Ditching Strategy For Instinct

I keep trying to figure out what my strategy should be for my career as a novelist.  Should I start working on the next Cricket and Grey?  After reading a lot of industry blogs and articles about getting published, what agents are looking for, what people are actually buying, and how writers should build their careers and their “platform”*, I thought that was the way to go.  I don’t want to just stumble down the road towards some ill-defined goals, do I?  I need to know EXACTLY what I’m aiming for, make a plan, follow the blueprint to success without wavering.  Right?


If I set aside all the research I’m doing that says a book series will sell better than a literary fiction one-off, if I ignore all the formulas for writing success that are offered by the published masses, my instinct tells me to work on the first book I wrote.  The one I had to set aside for two years to let it breathe.  I mentioned it here a few times since finishing Cricket and Grey that Jane is speaking in my head and won’t shut up.  It’s a complete wild mess right now, that story.  I don’t quite know what to do with the plot and I know I need to figure it out before I dig myself deep in the hole of writing it again.  While doing agent research I have this nagging thought that Jane Doe is more likely to get printed.  It makes no sense.  I feel very good about Cricket and Grey but the other story is something powerfully visceral to me and it isn’t good for a series.  It’s a one off.  It’s very dark.  I made a concerted decision that I wanted to write mainstream fiction because I want a career writing novels, I want to actually sell books.  That’s strategy.  That’s smart.  But does it matter what’s smart strategy if underneath everything there’s a story that really needs to see the light of day that doesn’t fit into the plan?

I’ve come to an important conclusion.  We all have our roles in life, in our chosen industries, our chosen paths.  In the publishing world it takes editors to polish manuscripts, agents to sponsor them- to get publishers to publish them, and marketing firms to market them, and book sellers to bring them to the public.  There’s such a long string of people that have important roles in bringing books to life and light.

The writer’s job, as I see it, is to put their fingers on the pulse of their community and the world they live in and translate what is living underneath the surface of life that everyone feels but don’t have the words to describe.  Writers say what others are powerless to say for themselves.  Writers are the eyes and ears of our times, just as other artists are, and tell the truth with lies.  And sometimes, their greatest work is to make you forget your own life for a little while so you can face another day of it.  Each writer has to trust their own instinct for what they have to tell, what they are here to reflect, share, voice, or expose.  There’s no one way to do it.  There’s no one method to be the writer you’re meant to be.  Keeping in touch with and trusting your own instinct is the only way you’ll truly know.

That there is an opinion.  You may contradict it if it isn’t true for you.

See what I mean?  Everyone has their own version of how to become the writer they need or want to be.  I have been paying too close attention to what other people think I should do and how to appeal to the right people.  I think I will appeal best if I follow my instincts.  I have never been steered wrong following my gut.  Never.  So I will continue to send queries for Cricket and Grey because I think it’s a great story and when I find an agent who’s excited to represent it maybe they’ll tell me I need to immediately write a second book.  I’ll listen, at that point.  But right now, while I look for an agent for that book, I know I need to sort out the first one because it is taking up too much space in my head and so must be finished to make room for whatever story is next.

This week I finally figured out what the real title of the Jane Doe book is.  Ready for it?


I was talking about it to another writer friend and I suggested this might be the title and as soon as I said it I knew it.

It’s nice when things are so clear.

I am opening files now as I finish this post.  Files of notes, notes about the disaster of the first draft which is such an emotionally heavy work trying to get to the surface of the ocean from the floor.  My job is to cut the cement from the body of the story and stitch it up before the sharks find the blood.  It will continue to be heavy with water but clear with light.

I can do this.

*I loathe that expression as much as I loathe describing oneself as a “brand”.  It’s just splashy marketing words that have become obnoxious and pompous.


  1. Karmyn R says:

    My characters are screaming at me too – waiting to be written. I drive around this town with visions of their stories playing over and over until I can get it down.

    A friend of mine has started selling his short stories on e-book sites. He thinks if it can get his name out there the publishers will take interest. He finally has an agent, after years of searching – but it goes all the old saying “times are tough” and I think publishers don’t want to risk money on someone unheard of.

    At least you are further along in the process than me – I don’t want to look for an agent or publisher until my books are completed. that is my folly – and my ability to keep from getting turned down.

  2. angelina says:

    Karmyn- if you’re writing non-fiction you can query agents with a book proposal without finishing the book first (in fact, that’s the way it’s done with non-fiction) but it sounds like you’re writing fiction so an agent won’t consider taking your book on until your book is finished. I’m querying agents for my finished one but not for my unfinished one. That’s so cool that your friend has gotten himself an agent! It sounds like he’s been working really hard.

    I had no idea you wrote fiction too-that’s so cool! Isn’t it funny how stories and characters can scream at you to be written? I think many fiction writers experience that. They won’t be ignored. Are you finding time to write? I know you have such a busy household it can’t be easy. Plus- you preserve even more food than I do! I want to know more! Is it short stories you’re writing or a novel?

  3. Absolutely. You can do this!

    Each person’s path is different and although there are many well worn tracks that doesn’t mean those are the ones you were destined to tread.

    Any story that is as persistently present as The Winter Room has been for you is what needs to be written. It may be that quirk is just the thing to make your work stand out from the pile of manuscripts on an agent’s desk. With Cricket and Grey you have proved you can mainstream. With The Winter Room in your portfolio you could easily end up with more opportunity for flexibility.. and even if it does nothing for your career it seems it’s a story you MUST write.

    Take Care

  4. falacedar says:

    Good luck with the rewrite, I know how difficult that can be.

    I can’t expose myself to too much “advice” on writing, I find it utterly paralyzing. I made the mistake of reading a lot of blogs and sites about writing when I first got back into it and all it did was convince me that everything I do is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  5. angelina says:

    If reading about other writers’ processes makes you feel that you’re doing everything wrong then it’s good to avoid that. No one can tell you a “right” way of writing a book. But I like reading about other people’s processes. It doesn’t make me question my own unless I’m reading some arrogant advice that is telling me I should do it differently. I should stop sending you helpful articles!! I only mean to send ones that, to me, don’t try to tell anyone that they’re doing things wrong but that encourage writers to trust themselves. Keep doing things how it feels right to you-because you’ve come quite a ways with your book already!

  6. falacedar says:

    My problem is that I don’t trust myself enough to know if what I’m doing is right or not! Please keep sending me articles you like! I certainly trust your judgement better than mine, and I have a knack for running afoul of less than sound advice.

  7. angelina says:

    Lovely lady- I know from talking to you, I know from hearing what you have to say of your story, of your passion for your characters, from the fact that you miss them when you haven’t been writing, and I know from the attention to detail that you expend on your book that what you are creating, in your own way, is going to be good. I can’t make you believe me but I can just tell you that you have something that is necessary to writers and if I had any power on earth I would like it to be to help you trust yourself as a writer.

    As long as me sending you links that I think are encouraging aren’t actually undermining your process or being discouraging in any way- I will keep sharing them to you- with pleasure! But I wouldn’t do anything to sabotage you so if they are not helpful or are are interfering with your confidence I will not do so.

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