There’s the work and then there’s talking about the work. I knew an artist who dropped out of her graduate program because she hated talking about her work so much. Her love for her art became littered with think-piece-like witticisms until her passion evaporated. I know that tiredness. Most artists probably do.
If you take seminars and attend conferences to learn about marketing your work, sometimes people will say they want high concept. Or the elevator pitch, or comparables, or the brutal “but what’s it really about?”
In high school English, there were two teachers. You either got the sex fiend or the death obsessive. I got death. Once we had a poem about – well, something – and one student really nailed what the teacher wanted. She said death. We said music and autumn and rebirth and can’t it just be a walk? And she sat there and chanted death death death.
He pointed wildly and shouted, “Yes. Death!”
He did let us spin for a good three minutes first.
There’s two points I’d like to make here. Firstly, your work boils down to a single sentence just for you. Secondly, people will take away what they want to take away.
I didn’t know how to talk about my work for the longest time. If some poor soul asked me, I would launch into a plot summary, the query pitch, a rattle fast recitation of the cast list. At a party filled with not yet published writers, one told me about his coming of age story with two made up genres and a neat slotting into place in current events that was so glossy that I opened my mouth to say, “You got that out of a magazine!” Luckily, total sobriety grabbed me by the throat and I did not.
Point being, there are no rules. Mashup the genres. Tick the buzz word boxes. The only one you must know by heart is the one for you. That single sentence will be the reason you wrote this book. The real reason you turn back to it until its messy potential matches the shining promise of that neat, square, written on your heart concept.
Draft 23 approached the concept because I sat down and wrote it out first. I wanted to know what if the chosen one was trapped with the monsters. I wanted to explore prison and games and outplaying the game makers. Draft 24 was a series of tweaks to make the nearly there draft into a novel that was about something, instead of just a series of things that happened.
There’s a small chance I could have done that exercise around draft 3, but I didn’t.