Take your chances

(Editor’s Note: This was written before the second co-author contest winners were announced, but I decided to keep it here for those folks wondering what the contest process was like for me. Also, congrats to this year’s winner, Tucker Axum III!)

To the fellow writers and kindred spirits who reached out to me about my experience with the first James Patterson MasterClass Co-Author Contest, thank you so much for your interest (and also just for being writers). Entering the contest was one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve ever undertaken, and I’m thrilled that someone else is going to enjoy the same whirlwind.

And to those who reached out seeking advice and haven’t heard back from me, please forgive me. I’ve started replies – and then erased them. Start again. Erase again.

I hesitate to write back because some part of me is afraid to steer you wrong.

I’d hate to dampen your enthusiasm for what might be a perfectly exciting idea just because it isn’t right for me, or to push you toward one of your ideas that I think is gold when you’re burning up to write another.

The best advice I could give is to follow the guidance in the MasterClass (like maintaining an idea folder), but, if it’s helpful to you, here’s the curious process that I still have a hard time believing worked for me and what marked the start of The Dolls.

Quick background: I’d signed up for the class, thought it would be a blast, and then set it aside because,  you know, life is all about juggling. I fully intended to get to the class when I had a spare moment.

Then I saw the contest … Time to go to class.

Wow. I felt that shiver that I’m sure so many of you are feeling. What if? Wouldn’t it be incredible? Hold on to that. It’s delicious.

I decided that I would simultaneously do everything in my power to win while also bracing myself for the more likely outcome: not winning. I’d come up with ten or so of the juiciest hook ideas I could put together and perform round after round of market research (inviting friends for dinner and asking their preference). Even if I never heard a word back from MasterClass, at least I’d have a cool idea, or even ten, down on paper. Idea folder started!

I plugged in the contest announcement dates on my calendar as if they were set appointments, and I went to work. I brainstormed the first idea, then set it aside.  It was okay. Maybe. Next, please.

The second idea came together all at once, a sort of patchwork of things I’d read or heard about. I started with half a concept and was playing with different ways to make it more interesting – and then the rest of it just showed up. It crystallized in a way that’s never happened to me before. It was like when you start a sentence and someone else – someone who 100 percent gets you – finishes the thought. I got that feeling like falling head over heels instantly. A serious rush. It was the one.

I jotted down a few other, less inspired ideas, but nothing else made me want to start writing right that second. I knew that crazy idea was the one I wanted to write, contest winner or not.

That’s where the other, more realistic side of me got to chime in. Even if I didn’t win, I’d still win. I had an idea that I felt was worth writing. I’d push myself farther than I’d ever gone into fiction before – and something might stick. Or it might not. Either way, I was bound to get at least a little bit better than I was. That’s winning, too.

So if there’s a nugget of advice I can offer with confidence, it’s this: Enjoy the process, the feeling of possibility. Write and scheme like it’s in the bag and, at the same time, decide you’re going to write, no matter what. If you are brilliant enough to have several workable ideas, pick that one that makes your heart beat a little faster than the others, the one you can’t wait to start.

(And if you aren’t sure what contest I’m talking about – and you’re someone with an interest in writing fiction – stop everything you’re doing and go check out this opportunity.)

Wishing you all the best of luck and hoping you let yourself enjoy every minute of the process!