Every so often, I’d estimate maybe once or twice a WIP, I come down with what I call Story Envy. I’m not sure how many of you have caught Story Envy, but I find the writing disease so troubling, so annoying, that I wanted to touch on it here.
For me, it usually begins fairly innocuously. I’ll be talking to another writer about a great idea she’s working on. Then, maybe a couple days later, I’ll read a deal in Publisher’s Marketplace that just sounds so original. Around the same time, I’ll be reading a book that blows me away, and almost always in a genre or market that’s not really my “thing.” And then I come down with the fever. I start thinking….
Maybe I should be writing contemporary YA.
Maybe I should be writing adult thrillers.
Maybe I should be writing something light, and fun, and younger.
Maybe I should be writing a space saga.
And I look at what I’m working on, and it’s none of those things — I can’t even describe what it is except by way of what it isn’t. Which panics me … and then the panic becomes doubt about the WIP … then hatred … then loathing … and then I just want to bury the WIP-in-question in a locked drawer.
Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else?
Like any flu, I suppose, previously I’ve just let it run its course, and eventually (whether out of compulsion or that writerly itch) I find myself back working on the project I was working on, some days loving it, and some days hating it, only to bide my time until the next bout of the Story Envy bug. But this time, I’d had it — I wanted relief.
So I made a list of my favorite movies, TV shows, and books of all time and then studied them for common elements, if there were any — I think part of my problem is that I read widely and across genres, and I like a lot of different things, which always makes me wonder if I’ve really found my writing niche, or if my first book was something of a fluke. But my list of favorites surprised me, as nearly all of them had all of these elements: (1) odd mix of realism and fantasy/sci-fi/some other genre, (2) some kind of pervasive human condition theme, and (3) dark to very dark in tone. And naturally, that’s what I’d written the first time around, and I think that’s a fair top-down description of my other two WIPs.
And then I thought about what’s happened when I try to write out of that zone: my heartfelt fantasy MG became darker, for an older audience, and sadder. My “historical fiction” included magic drugs. Then I thought back to college, when I prayed I was going to be the next Jonathan Safran Foer: tons of abandoned literary Chapter Ones, tons of half-baked sweeping family sagas outlined and discarded.
And I realized, I write what I like and I like what I write.
I’ve saved this list of favorite TV shows, movies, and books on my desktop so that I can pull it up and remind myself that even though I appreciate a lot of stories, I too have preferences — and the best work I’m going to put forth is the kind of work I want to live in for long periods of time.
Now hopefully I’ve nipped this bug for good.
Do you have story envy? How do you deal with it?
Lee Kelly is the author of CITY OF SAVAGES coming February 3, 2015, from Simon & Schuster.
Lee was born and raised in Philadelphia, went to Georgetown University and, with the exception of a couple years spent in glorious Santa Monica on the West Coast, has been buzzing around New York ever since. She’s currently working on AMERICAN SHINE, her next novel with S&S, a magical realism crossover that follows two up-and-coming bootlegging sorcerers through an alternate Prohibition-era America.