When in Doubt, Go with Sweetness

Ideas can strike writers at any time, and often without warning.  They can frustrate and baffle, but they can also give us wings as we soar aloft, above mountain peaks and green, lush uplands where our imaginations roam unhindered.  In short, ideas can be magic.

uplands

 

But what if, after the initial euphoria has worn off and you step back to examine your idea with the cold, hard light of objectivity, you realize that it’s not a perfect fit for a particular market; it doesn’t neatly fall into a trendy category; it doesn’t reflect what’s on the bestseller lists or the prime display shelves at the local bookstore.

bestsellerlist

 

Even so, you can’t deny that you feel genuinely excited about the idea, the scope, the characters you can create that will populate the pages.  You feel a connection to the project.  It’s a story you feel meant to write, and you know, you are sure, that once you begin, it will be a genuine labor of love.

laboroflove

 

But who will read it if it’s not in vogue, if it represents an outlier, a literary orphan as it were, searching vainly for a hot genre or category or concept to which it can attach itself?

Do you rework the idea, a few tweaks here, several major plot shifts there, perhaps a new character or two, to give it the best chance to sell?  Or do you leave it as is, determined to write your story as authentically as possible?

whattodowriting

 

Friends and fellow writers, agents and editors may offer advice, hoping to clarify the problem.  But you discover that the more advice you receive, the cloudier the issue becomes.

What to do?

**************

The 1985 Chicago Bears are one of the most iconic teams in NFL history.  The Bears that year compiled a 15-1 regular-season record and demolished the New York Giants and (then) Los Angeles Rams in the NFC playoffs, winning the two games by a combined score of 45-0.  Then in Super Bowl XX, the Bears crushed the New England Patriots, 46-10.  Many people consider the ’85 Bears to be the best single-season team of all time.

85bears

 

The heart and soul of the team, unquestionably, was Walter Payton.  Payton had been a star running back for the Bears since his rookie year of 1975.  For years, while the team around him struggled, Payton set records and reached milestones.  Nicknamed “Sweetness” for his ability to elude defenders with ease, Payton was universally respected league-wide.  As the 1985 season unfolded, analysts, players, and fans were in agreement–finally, after all his years in the league toiling for an also-ran, it was nice to see Payton play on a gifted team overall and have the chance to win a championship.

walterpayton

 

No one admired Payton more than his coach, Mike Ditka, himself a former player for the Bears.  Ditka was not shy in proclaiming Walter Payton the greatest football player he had ever been associated with.  And so, with the Bears running away with Super Bowl XX, the stage seemed set for Payton to cap off his illustrious career–not simply with a Super Bowl win but with the honor of scoring a touchdown in the game.

superbowlxx

 

It would not be easy.  The one thing the Patriots did well in the contest was contain Payton.  They keyed on him relentlessly, and he had no room to run.  Even so, late in the third quarter, with the Bears already winning 37-3, they found themselves at the New England 1-yard line.  Here it was.  Simply hand the ball off to “Sweetness,” and let him score, a fitting reward for one who had done so much for so long for the Bears and the city of Chicago.

paytonchicago

 

Instead, Coach Mike Ditka chose to give the ball to a pop-culture sensation named William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a 308-pound defensive lineman (in an era when 300-pound linemen were rare) who occasionally doubled as a running back when the team got close to the end zone.  Perry was a decent player, but far from a superstar.  What’s more, he was only a rookie.  He had not played for the team through the lean years of the 1970s and early 1980s as Walter Payton had.  He was a solid contributor, it was true, but more than anything, he was trending, the flavor of the moment, one of the top personalities of 1985.  It can be argued, especially when it came to Perry’s scoring touchdowns, that he was a fad, a 300-pound flash-in-the-pan, a one-hit wonder.

williamperry

 

But it was William Perry who scored that Super Bowl touchdown.  Walter Payton never did reach the end zone that day.

perrysuperbowltd

 

Mike Ditka was not the kind of coach who second-guessed himself.  Confident, brash, self-assured, he made his calls and stood by them.  But this was one decision that would haunt him.

Much later, years after the Bears’ emphatic Super Bowl victory, and more than a decade removed from Payton’s death to a rare liver disorder, Ditka, now retired from coaching, admitted in an interview that giving the ball to the Refrigerator, instead of allowing Payton–the team mainstay, its leader who had missed only one game in his entire NFL career–the chance to score in the biggest game of his life was the one lingering regret from his coaching career.

ditka

 

Looking at the expression on the old coach’s face, you could see how much he wished he could go back in time and reconsider his decision.

He should have given the ball to “Sweetness.”

*************

When the idea for The Eye-Dancers came to me, I knew almost immediately that the four main characters, all boys, would be based on some of the friends I knew while growing up.  I further knew that they would be twelve years old over the course of the novel.  Since publishing the book, there have been some who have criticized this decision.  I should have made one of the main characters a girl, they argued, or made the characters a little older, or both.  And from a purely marketing standpoint, they may be right.

eyedancers

 

The thing is, I believe that writing is an act of love.  It is a way–perhaps the best way–for us to share what’s important to us with the world.  It is our chance to tell stories uniquely our own, to infuse them with our experiences, points of view, joys, fears, opinions, and quirks.

I suppose a writer can indeed reshape an original, inspired idea, twisting it, contorting it, redefining it to fit in.  If vampire fiction is hot, then turn the main character into a vampire, even if, in the original conception, he was just a boy, as mortal as any of us.  If dystopian settings are in fashion, then maybe the writer can alter the time and place of the idea and write a tale set against the backdrop of a dark and repressive future age.  Or, if little green aliens with big black eyes are all the rage . . .

greenaliens

 

And by all means, if an idea originally strikes in a form such as this, if it occurs organically on its own, then there indeed is another story to tell about vampires or dytopian societies or little green aliens.

But if the idea that hits, suddenly, jarring you to the core with its power, lighting a creative fuse that can only be unleashed through the words pouring out onto the page . . . if that idea does not contain anything that’s trending . . .

Don’t worry about.  Write it the way it is–the way it’s meant to be.  Who knows?  You may unleash a new trend.

There will always be another “Refrigerator.”

But there is only one “Sweetness.”

writeyourownstory

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Mike

46 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bonnie Marshall
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 23:11:01

    Always, Mike, your posting is a quality of life lift for me. Happy Bowl Game! Smiles.

    Reply

  2. joseyphina
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 23:12:37

    Writing is an act of love- I believe so too! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Thomas Weaver
    Jan 31, 2015 @ 23:26:17

    Reblogged this on North of Andover and commented:
    Author Michael S. Fedison uses football to illustrate why you should be true to the story you’re writing instead of chasing the latest trend.

    Reply

  4. Jennifer Austin - Author
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 00:36:35

    Perfect, perfect post! I agree with this so much. Better to set a trend than attempt to write to one. No matter what you write, there will be critics. If you put in a girl, there would be complaints of the “token” girl. If you aged them up you’re pandering to the YA market. Writing the story that emerged from your creativity is the right choice. Thanks for sharing this post!

    Reply

  5. ptero9
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 03:17:59

    Mike,

    Great post! There is often a tension between writing for myself and reshaping my thoughts to include a more universal appeal. I think that it is essential to remain faithful to your story, or idea. If it strikes accord, great! If not, you at least have appeased something deep inside, letting go of something that needed expression.

    Hopefully, there is a balance between what drives me and what appeals to others.

    Debra

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 03, 2015 @ 17:47:07

      Great thoughts, as always, Debra! And you are right, of course–as writers we hope there is indeed a balance between what drives us and what appeals to others. And I think, almost universally, that balance does exist . . .

      Reply

  6. Karen's Nature Art
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 03:31:00

    As usual, this applies to art as well! I’ve never been one to go with trends, so I agree, write what you know and love. 🙂

    Reply

  7. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 03:37:17

    Only you can write the story you were meant to write, Mike. And it appears you have. Yea, Mike! Here’s to a sweeet SB Sunday!

    Reply

  8. stockdalewolfe
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 04:29:33

    Hi, Mike, I agree but my book sales show the highly limited appeal of a book such as mine. I wrote it anyhow. I would think the “Eye-dancers” has a broad audience and lots of appeal. Anyhow, a great post, as always. Thanks for writing.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 03, 2015 @ 17:49:42

      Thanks, Ellen! I think all we can ever do is write from the heart and then share it with whoever wants to read it–and hopefully that will be a lot of readers.:) Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  9. Francina
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 09:12:33

    Great post and excellent written . Keep up the good work and you will do great. -:)

    Reply

  10. kriti dhingra
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 14:59:12

    Such an amazing post.
    Truly inspiring, i would say.
    It made my day. :’)

    Keep up with the great work.
    Stay blessed. 🙂

    Reply

  11. eemoxam
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 17:09:55

    Great post, as always. I needed this today, thank you!

    Reply

  12. Patrice
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 17:21:00

    Well said. Sweetly written.

    Reply

  13. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Feb 01, 2015 @ 19:07:16

    Mike, This is a beautiful and thoughtful post. I think writers should always stick with what feels right, not with what the market supposedly wants. Good for you!

    Reply

  14. ziresta
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 03:56:29

    Reblogged this on {Insert Clever Title Here} and commented:
    “The thing is, I believe that writing is an act of love. It is a way–perhaps the best way–for us to share what’s important to us with the world. It is our chance to tell stories uniquely our own, to infuse them with our experiences, points of view, joys, fears, opinions, and quirks.”

    Reply

  15. teagan geneviene
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 13:32:43

    I’m glad you wrote the Eye Dancers as you did, Mike. Quite frankly, it irks me when people tell a writer they “should” change this character, or they “should” write the story that way, or they “should” whatever. People like that go around “shoulding” all over themselves, until it’s not the same story at all, and they never make anything any better. Great-big hug. 😀

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Feb 03, 2015 @ 17:56:01

      Thanks, Teagan! That is so well said! And very true–all we can ever really do is write stories the best way we know how . . . and hopefully readers will enjoy what we have to say.

      Reply

  16. Trackback: When in Doubt, Go With Sweetness | Shannon's Professional Blog
  17. Jaye
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 14:52:52

    Reblogged this on Jaye Em Edgecliff.

    Reply

  18. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 19:46:51

    In the light of yesterdays’ Seahawk loss in Superbowl 49, Pete Carroll is undoubtedly having second thoughts.

    Nice post Mike.

    Reply

  19. Sherri
    Feb 02, 2015 @ 20:32:19

    Oh Mike, you strike such a chord with me reading this on two levels: firstly as a Brit who emigrated to America in 1986 with an American husband who played football (and I mean football, not soccer!) I remember ‘The Refridgerator’ and Walter Payton from watching the Superbowl the year before we moved. I didn’t understand American football, hot having grown up with it, and it wasn’t that popular in the UK back then (is now!). Reading now all you share here stirs up so much for me on so many levels. And the way you seamlessly merge it into how we, as writers, feel about our writing and being true to our creative process. I am convinced that there is no other way. You stuck to what you believed and nothing is better than that. You know how to score a great touchdown Mike, that’s for sure 🙂

    Reply

  20. Ste J
    Feb 06, 2015 @ 11:29:15

    I tend to avoid the bestseller shelves unless it is an author I know, mainly because I smell the money that publishers have paid to have their book recommended or be made ‘book of the week’. Authenticity of an idea will always have me coming back to an author, tweaking it, compromising the pure idea would be a sad thing indeed. I am perhaps overly harsh on bestsellers though, it is rare I find many I like.

    Reply

  21. Ste J
    Feb 06, 2015 @ 21:46:48

    until a blogger reads it and starts spreading the love of course!

    Reply

  22. reocochran
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 22:47:41

    I think it is like an artist, to be a writer you may embellish or tweak a story a bit. I loved this post, it is always a place to get my creative juices revived when I come for a ‘visit.’

    Reply

  23. latenitemike
    Apr 15, 2015 @ 18:26:22

    Fantastic.

    Reply

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