Did you know that the essence of story is conflict?
I mean — I probably knew that, actually, even before Clarion West. I’m sure I’ve (correctly) identified the central conflict in a story on a multiple choice test as “man vs. nature” “man vs. man” or “man vs. himself.” And even before Clarion West I probably had some dim notion that if you get a story idea, like “I want to write about a werewolf in New Orleans,” it’s not really a story idea until you have given that werewolf a problem to solve. “Going around being a werewolf” sounds cool and everything, but it’s not a story.
Before Clarion, the big problem I needed to solve (other than my submitaphobia) was the sophomore novel problem. I had cleared the first important hurdle: I had succeeded in producing a thing of novel length that more or less resembled a novel. (It took four or five years, uncountable hours of typing, and three computers.)
Every piece of advice said pretty much the same thing: while you’re trying to sell the first novel, work on the next novel. I think the idea is that you probably won’t sell the first one, but eventually you’ll have a second one, plus a better idea of how the selling process works, and valuable feedback which will improve the second one, and maybe you’ll sell that second one. (Repeat process as many times as necessary, accumulating “trunk novels” along the way.)
This seemed totally reasonable.
But I couldn’t do it.