Time to Prioritize


On my common topic of writing revision, consider this …

Is it time you revised your writing game plan?

Thanks to an overactive imagination and too little time, I have way too many “projects” on hold, from individual short stories to series of novels.

Sure, they get shopped around, but if you hadn’t noticed, most publishers have slush piles that feed into wormholes. You send them the properly formatted manuscript with return postcard for arrival notification, as well as the return envelope with all that postage on it, and you never hear a thing again.

This especially applies when you send a proper synopsis and three opening chapters, and have them contact you, asking to see the entire manuscript which has really interested them. Wahoo, right? Right into the wormhole, to emerge as a stream of sub-atomic particles on the other side of the universe. So I wait a year, send ticklers, and get ignored.

But the point is, NaNoWriMo is over, and it’s time to think about one more novel in the stack.

This year, I made a table to print information on all of them on cardstock and cut them out (new rotary cutter).

Sixty freakin’ cards.

Now, in some cases the cards represent planned or postulated projects. In other cases, I have one card for the first book in a series, to represent all five. In others, I have all nine on separate cards. There’s at least one series of three and a loner that don’t have cards at all.

It’s kind of overwhelming.

Think about it. If I publish four books a year, I might manage to get these all out in twenty years. This isn’t even counting the short stories.

(I used to think I couldn’t write short stories, but I’ve got a dozen goodish ones from doing Other Worlds Writer’s Workshop’s Short Story in a Week months, March and September. What I can’t write are someone else’s short stories. Mine have their own … flavour.)

Somehow I doubt I will be able to make myself quit coming up with new ideas.
So it was time to go through the pack and start discarding.

The reason for putting them on cards was to be able to do sorts without strict criteria, and to look at five or ten at once, in my hand or on the table. So I asked the cards …

What things do I love and adore and would consider life incomplete if I didn’t get to share them? What were already finished and therefore time invested that it would be silly to discard?

What things were … meh? What looked like something I might “write” by handing my notes and scattered scenes to a junior partner, but otherwise were ideas that would probably never get finished? What would require a whole lot of investment of time to even start bringing off?

I reordered the stack in what I have to call motivation priority: the ones I really want to work on up by the top, with the likelihood of my summoning the energy fading as we go to the bottom. I wrote down the list, shuffled the cards, put them aside.

Doing this several times, on different days showed me the constant top-runners, which I need to get to work on come January. December is the time to consider the New Year. It also showed the consistent bottom cards. I am officially retiring those ideas.

Yes, I have a whole shelf crammed top to bottom and side to side, two deep, with research for the one historical thriller series. Maybe Amazon will want to buy some back. Maybe I’ll use it as a guide to building a fantasy world (yes, new ideas will happen). But to bring that series off, I would have to —
• reread that pile of books,
• find about half as many again, frequently on research topics I’ve had no luck uncovering,
• build three or four plots much more tightly than they presently are in notes,
• write the first two,
• and get them published.
The idea leaves me ready to … take a nap. Just weary. Love my invented character. Well, like her. Enjoyed the historical characters surrounding her. Here, I really think the research jam has taken its toll.

On the other hand, I have another series I can’t keep myself away from, even when I’m writing something else during NNWM. I cheated with it on a few days. Historical thriller, again. I do need more books — I constantly crave more books for this. Of course, it’s at the top of the deck.

Another retiree: historical fantasy, needs probably another dozen books of research, which is not bad by my criteria, since a book only takes a day or two to read. But the plot remains terribly foggy beyond what I have written, and I just don’t feel like many people would even like it (I have minority tastes). Pack it away and don’t stress myself thinking about it any more, especially at project review time.

Balance it with a science fantasy that seems totally crazy as to setting, characters, what the spec is, what’s good and bad, who’s the heroes and villains. Just inviting hate, but for this one I’ll claw down mountains. Well, large hills. Let’s not exaggerate.

Everything I write above the short story level takes either research or world-building. It’s just the genres that interest me. So none are without work, and I’m never certain which is the tougher job, trying to create a map that works or trying to find or reconstruct an old map. (I usually don’t want ideal cultures. I want believable ones.) In a world I build, I’m right — except to those people who hate that I build cultures that aren’t idealized to their ideals. In historical genres, I always have the scale-rule Charlies in the back of my head, waiting to get all offended and superior that I couldn’t get minor points “right.”

So I can’t make a criteria of “setting takes no world-building/research” the way someone writing contemporary domestic drama or mysteries might. My brain just isn’t there in those genres.

I have one where I need to start reading my whole list of 50 Books from scratch, but it still makes it into the middle of the pack. May be my next NNWM rough draft. It’s more likely to be 60 books, but I still want to explore it enough that doing the work is better than the much smaller or nonexistent reading for other projects.

The point for sharing with you is this: you can have a lot of good ideas, and time invested in them, and they still aren’t the best way to spend your writing time. You can have just a few good ideas, and you still need to prioritize which one gets your attention first, because there is only one today.

Imagine all your manuscripts and notes are in hard copy only. There is a fire. You can only carry half to safety. The rest will burn. Which ones do you save? (Let me split my deck here.)

If you have way too many, as I do, repeat that a few times, until you have a year of work in your imagined arms.

Write those. Finish those. Revise those. Publish those. You have the fire in your heart and head for those.

That’s Plan 2015.

2 responses »

  1. Well, Holly, to a point, I envy you, because you have so many ideas in your hands. But on the other, I’m glad I just have one project going on, so I know what I want to write.

    Yes, there are other projects floating around, including a fantasy trilogy I plotted for NaNo many years ago and I still like (about dwarves, of course I like it! ;-)) and there is a new dieselpunk character I’d like to explore, but neither of these are going to take me away from Ghost Trilogy.

    So, what did you decide? I want to know! 🙂

    • LOL! Would a list of working titles help you at all? One of my decisions was to get back to Book in a Week (http://www.book-in-a-week.com) so that I give at least one week a month to fiction. Otherwise, I really need to spend the most time on ‘People’s Names’, since the rebuild is so much larger and deeper than the original. So this makes ‘Names’ “work,” and fiction an escape (and if I steal time otherwise to work on fiction, well, that just suits my outlaw streak).

      I have to artificially create your fortunate state.

      ‘Names’ is not proceeding quickly. Mainly because many sources are allergic to dates. “Earlier” or “the old way” or “anciently” is not so helpful as saying “in the fifteenth century.” Especially when “ancient” turns out to be a measly 300 years ago. Oh, well, my fault for tying it so firmly to an historical structure.

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