Saying No: the Author as Gambler

I’ve just said, ‘No,’ to a writing project: two commissioned books for a good cause, at a fair fee. I was told that I was the client’s first choice of author, which is always flattering. I deliberated for several months.
Actually that’s not true. I shelved it and avoided making a decision for several months. When I got down to deliberating, the answer was clear.
It doesn’t matter how worthy the project, I don’t believe I could do a good job if my heart’s not in it.
Still not completely true. I believed in the project enough that I could certainly summon up emotion for the story, and have been writing long enough I probably could turn out something decent.
(20 years later, this became The Princess and her Panther) 
Except that time and energy are finite – and I want everything I write to be more than decent. There are five other stories waiting for the current one to give them a turn. I’m a slow writer, a many-draft writer, a fusser-over of commas and a last minute changer in galley proofs.
Writing is a crazy way to make a living. You throw years of energy into a world that doesn’t exist, and at the end you might get paid lots, or you might get paid nothing. You might be inundated with fans or find booksellers staring blankly when you mention the book.  It’s gambling on such a colossal scale: with the work of your life ­– that it makes casinos look petty. Which might all sound like an excellent reason to write something with a guaranteed sum of money at the end. (And yes, I’ve been writing for a long time and have a lot of books out there, and yes, two of them have movies based on them. It doesn’t take away those moments of fear and doubt about the future of each new book.) 
But each of those ideas floating at the back of my mind deserves the time to be coaxed and refined into a book, I have to give each of them all that I can. And the best proof that it was the right decision for me? Since I said no, the new manuscript has been flowing. It’s got all my attention, and it’s loving it. 
It may or may not be good when I finish the final draft, but it’ll definitely be the best I can make it.  

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