Blogger: Michelle Ule
Filling in for Mary Keeley currently at the American Fiction Christian Writers Conference in Dallas.
“For which of you, desiring to write a book, doesn’t first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough time and information to complete it?”
~With apologies for riffing on Jesus in Luke 14:28
I recently counted the cost to see if I had what I needed to take on a new project.
I developed the idea as I wrapped up a two-year project writing about World War I.
I was at my “peak” of knowledge on the subject and before I set it aside (I call it “defragging my brain”), I wanted to know if my new idea was a viable project.
How do you count the costs before you write a project?
1. Investigate if there’s a market for your idea.
I’ve written before about how to investigate a project’s marketability here and here.
Admittedly, World War I is a tough sell in the United States, but I had a nonfiction idea I thought worth pursuing.
My agent liked the idea, as did my husband.
“I think you need to get this out of your system, and now would be the time to write it,” my agent said. “Explore the idea and see what happens.”
2. Figure out what you need–both information and time-wise–to write your project.
I’ve written nonfiction projects like this before and I had a fair idea of the type of information required.
What I did not know was how to find it for this subject.
I knew it would require several weeks research in libraries.
I knew I would need access to people still alive overseas.
I estimated I’d need at least a year to write the book.
My biggest concern was where to find information more than 50 years old that has never been seen before.
Would relatives possibly weary of the subject, trust me?
3. Get help
I appealed to people for help–both for introductions to relatives I needed to interview, and also for suggestions of where to find information I lacked.
I wrote two library archivists to ask for suggestions.
They both sent ideas.
I wrote an acquaintance on the board of directors for an organization linked to my project, and he volunteered to see if a publisher would be interested.
I wrote the world’s authority– who didn’t respond enthusiastically.
4. I thought about it, prayed about it and made a decision.
I would love to write this book because I adore the subject.
But at the moment there are too many hurdles.
When I counted the cost–it was too high and the potential for getting sidetracked on a project that might not succeed was too great.
“But now you got it out of your system,” my husband said, “and you know the answer.”
He’s right. I can let the idea go now, put away the World War I books, and move on to something else.
But if I hadn’t tried, I would have always wondered.
5. Be willing to change if something new turns up.
A subsequent letter from the board of directors arrived after I put away the books.
I thought it confirmed my decision.
My husband and my agent disagreed with me: “they’re not sure, but they opened the door. Go for it.”
I’ve counted the costs again and I’m back on.
Took one week at a US special collections library; three weeks on Google and Ancestry.com. There are no relatives.
I’m excited and just about done with the research.
I think this is a project worth writing!
How do you determine if a project is worth writing?
5 ways to count the costs before a project. Click to Tweet
How to count the costs before writing a book. Click to Tweet
All very inspiring Michelle. You are a great example to all of us.
I just think it’s helpful to spell out what the professional writing life is like. Different people need to know different aspects of it. 🙂
Yep. You do it well. You have a very professional approach and I really mean it when I say you are a great example. I trust your new project comes into its own. P
I’m intrigued, and m looking forward to finding out what it is.
* I don’t really count the cost. If it’s worth doing, I’ll do it, because I can’t live with the “what if you HAD tried and succeeded?” voice in my head.I may not get there in this life, but I believe that the good we’ve attempted here is saved by God, and waits for us, beautifully wrapped, in Heaven…that we may start anew.
Marvelous thought, Andrew! All wrapped up, with that one elusive piece I could never connect with on earth.
Like many, money is not your focus, but if you had kids to put through college who needed your writing to get them through–well, the pictures looks different then.
I can appreciate that perspective, Michelle. I can’t wait to see the book. Can you put me in line for an autographed copy, please?
* I was thinking more of an aeroplane than writing, actually, when I commented. The “Israeli Messerschmitt” that I’ve been working on for several years will cost reserves of strength and money that I don’t have, and I don’t see how to acquire. Just overhauling the engine will be around $200,000.
* If I count the cost, I should quit. But I told Giddy Lichtman and George Lichter that I would see it through. They are among the last few surviving Americans who fought in the War for Independence, and flew these things. How can I let them down? How can I face them and say, “I gave up?”
* A promise is a promise.
I’m in line behind Andrew. I sometimes wonder about the woman behind Oswald. Do tell.
“defragging my brain” >>>>> Love it!
“I think you need to get this out of your system…” >>>> Yes, this is exactly where I am. I’m working on two related non-fiction projects about the Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle. There’s no market for these (perhaps a little in literary academia), but I HAVE to write them and get them out of my system. They just won’t let me go. One is about 75% done; the other only 50% done. I pick them up every six months or so, work intensely at them for a month or two, then lay them aside and work on things that might actually sell.
Other than that, I don’t really consider if a project is worth writing in terms of market. I’m not going to write books I don’t like just because the world is buying them. I’m going to write the kind of books I like to read. If I can find 100,000 others who like that kind of book, fine. If I can only find 100, or even 10, fine. As it turns out, my taste in books don’t seem to align with many other people right now. I don’t know if I’m way ahead of or way behind the market.
That’s well and good, David, and I’ve written a number of things that will never be published nor read by many. As long as you’re fine with that, no worries.
Thomas Carlyle is a name I’ve not considered since English 10C back in the dark ages. Wow, good luck!
Ah, you must have been in a more advanced English class than I was, Michelle. I was 50 years old before I ever heard of Carlyle.
BA, English Literature, UCLA. I read a lot of obscure English writers! 🙂
Excellent. I’ve not thought of writing in that way, counting the cost, but it makes sense especially if it is for income not hobby-based. My grandfather was in WWI. One night my cousins and my family were at my grandparents home when Grandpa began talking about his experiences in the war. It was a very moving retelling and I’ve not forgotten his words. God spared his life in a miraculous way.
That was also true of my grandfather, Norma.
Of course I wrote a post: http://wp.me/p3HcoH-1Iq
Thanks for holding down the fort, Michelle. You’ve got some great advice. Praying is always first for me. But sometimes, I have a story that has to be written, no matter the cost.