progress that she hasn’t posted in awhile.)

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A few of the nonfiction books I’ve written.

I did research, wrote an engaging first chapter (I thought), a fairly decent outline, completed parts of numerous chapters, an ending, a suspense-raising title, a satisfying one sentence summary.

Here was my opening for a story about a wife impulsively leaving her husband and disappearing:

“The thought of just driving off without him was so unthinkable, so bizarre at first, that she really was only bluffing when she put the car in reverse and backed it up. Maybe he would see her back-up lights come on and get the message her patience had once again run out.” 

I even received an initial letter of interest from a publisher. Notice I said “letter.” The old fashioned stamp-in-the-corner kind. Deliciously waiting in your mailbox. Heart-racing excitement with the potential for Jubilant Joy or Utter Dejection all rolled into one.

Today we get emails. I told my office buddies recently that I enjoy shutting down my email box for an hour or two in order to have focused work time because then you get to open it back up and see everything that cascades in and you never know when there is going to be Really Good News pouring in.

Mostly not, but you never know … the same way that there used to be potential for an Important Piece of Mail from a Publisher or Editor mixed in with all your junk mail.

But the “letter” referenced above should give you a clue that I started the novel in another era. Then I put it on the back burner while pursuing other projects and eventually I realized my plot was entirely totally implausible because of one thing.

The ubiquitous omnipresent cell phone that everyone everywhere has on them all the time. Rendering the rest of my story as unmarketable as a rotary phone. Unless you completely rethought and rewrote the entire plot (which you do A LOT when you write a novel) and then I’m not even sure it would have been possible for me.

This of course is not a new issue. 8-track and cassette tape references being a well known example.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg and there’s a whole lot more I would need to learn about novel writing than a strong opening paragraph.

Moral, if you have a wonderful idea for a book or story that feels like 2013, don’t wait until 2014 to get it done. Or do like my daughter, set your stories in an era of your own choosing, a world of you own creation. Or write something historical.

The same mantra relates though to any writing for publication. I get many submissions to Living that have been published before (and no, we don’t use any fiction). Knowing a piece has been previously published always speaks to an editor (seriously): Wowsie, if five magazines already thought this was good enough to publish, perhaps I should give it serious consideration. However, if the publication dates are 1975, 1988, 1991 … it is most likely going to feel stale unless it’s been given a severe update.

Of course there’s help galore out there for novel writing, now more than ever, if I ever decide to get around to it.

Probably the only thing out of my novel that will ever be published is the opening paragraph in my own blog. Impressive. The End.

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Will she ever keyboard the great American novel? Shelves of some of my favorite books.

If you are a writer, do you have a novel-in-progress? Have you ever run into an unfix-able deadend?

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