Tuesday, March 8, 2022

What Hank's "writing"? Relying on Big Magic



What’s happening in my writing world? I'm in the writing cycle. The fun news, the great news, and the scary news. And the big magic.

The fun news? HER PERFECT LIFE is out in trade paperback today! (This is me with the hardcovers on that launch day, which was either yesterday or a million years ago.

The great news? The new book has a title! You know how complicated it can be to title a book. It’s incredibly meaningful, and incredibly powerful, and once it is final, incredibly unchangeable. Did you know The Great Gatsby once was called The High-Bouncing Lover? Tomorrow Is Another Day became Gone with the Wind. Strangers From Within became Lord of the Flies. And First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice. Her Perfect Life was once The Next Caller.

So. The first title for my new book was Her Next Best Friend. Then it became Her New Best Friend. Then it became The New Best Friend. Then—briefly—it became The Guest House.

Then it became… (Drumroll. Fanfare. Applause.)

THE HOUSE GUEST

Isn’t it fascinating to see the evolution? And it's clear what you would expect each book to be about, right? (Crossing fingers you love it—and think it's sinister and foreboding.)

Here is the official announcement in the trade journal—such a pivotal moment!






So THE HOUSE GUEST will be available in January of 2023. Or maybe February. (Any thoughts about that?)

So does that mean I prop my feet up on the ottoman, and have a nice cup of tea? Or even champagne? No. Not yet.

I sent in the second round of edits for THE HOUSE GUEST. Soon, the editor sent me an email that used words like Sophisticated! Lyrical! Amazing! Bravo! And once I decided to believe her, which took me a bit, THEN did I relax and celebrate? No.

Because then I was back at Ground Zero. This is the scary news. Because Reds and readers, I do mean zero. I have to write another book – I get to write another book!--by November, and, I will tell you, because it is just us: I have no idea.

I have a file in my email labeled Book Ideas. With much joy and glee, I opened it to see what I could use. And the file was empty. Empty! Just like my brain.

But yesterday we were talking about chatting with people on planes, and it reminded me that once I was on a plane to somewhere, and there was a man sitting next to me who, I knew, was determined to talk to me. Determined! So I thought okay, Hank. Be a good person, talk to him.

He asked what I did, and I said writer. He seemed to think that was a good thing. I asked what he did, and he said was a consultant who taught emergent design.

Of course I asked–what’s that?

And he said: Do you know the ending of your books when you write them?

And I said no.

He said: Do you trust that you eventually will know the ending?

I said yes, I do.

And he said well, that is emergent design. Your brain is willing to let you work on a project without really knowing what the end will be, but knowing you have to get there. And having trust that you will.

I know my eyes widened and my jaw dropped because–what a profound thing.

I asked: Do you teach that? And he said yes, because some people absolutely cannot think that way. They need to know what the end will be, and then they could work to get there. And sometimes that’s a good thing.

But he said a painter doesn’t know what their painting will look like until it is finished, right? And they trust it will be done, and to stop when it is.

(And silly me, no, I didn’t ask my fellow passenger how he taught it. But I did describe plotters and pantsers.)

Anyway, I’m hoping the same thing happens with ideas. I have written 14 novels now, and for each one there was a moment that I had no idea what the book would be about. Then, something magical or mystical or universal happened–and I DID know!

I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic right now, and it is riveting and compelling. She says “art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.” She says “the work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”

So I will channel that, and let my ideas emerge, and trust that they will. And next year at this time, perhaps I will be revealing another new title.

What do you think about the concept of emergent design? Do you worry, like I do, that you will never get another good idea? Do you trust that good ideas will come?


 


66 comments:

  1. I’m glad you finally found the right title for your book, Hank . . . it’s very intriguing, very captivating. And, of course, I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I’ve never really given much thought to getting good ideas [and so have not worried about not getting them] . . . I guess I fall in the group that trusts the good ideas will come when I need them . . . .

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    1. I really believe that’s true! They come when we need them. But like the rest of us, they sometimes wait till the last minute :-)

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  2. I'm scared for you. But I know you'll pull it off.

    And I'm getting creepy vibes from The House Guest.

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    1. That’s great! Crossing fingers… And thank you so much!

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  3. HANK: After reading the announcement, I agree THE HOUSE GUEST is a fitting title. Already getting bad vibes for the wife. And please celebrate sending in your second edits and getting such positive feedback from your editor.

    As for the empty Book Ideas file, YOU GOT THIS! I know you are feeling panicky, but you always pull it off, dearest Hank.

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    1. Oh, thank you. I know the idea is out there… Just waiting for it to show up. I keep having little ideas, but they’re not quite frankly he ones…. So great to see you the other night! .

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    2. Sunday's BACK ROOM was great!

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  4. All of it, Hank! This - "art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege" - is so true. And I'm glad I now know a term for how pantsers like us find our way toward the end. The House Guest is a perfect title. Like for Mark, it gives me creepy vibes.

    I get to set up a new world for a new series starting in June (squee - details to be released soon!) and, while I have a sense of the setting and main characters, I don't have a clue about the actual story in the first book. But I know I will - and you will, too.

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  5. Good title, Hank! The book sounds so creepy, starting with the wife being dumped by her powerful husband, then the arrival of the FBI and then the "helpful" stranger. Whew. Can't wait to see the cover!

    Excellent conversation on the plane. That guy probably has stories to tell!

    After 2 years of staying home, it's no wonder the ideas file is thin. Snippets of conversations in public places, stories in the newsroom, lunches with friends, all contribute ideas to a file like that. But, how many times have you commented here that someone on the blog's experience would make a good mystery? Bunches! You got this.

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    1. I think you are right on so many levels! Being out in the world makes a huge difference, and we have just not done that. But you are so right about the blog! Maybe I will do a little blog shopping…xxxxx

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  6. Congrats on landing on The House Guest as your title, Hank. Yay!

    Yes, I worry. Yes, I trust. And I definitely trust that the idea will come to you, Hank. As others have said, You got this!

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    1. Thank you! I am taking all these good vibes and I know they are helping…

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  7. Congratulations!

    The world is full of ideas. Start with the advice columns in the Washington Post (Carolyn Hax). Is it time for Flo and Eddy to appear?

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    1. Oh, I read those every day! Amazing! People live such complicated lives, and you are right, those are good starting points. Yes, I would say maybe in… A week or two? I will keep you posted! but I think it is still a little too cold here…

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    2. Do we all read Carolyn Hax every day?? People are so interesting!
      And maybe that last sentence is one of the Big Magic keys to writing.

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  8. I think it's a great title, Hank. And I'm absolutely sure you'll pull off a new book.

    I know exactly what you're talking about regarding ideas. And then I get an idea and I wonder if it's "good enough."

    And congrats on the paperback!

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    1. Thank you? And yes, isn’t it funny how tiny little ideas will verbal to the surface and you say… Thank you, but you are not the one.

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  9. Such good news, Hank! For you, and for us, your loyal readers. "The House Guest": such innocuous three words, but such an ominous title.

    That running out of ideas thing is why I so admire you writers who take on long, multiple book contracts and series. I just know it would stump me cold.

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    1. Nope! It’s part of the journey, right? Just a little bit tentative at this point :-) but thank you for the confidence!

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  10. this is fascinating Hank--if only you had asked that man how he teaches emergent design, maybe we wouldn't all have to panic with each book! However, you will see on Thursday that I've roughed out my ending when 120 pages plus are still missing in the middle. I wonder what that does to my emergent design???

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    1. Wow! That is complicated! And what a fun puzzle to connect the dots. That’s all you have to do… Take whatever you wrote at the front, and see how it connects to the end and write that. you can totally do it! It will be fun . I teach a whole class about the model in the middle… Let me know if you want the handout !

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    2. Lucy, that's the way I almost always work. I have at least a rough idea of the ending, but no clue how I'm going to get there.

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    3. Debs, as I listen to your books, I am always amazed at the complexity of the stories and the details of every scene. I am listening to Necessary as Blood this week and am just in awe!

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    4. Roberta, you have SO got this! And, although your description of your dilemma is funny, I think your "book middles" always make perfect sense with the beginning and end. You know, not everyone's does! LOL

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    5. Yes, the middles can be SUCH quicksand! But then...you get ONE good idea...

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  11. Creepy title, Hank, giving me the shivers this morning! But big congrats on the two-book deal--someone has confidence in you coming up with an idea (or two or three). Wasn't it this latest book where you got to the end or nearly to the end, had a great idea, then had to go back and do some massive rewrites? Trust me, you got this! And I believe emergent design is hardwired into our species.

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    1. Yes, absolutely! I did massive massive rewrite, and I am so happy with every minute of it. That is my absolutely favorite part!

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  12. First, LOVE the title. YES, creepy. Unsafe things happening in a supposedly safe place. Unsettling. And congratulations on the book deal.

    I feel a little like the cowardly lion ("I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks...") when I saw I completely believe in emergent design. But it depends on having had the experience to recognize "good enough" when you've produced it. Otherwise you get the 20-year manuscript. Helps to have a due date, too.

    And Lucy, you know if you get to nearly THE END and you think of a better ending, you'll write THAT one.

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    1. It absolutely helps to have a due date. I've often said, "panic is a great motivator."

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    2. Oh, I am laughing! You’re so right… Got to have a deadline. And I keep remembering that every time I have written a book, I didn’t have an idea – – and then I did! So it will happen this time too… ::-)

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    3. EDITH: So agree with you about the deadline! When I worked for Environment Canada, my problem was that the deadline for multiple projects (and written reports) was usually the same date: MARCH 31. If I missed that end of fiscal year deadline, I would not get the final payment(S0 from the funding agencies. The money was not for me personally, but was needed to pay for research team member salaries and conference travel.

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    4. Oh no! As if anyone needs more pressure… No it’s not just for you it’s for everyone…
      Kind of the same in publishing, now that I think of it. The editors and copy editors and sales department and cover designers and etc. etc. are all waiting for me, and if I upset the schedule, everyone’s schedule is upset.

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    5. So true, Hank but I was used to the crazy March 31 deadline for multiple projects. And yes, these FIRM, NON-NEGOTAIBLE deadlines affects a lot of other people. That do-or-die March 31 deadline is also why I enjoyed my February/March vacations (Left Coast Crime).

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  13. Of course, the ideas will come, Hank, maybe when you least expect it, when you are trying to figure out something else, maybe what to have for dinner, and BAM!, just like that will be a tantalizing thought! Thanks for taking us along for the ride!

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    1. I will keep that in mind! Thank you thank you thank you!

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  14. As an historian, it is all emergent design. You set out to write about an event, a person, etc. You gather information, weighing the likely veracity of the source, and a picture emerges . . . until it is overturned by more facts. Sometimes it takes years for the picture to emerge and for you to be satisfied enough about your interpretation to write it up. But the important thing is to remain open to all interpretations during the process. There's always the chance that another historian will come along and prove you wrong, but you have to persist. Good luck on the next book.

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    1. That is absolutely fascinating! And really makes me think. Is it different because there is a reality of history, and we are searching for it? and, as you say, there always is another puzzle piece that may emerge. so intriguing!

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  15. I love how our subconscious works! I bet whatever the plot of the next book is that one of the themes will be emergent design because you are already focusing on that. Can’t wait to read The House Guest!

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    1. Clare! So wonderful to see you today! Hooray! And congratulations on everything…! Wouldn’t that be fascinating? Crossing fingers that you are right… Thank you!

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  16. Trust, Hank. You've done it before, you'll do it again.

    Yes, I definitely believe in emergent design, but who knew it was a teachable thing!

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    1. Yes, I agree! Had I but asked one more question…:-)

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  17. Love the title. It is just creepy enough. It is wonderful that conversations here are a spur for your imagination.

    Oh yes, I believe in emergent design. I plan to spend some time on google to find out the technical details and how it might be taught. I'd be inclined to start with a bit of experimental theatre. Put 1/2 dozen people in a cool, bright room while a major event happens outside (a pandemic or an invasion or civil unrest or a pride parade), add food, drink and music and leave them alone for a couple of hours. Or just imagine that and see what happens.

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    1. What a fascinating idea! Wow. And let me know what you discover…

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  18. Hank, I can't believe Her Perfect Life is already in paperback! And I have no doubt that the magic will happen for you in the next book. Maybe look at the emergent process as exciting rather than terrifying? How wonderful that this story will develop (you know it will!) and that these characters you haven't yet met will come to life??

    PS Love The House Guest, too, it's wonderfully creepy.

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    1. Thank you! And you know, I definitely think of the emergent process as wonderful… There just has to be something to emerge from :-)

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  19. THE HOUSE GUEST is a wonderful, creepy title, and I can't wait to read it!

    I'm a big believer in emergent design, although I've never seen that term before today. I tend to jump in with a few ideas, or even a single image, and then see what happens. My experience is that when you leap, the muses will catch you; I know you'll have the same thing happen to you.

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    1. Yes yes! I so agree! And you can feel it when the time is right, there is no question. Thank you!

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  20. HANK,

    Agreed that good ideas will come. Sorry to ask about the title. THE HOUSE GUEST sounds like a Lucy Foley novel. Will the cover look different to avoid confusion?

    Everyone, HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY!

    Diana

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    1. Maybe we should make it look just like the fabulous Lucy Foley, so everyone will read it!

      And happy day to you, too, all of us international women!

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  21. I like your title! It is ambiguous enough to make me wonder what is it about the house guest? What kind of influence does she have? Emergent design sounds interesting. We all know you can't plan everything, or sometimes, anything.

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    1. That is so true! It is the essence of well, let’s see what happens…

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  22. Oh Hank, The House Guest is a fantastic title! That and the description of how circumstances arise for a house guest have me anticipating a wonderfully creepy tale. I just wish I didn't have to wait. You have always had great titles, Hank, meaningful titles that fit so perfectly with the story.

    Emergent design? That sounds like the title of my autobiography. I would love to know how that man teaches it. I think everyone would benefit from a course in it.

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    1. I know! Isn’t it crazy that I didn’t ask? Somewhere, I think I have his business card… I wonder if I could find that…

      And oh, thank you so much! you are so right, there is certainly more than one person who could be described as the houseguest in this book…:-0

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  23. Congratulations, Hank!!! That is an excellent title. Also, fascinating topic about emergent design. I had no idea. I don't worry about new ideas - nor should you, you're brilliant - but I do worry that I won't get a chance to write all the ideas in my head. LOL.

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  24. Great title Hank, I agree that it has the sense of something threatening hiding behind something so seemingly "normal".

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    1. Oh, hurray! Thank you! I didm't even list all the MILIONS of titles we went through...

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  25. Trying to get through
    The perfect title, Hank

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  26. I'm grateful that you persist and delight with you in the wonders you develop and discover on the way. Brava!

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    1. Aw, thank you! You are such a dear pal...and I treasure your support. oxo

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  27. comment about February: (vs January) - since February is Black History Month, media coverage often centers around writers of color. Just a thought.

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