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?"