Is This Idea The One For You? (Maryanne Fantalis)

Write what you know, they say.

If that were the case, I would have started out writing about suburban kids from Long Island who dream of getting the hell out of Long Island suburbia. And then I could have written about being a law student, which was so much fun (not), and then about life as a family lawyer. That's a misnomer, of course, because family lawyers help people split their families up. Family lawyers watch as custody arrangements fall apart because no one wants to share Halloween. We see battle lines get drawn over who gets the boat on July Fourth. Our jaws drop as money -- alimony, retirement assets, houses -- is swapped for custody of children. You think I'm kidding? I am not kidding.

People used to tell me I should write a novel about divorce. It would be a best seller, they'd say.

That's probably true.

And yet I would rather not write another word -- ever -- than revisit the awful emotion disruptions of my divorce clients. Write about essentially decent people going through the worst times of their lives? Why would I?

I think write what you know can be terrible advice.

I think write what interests you is wonderful advice. Write what you're passionate about. Write that thing that makes you want to spend hours and days and weeks doing research. Write the kind of book you would devour like popcorn, like ice cream, like pizza... and now you know how to bribe me.

But even within that general framework, how do you decide if this is the right idea to pursue now? How do you know if an idea is the one?

It's kind of like how you know when a person is the one.

Do you want to live with it for a really long time? Do you want to wake up every single day for the foreseeable future thinking about it, and then daydream about it when it suddenly pops into your thoughts unexpectedly? Do you want to go to sleep thinking about it, and then dream about it all night?

Are you ready to live with its good parts and its bad parts, its strengths and weaknesses, its flaws and beauties? Its smells, its tastes, its sounds, its sights: good and bad, entertaining and disappointing, fragrant and stinky, frightening and intimidating and comforting and lovely?

Can you cope with its demands for attention at odd and inconvenient times? Can you bear to separated from it when it unexpectedly leaves you bereft of inspiration? If you try to quit it, do you keep going back because you can't get it out of your system (not because it hunts you down in a possessive, creepy, abusive ex kind of way)?

Can you imagine your life without this? Is this the one that you want on your social media, on your blog, on your website, on your tombstone?

That's the story for you.


  1. *waves from Suffolk county* This is brilliant! That can indeed be terrible advice. If JK Rowling had listened, we'd never have Harry Potter, because how many of us have been invited to wizard's school?

    "Getting it out of your system" is exactly why I put aside a romance trilogy to write the YA novel that later became my debut. I couldn't NOT write that book.

  2. Love what you say about living with its good and bad parts!


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