Have to? Maybe. Sort of. Not really.

Dame Kaz (Karen Mahoney) over at Deadline Dames had a great post today about “The Book You Have to Write.”

She quoted A.M. Homes who said: “If you don’t write the book you have to write, everything breaks.”

Kaz’s point — if I understood her correctly — is that sometimes we have to tell a story that is difficult or frightening for us.  Maybe it’s beyond our current skill set (we think) or it doesn’t seem marketable or it dredges up ugly memories.  But, the quote implies, we won’t be All That We Can Be until we confront that story burning in us.

Some of the comments to the post seemed to take from the quote the license to be (add French accent here) Artistes. 

Now I’m more guilty than many of twisting the writing life into an angst-fest of adolescent proportions, so some of the comments struck a little close to home.

As if the story you tell must capture your imagination from beginning to The End, four hundred pages later.  As if you must rage with Incadescent Inspiration throughout each and every word.  As if Shiny New Ideas are more worthy than the battle-scarred manuscript on your screen with its blasted blinking cursor.  This thought process takes you inevitably to…  You’re allowed to stop writing and wait for Have To.


As I said in my comment there, I’m wary of Books of the Heart and Muses and Inspiration and The One.  My heart has been broken, my muse is a negligent bitch, The One is The Not. 

I had a medieval romance that I was absolutely positive would be the one that sold.  (Don’t talk to me about the medieval market; that so wasn’t the point.)  My Tarot spreads said it was.  In my Tarot journal, I even scrawled in a fevered hand “This is THE ONE!!!”  I had a dream about getting The Call for that book.  Songs on the radio echoed my theme.  On the less woo-woo side, it did well in a couple contests and got requests from NYC. 

But it didn’t sell.  Something else did — the story that wasn’t The One but The Next.  

Honestly, compared to The One, there was nothing about The Next that made it a “have to” story.  It was a story I wanted to tell, sure, but I didn’t consult the oracles or angst any harder about it than I usually do.  I slogged through it at my standard pre-global-warming glacial pace.  I did the work, paid my dues, jumped through the hoops, waited for my chance, etc.

I love the Homes quote — which sounds waaaay sexier than “paid my dues” — but I also think everything breaks eventually.  Entropy is even more of a bitch than my muse.  For me, what I do with the pieces is what matters.

I just want other writers not to worry if it isn’t always sexy.  On those occasions where your writing sessions aren’t accompanied by flights of angels from whose harps power verbs waft, you might just do the work and not even get a pithy quote.  Sometimes “have to” doesn’t mean fiery inspiration but cold determination.

Sometimes it’s not The One but simply The Done.


2 thoughts on “Have to? Maybe. Sort of. Not really.

  1. “Sometimes it’s not The One but simply The Done.”

    I love this! And thanks so much for your thoughts, both at the Dames’ website and on your own blog. You *did* understand me correctly – I think I’m looking to give myself permission to write the book that scares me, before I have contracts, etc. to worry about… This is all great stuff to think about. 🙂



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