Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knowing it's "the one"

I remember when I first started dating I used to ask my older, already married friends how they knew they'd found, "the one." And they'd all give me the same answer: a smug smile, paired with, "you just know."

Yeah, I wanted to kick them in the shins and scream THAT DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING, YOU SMUG MARRIED PEOPLE!!!!!!!

And then I met my husband and... you know what? I *just knew.*

Sadly, I find the same thing happens when it comes to picking a project. One of the questions people ask me ALL the time is: how did you know your project was "the one" and that you should query it--instead of writing something else? And they usually look ready to kick me--or ready to fling salty brined things at me--when I say, "I just knew."

So I've put some thought into it and tried to figure out HOW I knew, since... well... one of these days someone probably WILL kick me or pelt me with olives when I tell them "I just knew" and... that really won't be fun. And strangely enough, it comes down to very much the same ways I knew the Hubs was the one for me:

- It needs to be different from the others

No, I don't mean your draft must be different from every single thing out there--though originality is definitely a big plus. What I mean by "others" is: OTHER THINGS YOU'VE WRITTEN. Yeah, I know there are those flukey stories where someone sells the very first thing they've ever written and it sells for a quadrillion dollars and is an insta-bestseller and we all kind of hate them and want to pelt THEM with olives. But that is RARE.

It's not an exaggeration to say we all have to purge a million bad words before we get anything good. I know it may not feel like it when you're writing it, because new words have a tendency to look really shiny and pretty. And you may even do a lot of revision on that first book and make it WAY better than it was when you first started it. But honestly? There's a really, REALLY good chance it's still not good enough. Because that's just how writing goes. Most published authors have really bad books/screenplays/plays/whatever shoved in their closets of shame. And for good reason.

So if the project you're working on is the very first thing you've ever written--EVER? There's a really good chance it's not, "the one." AND THAT IS NOT MEANT TO BE DISCOURAGING. No writing is ever wasted. You never know what you might do with it. But odds are, if you let that project sit and then return to it in a few months you'll reread it and realize wow, this wasn't "the one." 

- It needs to stand the test of time

You can't rush good writing---and you SHOULD NOT query your draft the second it's done. I know how exciting it is to finish a book and how much work it was and how much you want to get it out there and hopefully get that huge book deal. But it needs time, first. For revision--yes. But also, you might want to consider giving you and the project some space. Put it on a shelf for a couple of months and work on something else. When you go back and reread it, you may be stunned at what you find. Time has a way of giving you a whole new perspective on what is and isn't awesome about the draft. You may go back and realize "wow--this is even better than I remember!" Or you may realize, "yeah, this was part of those million bad words."

- It needs to have "friend approval"

And I'm not talking about the polite friend who's of course going to tell you "it's great" because they would never, ever want to say anything to upset you. I'm talking about the brutally honest friend who has NO problem telling you exactly what they think. Give your draft to your most brutal CP--and make them promise they will be honest. If they say, "it's the one," well... there's a good good chance they're right.

If any--or preferably all three--of those apply to your draft, then there's a very good chance it's "the one." If they don't, well, maybe it's worth waiting till you have a project that is "the one." 

But that being said, I do think there's a certain "gut feeling" that also goes along with it. You really do *know* when it's the one, deep inside. A tiny, subtle instinct telling you this is it. So when you feel that, trust that voice. 

It's hard, I know. And there's no fail proof guarantee. But if you apply the above criteria and listen to your instincts, you will know when it's the one. 

Then you can be all smug and tell your writer friends, "I just knew." It's the circle of life. :)

What about you guys? Any other pointers for knowing it's "the one?"


  1. Great point about the manuscript being different from the other material you've written. I think we could add the word stronger or tighter to the word different. We can also add the passion a writer feels when they talk about a project to a friend. Sometimes that gives a huge clue. :)

  2. Great post, Shannon! I boomerang between knowing it's the one and thinking it's the worst thing I've ever written.

  3. This is really brilliant advice/motivating post. And since I carry olives in my pockets, I will try not to chuck them at your for being such an awesome blogger.

  4. I love this! And you're right--it's a hard thing to articulate to others. Did you know you and Elana J. wrote about the same thing today? Too funny. :-)

  5. All your points make sense to me, but I can't really compare it to my own experience, because I've only ever had one novel worthy idea, and only ever written one book. I hope it's the one.

    If not it's going to take me a long time to write another.

  6. I absolutely knew when I wrote THREE NINJA PIGS that it was the one But... now that you ask, it isn't easy to articulate why. I KNEW it in my heart and in my mind. It was high concept. It had a clear hook. It was easy to put in pitch form. I couldn't imagine anyone saying no to it.

  7. Thank you for breaking it down. I am now less inclined to throw salty brined things at you.

  8. I think you nailed it. I'm reworking my fourth one and it definitely is The One. It's more me than all the others. How can it go wrong???ha

    Of course, I did think this about the third one too...but I haven't given up on that one either. It's like The Almost One.

    Why do I feel like we are having a conversation about the Matrix now?

  9. I know the one I'm working on right now is the One. It's which one to work on next that I'm not sure. I thought I knew but now have a shiny new idea that is begging to be next.

  10. Your posts are always so helpful, Shannon! :D

  11. Great post. I think I was lucky to not send out some of my earlier stuff, even though I thought it was good at the time, in going over it now...pretty bad.

  12. Loved this post. The hardest thing I ever did was admit my first manuscript was NOT the one. I don't think I could have written my second manuscript without the lessons I learned from the first.

  13. Those are great ways to test the "Oneness" of the project, but I also agree with you that in the end, there is that bit of gut instinct that has to kick in.


Yay-I love comments! Thank you so much! (But please remember to keep your comments spoiler-free. Also, I try to keep this a happy, positive place. Any arguing or intense debate--on any subject will be removed. Let's keep this a safe, fun space.