Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Body Building

I'm not sure how many of you have written more than one book, but reading blog posts from those who have, including our very own Scott and Michelle (and Beth and Tess and Rick, just to name a few) has made me think a lot about building my body of work.

Although I'll admit that the complication is mostly self-imposed, the decision of which book to write next is a hard one, at least for me.

My first two very rough books were fairly different from one another, but they had some common themes. In both cases, they were stories about families and, although both happened to be magical realist, they also were both told from the points of view of multiple characters in the family. I see now that these books were leading me toward writing the more realistic Rooster, which is a much better book, also about a family, also told from the points of view of multiple characters within it.

But, now that Rooster is more or less done, I've been having a lot of trouble committing to my next project. I find myself torn between wanting to write another family book (because in my fourth attempt I might actually figure this whole multiple perspective thing out!) and wanting to write something that just follows a single character to test my ability to stick to one focused narrative. Both would be challenging; both would be fun.

Then, I think about what I want to put out into the world. With Rooster, I show a very serious, slightly depressive side of myself. And, to be fair, that's who I am most of the time. But, in my developing works in progress, some of them are much more light-hearted and one is even darker. The thought of someone being able to choose between two of my books depending on what mood they are in is quite thrilling, which pushes me toward diversification--also a good idea if you're investing in the stock market!

I've currently got four novels going on right now: a serious fantasy book call The Secret Of the Sansui Sisters (under 1000-words done), a humorous fantasy book called The Collectors (over 20,000 words done), a humorous literary book called Satellites (about 5,000 words done), and a dark literary book called Bread (over 20,000 words done). And, while all of them are ongoing, I don't really feel devoted to any of them.

Life is short. I don't feel like I have an eternity to write as many books as I want. So, I wonder where I should go next.

How are you all planning your next projects? What considerations are you taking into account? Is this even a choice I get to make, or will my inner editor eventually choose for me?

Note: One last reminder that we're announcing our Genre Wars contest selections tomorrow. We hope you'll come and check out the list of stories and vote for your favorite charity. And, the spectacular Lady Glam will be returning after taking a short break!


  1. How are you all planning your next projects?

    I sort of just go with the flow. If an idea strikes me, I work with it for a while, and if things don't seem to be gelling together, I back off and wait for the next idea. Currently, I have three ideas to choose from, two of which I have loosely outlined, and a third (which seems the most promising to me) which I haven't outlined.

    What considerations are you taking into account?

    I just write. I don't take anything into consideration other than the fact I have a story to tell. Maybe this is the wrong way to approach writing, but it's what seems to work for me. : )

    I can tell you that I had a hard time, after finishing the project I'm getting ready to query, to figure out what to move on to next. Luckily, I had the rough of a project that I'd worked on from time to time, and finally moved past some gaping plot holes and worked it into the next project I want to query . . . once I finish all the revisions (that's on my goal list for this year).

    Is this even a choice I get to make, or will my inner editor eventually choose for me?

    I think instinct (i.e., inner editor) plays a part in what we choose to write/work on. I mean, why in the heck did I pull out that old project all of a sudden and, wham, bam, suddenly everything seemed to work, when it hadn't in the past? Instinct. So, go with your instinct, inner editor, or whatever on that next project.


  2. I always try to go with my gut feeling and try not to overthink which one to tackle next. It helps so much to have maximum inspiration and excitement from the start.

    You say, "The thought of someone being able to choose between two of my books depending on what mood they are in is quite thrilling," and I feel that way about myself as the writer, too. I feel secure when I have more than one project going because if I get stuck or uninspired with one (assuming I'm not in a stage with external deadlines), I can jump into working on a story that I AM in the mood to write.

    Then again, I'm also one of those people who's always reading three books at once. At least I always finish them! :) Otherwise I'd consider it a procrastination problem, not a strategy.

  3. Yeah! What Scott said. I started posting before his comment appeared. :)

    I'd also like to note that my drafts steal descriptions, plot points, and bits of dialogue from each other. Say I think of a great line, and it could go in two different books. But right now, I'm focusing on Book #3. Book 3 has full rights to steal material out of any other draft that isn't in the lead. Then I make sure to delete it out of the draft I stole it from. I read in some writing advice book to "never hold back for your next book," so I have kind of a race going on. May the most interesting story win.

  4. I have multiple W's in P, and for a while I was doing a good job at time management in working on two different novels, one in the morning and one in the evening. I was motivated to complete each. The problem was, with my time diverted, neither was racing toward completion. Now I've found it best to stay focused on a single work, see it to completion, and then move on to the next.

    My priorities for what to write changed, too. For a long time I was dedicated to the re-write of FATE'S GUARDIAN, my first novel that initially clocked in at 120k words. I'm 40K into a re-write that should see 80k when finished.

    However, when and agent picked me up for RUDY TOOT-TOOT, I shifted focus to the children's / Middle Grade works. RTT is currently under agent review, and in hopes that it a publisher will buy it, I'm banking that my time is best invested in a second book in that genre.

    Right now I'm working on THE CHRONICLES OF CHRISTMAS, a story about a team of scientists that digs up a book while drilling for ice cores at the North Pole, only to find that the books tells tale of the origins of Santa Clause. I'm 8,600 words in with a target of 30k-40k. I have a full outline for the story (which is actually a story within a story within a read that right, no redundant typos, and a delicate balancing act to say the least).

    I realized that I could complete this in less time than my other works, plus having an agent who specializes in children's books it makes the most business sense.

    I struggled with the "but I want to write real books, not children's books" argument for a while, but then realized that I can have very mature writing in a book geared toward younger readers, and still have a lot of fun doing it. I get to be silly, the stories and characters are a blast to create (literally, in Rudy's case), and I've come up with some of my best prose to date in them. They fit the genre merely by length and age of the primary characters.

  5. I can't relate to having four novels in progress, 'cause I haven't started one yet. I had three novel ideas rolling around, but the one I have to start this week is the one that began to eat my imagination for breakfast. Other ideas are being steadily shoved aside.

    Barring that happening for you, you could always roll the dice? Try the one that will stretch you the most as a writer? Perhaps that last would be most interesting for you, since I get the feeling you're a fellow who enjoys a challenge.

  6. I'm actually impressed you can write more than one book at once. I wish I could do that. I can't even revise more than one at once. My mind can't grasp more than one idea, I guess.

  7. Scott, one of my writing teachers once suggested that we get well on our way of our next book before querying the first. Her idea was that one would feel additional pressure after the publication of the first book, which would make writing that second one even harder. I think it's a good idea to have some things to choose from before querying!

    Genie, I also tend to read more than one book at once. In fact, the reason I started writing at all was because I was reading two books at once, which helped me see some similarities in the writing that I otherwise wouldn't have. It was the first time I felt like "Hey, maybe I can do this." My projects also have different moods, and you're right, they let me continue to write even as my emotions change.

    "Never hold back for your next book" is great advice!

    Rick, "Chronicles of Christmas" sounds very cool. I've actually always wanted to work with ice cores--and still hope to one day. I find that the more I work, the more I had to admit to myself that focusing on one project often leads to the most productivity. I think that's why I'm feeling the need to make some decisions now, even if it's just a matter of cutting down my four WIPs into two.

    Simon, it sounds like for you, the book chooses the writer, if you will. I actually remember that in the past that's how I ended up working on Rooster. I had a few different stories going on at the same time, and this was the one that made the most progress, like breaking out of the pack. But, maybe as I've gained more experience I'm more flexible and able to make more stories work, which is making it harder for me to put anything down.

    Jennifer, don't be impressed. I think one of the consequences of having more than one thing going right now is that I'm not able to look at it with any sort of depth. I do think the focus will help me make one good book instead of four mediocre ones!

  8. I seem to jump fro women's fiction (general?) to YA. I'm pretty happy in those two places but wonder if an agent would let me skip around that way.

  9. I don't know the answer to this.

    All told I have maybe 20 partial novels. The plan was to finish Jarvis because at 50,000 words its almost complete or Generation because I'm to chapter seven... But any of the others made more sense than to start from scratch. Except "three" suddenly was just there. The first chapter anyway.

    I almost put "three aside because, after two days (and some twenty-thousand words later) it became clear a new "short story" was actually book four. Yet I keep coming back to three, because it feels right.

    And that's not much of answer is it?

  10. No matter what I plan to write next, whenever I sit down to write, the story I should be working on starts. I have often intended to write one thing, but my brain just lines up my ideas one by one and I can't write anything until the story next in line is done.

  11. My next project came to me over the holidays. Which really surprised me. I'm still in the "Oh this is fun stage" of my current novel. I ended up jotting down some notes and now I find that while I write my current WIP I'm adding notes and outlining the next WIP. It's actually invigorating.

  12. Actually, for my next project, I'm planning on going backward. In my humble opinion, I'm a better writer now that I was when I started writing. The stories I've trunked have great ideas, but poor execution, so I'd like to try to rewrite one of them from scratch. We'll see how that goes. As you said, life is short. I like the characters, and the story doesn't bore me, so I'd say those are two qualifications my next story should have.

    So unless some other great idea hits me before I finish my wip, that's what I'll probably work on next.

    If you're just not feeling passion for any of these projects, maybe you can examine the one you like best-- not necessarily the one you've done the most work on, but the one you enjoy the most-- and figure out how you can change it to inspire that passion.

    Go with your instinct.

  13. When choosing my next project, I often go with whichever idea feels ready. Sometimes, I'd like to work on an idea, but I know it needs more time to stew. With my current project, I didn't intend to start anything just yet, except my MC walked up and said, "Hello, you're going to write my story now." Well, how could I resist?

    I think even if your conscious mind isn't ready to pick an idea just yet, your gut might make the decision for you. Trust your gut.

  14. My ultimate goal being to quit my day job and make a living writing puts my focus squarely on whatever has the best chance of getting and *keeping* me published and making money. Mercenary? Indeed. But I have a goal. I'm focused.

    I'm currently revising a draft, and have another complete to revise when this one's done. I'll be starting a new draft later this month that will follow the same genre as the other two, because I want one to submit, and two more in the same genre ready or almost ready should someone care to offer me a two or three book deal. That's my business plan at this point.

    As for which idea to choose - I generally take a couple out of my "ideas" notebook, write up a plot synopsis, start an outline, and whichever one seems to start growing on its own is the one I start writing.

    I think we write for ourselves first, so whatever fits in with your goals, your desires, and whatever will ultimately make you happy to work on is what you should choose, IMO. There's no point in writing if you're not happy doing it. That's what day jobs are for. ;-)

  15. Davin, you know how I feel about multiple projects. I'm usually unable to do such a thing. However, during my writing break I did start a new novel or novelette or novella or whatever it turns out to be.

    You know very well that no one can tell you which project to do. The only advice I can give that has worked for me is that you choose the project that will most clearly fulfill your longest goals. For me that's improving my writing, so I keep trying to pick the projects that will help me grow the most as a writer. That means that my project lined up after Monarch is fantasy and follows only one POV and is unlike anything else I've written. Yikes. It may fail, but then I can move on to something else.

  16. I just realized that sounded really contradictory - "during my writing break I started a new writing project..."

    Yeah, that's me.

  17. T. Anne, I realize that there are just a couple of different genres that I naturally drift towards as well. The other part of having a body of work is that you see tendencies that you might now know you had. I saw things like this when I was painting, and I'm just starting to acquire enough short stories to do the same thing with my writing.

    Zuccini, I think that's as good of an answer as anybody else's! Your description sounds a lot like what I do. I keep trying to turn one of my novel starts into something shorter just so I can finish it, but it refuses to obey me.

    Beth, well, that's a nice efficient brain you have! I wish mine were as functional, LOL. But, I do think that sometimes we can't control what we write. Our passions just come out in the order that they want to.

    Southpaw, I started one of my novels while I was wrapping up Rooster and it was indeed a very nice break. I think starting a novel and finishing one require different skill sets, different modes of thinking, and it's fun to be able to use both.

    Tere, thanks for you advice. I've got a bunch of projects that I started before Rooster, and the idea of going backwards was also interesting to me. But, for some reason I can't bring myself back to that same line of thinking I had before. Going with your gut is a good idea.

    Dominique, yes, like Tere, I think there is value behind trusting your gut. I've encountered a lot of ideas that I'm just not ready to write. Those tend to be the most autobiographical ones, so maybe I'm just too close to them. But, I've never had any idea that has felt "ready" as you say. I think for me part of the joy is to jump in before I'm ready to see what happens. I think different people just work differently in that sense.

    Jamie, I think it's great that you have that as a goal. It's not my goal, but I see it as an equally valid one. Your description of waiting to see which one grows is how I arrived at Rooster. Maybe my brain is just walking me through the same process all over again.

    Michelle, that's nice advice about fulfilling my longest goals. I think in that sense I almost need to combine some projects. Maybe I haven't bee ambitious enough if I feel like two different books are challenging me in two different ways. Maybe I should work to incorporate those two ideas. Hmmm...that's very interesting.

  18. Davin, that's what I did with Monarch. I combined several short stories: a YA story, two literary stories, and a contemporary story all into one novel. And look what I've got now - a ton of work and headaches but a story I think is a lot of fun and rewarding.

  19. Okay, so now my cannibal has magic powers. ;P

  20. Hey, that might work. You never know! Have you seen Sherlock Holmes? Magic can work, and not be magic...

  21. I have two novels started, each about equally far along. My problem is that I walked away from both of them a very long time ago and am now trying to reconnect with the voices and themes and characters in at least one so that I can begin working on it again. I’m having a really hard time getting back to them. I could start another novel, but that really doesn’t seem in my own best interests as a writer. I’ve written countless shorter things in my time away from them, so I haven’t stopped writing. I’d just like someone, either inner editor or character, or someone to point me in my next direction.

  22. Questions about our legacy as writers are the things we think about when we should be writing, Mr. Malasarn!

    While I only work on one project at a time, I do have a list and a growing stack of notes for future novels. I've sort of planned the order in which I'll write them based on which ones I think I have the craft to write first:

    Antarctica (working title), about a South Pole expedition in 1915.

    The Builder's Wife, about a sort of messed-up love triangle in the Hungarian royal court in 1790.

    The Factory, a sort of paranormal mystery/morality play set outside of Baltimore in 1910.

    The Factory was going to be the book I wrote after sending my "Hamlet" novel off to my agent, but the idea of "Cocke & Bull," the book I'm writing now, came to me more-or-less complete while I was having lunch last September and I fell in love with the story so I'm writing it. I also realized that The Factory has some structural issues I don't know how to fix, so it's been pushed back in the queue. There are also a couple of other book ideas, half-formed and unfinished from years ago, that I might work on over the coming decades, but really I'm expecting to have new ideas. Anyway, the real answer to your question is that while I have a sort of plan about what to work on next, the real next book to write will likely find me and demand to be written, no matter what I intend.

  23. I only take on one novel at a time (though several shorts here and there when the muse strikes). Before beginning, I map things out in my head to make sure I'm attached b/c I hate starting something and not finishing it.

    However, if I'm not thrilled w/ the idea, I'd kill it. Step away and just relax. Do something else. 'Write every day' isn't necessarily the best advice.

  24. When looking for my next project..I open my idea folder and browse till one excites me!

  25. I work on one project at a time usually. I did go off task to participate in your contest here, but only because it was a short project.

    Since I'm wrapping up book 1, I guess I'll be seeing soon what my process will be.

  26. Ugh, I can so relate to this, and I wish I didn't. Thanks (or no thanks?) to NaNoWriMo, I have three incomplete novels, and I have my novel I wrote in college that is finished, but maybe I'll revise it someday b/c I wrote it so long ago.

    And I have new ideas all the time. Lately, I'm trying to write only short stories so that I can finish more projects. But, I still have the problem of choosing which story to work on.

    Sometimes I think some stories can be combined, too. Like, are three short stories really meant to be a novel?

    I had a novel draft once I turned into a short story, and now I see that it could belong in this other novel I have. Gah!

  27. Interesting post, Davin. I don't know if I could devote my attention to multiple projects like this, though I guess I should be able to. I'm easily bored (or maybe hyperactive, who knows), and I bounce around from one thing to another all the time. The problem with this (for me anyway) is that I do not remain focused, which hinders my ability to get to the finish line. I'm working on it, but I admit it's a bad habit I have.

  28. Gee Davin, I don't really think about it so much. I get the idea and I decide the what, where, when, who, and all that. Then I sit down at my computer or laptop and start pecking away. I started writing picture books which attributes to my TIGHT writing style. If you ever want to practice really tight writing, grabbing really strong verbs, try writing a picture book. Anyone's novel writing will improve.

    Great post. :0)

  29. I was JUST thinking the exact same thing even though my second book is far from done. I thought I would just immerse myself in one idea of for a week or so, and then do the same for the others and see if something grabs me more than the others. Please let me know how your decision process goes!

  30. I haven't actually finished a book yet, but your conundrum is probably part of the reason for that. I can't stick with one idea long enough to finish any of them. I have about 4 that I'm very committed to and I continue to make progress on all of them (a couple more than others), but I always have a hard time committing because I keep thinking that one of the others is going to better.

  31. I have loosely outlined, and a third (which seems the most promising to me) which I haven't outlined.

    Work from home India


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