Too Many Ideas Isn’t The Problem.

After reading Tim Ward’s post on having too many ideas and writing projects going on at once.  I went into my own file of incomplete manuscripts and had a little experience that prompted this post.

Read Tim’s post here:  http://timothycward.com/?p=386

So how many projects going at once is too many?

Some time back, I decided I would not have any more than two active writing projects going on at any given time.  The reason was I was having a hard time finishing anything, and my writingtemp folder was getting too fat for my taste.  When I first started writing, my writing time was so erratic, I could go a month without touching a manuscript.  By then, of course, I’d have lost enthusiasm for that project and move on to the latest idea that had me excited.  That was when Heinlein’s Rule #2 owned me in every way. 

This change I made, has really helped keep me focused and completed some of these projects.  I’d be having a lot more success, if not for some lingering problems in my time management.

Today, I went into my writingtemp folder on my desktop and found I was down a half dozen or so different manuscripts.  I think this folder peaked at close to fifteen or so stories, at one time.  Some I scrapped because I just didn’t like them.  Some of the remaining stories had a couple of files each from when I tried to revisit those stories on more than one occasion later on…and still not finishing them.

The experience came when I happened across my NaNoWriMo novel for ’09.  It didn’t have a title.  I opened the file and started reading.  I liked it.  I got about ten pages in and suddenly stopped, thought for a second, and scrolled through the rest, stopping to read a paragraph every now and then. 

What I discovered was I had about 10,000 words that I seemed to like, but couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what that story was supposed to be about.  It made me kind of angry. 

I’m one that subscribes to Dean Wesley Smith’s notion that every word we type should be treated as  inventory that needs to be moved.  The stories that I scrapped out of the folder previously were very early work from back when I was trying to find my voice and my process.  This story seemed like it was going somewhere I wanted to go, so rather than waste that inventory, I’ll keep it on file and revisit again.  I’ll figure out something for it and those words will go back to work for me.

The moral of this story is finish what you start.  Please!!!

There are a good many writers that can work on several things at once and get them done, most are seasoned professionals.  Kevin J. Anderson is one of the best examples I can think of.  Most of us, myself included, aren’t that lucky.  A new writer can get more and more frustrated when that pile of unfinished stories starts to grow, and when they pick one up and can’t remember what it was supposed to be about.  That’s a problem.  It’s just the type of thing that can start a writer that hasn’t solidified their writing discipline down the road to being someone will tinker with a manuscript every now and then, but never publishes.  Worse yet, when they FINALLY do finish something, they won’t be able to bring themselves to publish or even hand it over to first readers out of fear.  The fear arising out of the thought that all of those years of poking, prodding, and tinkering were wasted because someone might not like it.

The more we write, the better our work will be.  The more we FINISH what we write, the more the fear of failure will dissipate, and the more confidence we will have in taking the control over our careers that the new age of publishing allows.

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About Thomas J. rock

Writer of Science Fiction

Posted on May 13, 2011, in The Daily Grind and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the shout out Jack. I’ve been thinking about your rule of no more than 2 works of fiction at a time, and I’m tempted to fudge a little. I do a lot of work on my writing during the week, so if I get that work done as pertains to my weekly goals, I am going to give myself freedom on the weekend to work on side projects. By side projects, I at this point mean finishing short stories I’ve started. That way I’m finishing what I’ve started, and limiting my attention to just a few projects.

    That’s funny that you mentioned Nano ’09, because that was my first one and really my first serious attempt at a novel. I got to 55k in that month, but then took the rest of the year before I finished at 110k. I wasn’t working on anything else, but I did have a lot of places in the editing process where I realized I had started a plot thread, but left enough time between writing that I forgot I put it there. So, another benefit to minimizing projects is that you remember the subtle plot threads.

    I can also attest to your point about finishing what we start being a way to boost our confidence and improve our writing. I recently submitted my first short story for publication and went through 4 or 5 rounds of edits. When I turned that in I was very confident, and it makes me less afraid to write now because of how I improved that story from the rough first draft. If all I ever wrote was first draft quality fiction, I would have very low self esteem and get easily discouraged. If you listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, one of the guys said he was in Brandon Sanderson’s writing group for Way of Kings, and he said that seeing Brandon’s first draft made him confident because it wasn’t very good. We must realize that our second drafts and beyond are what will separate us from the pack, and that means we must finish what we start.

    • I won Nano in ’08, tried in ’09, could not attempt it in ’10 due to unavoidable circumstances.

      Winning nano has probably been won of the biggest motivators I’ve had to keep at it. Cranking out 50K words like that demonstrated what i could be capable of…which is the point of the whole NanoWriMo exercise.

      I do listen to Writing Excuses and remember that episode. Too funny. Brandon should be careful about leaving Dan and Howard to steer that ship while he’s on tour. lol.

  2. So what has happened to your nano novels? One thing I’d like to read on your site is a works in progress.

    I had the same experience seeing that I was capable of writing 50k meant I could write another. From there it became, can I actually plan something so it makes sense! Haha! That’s still a work in progress.

    • The first one from ’08 was never completed. I actually just printed it out so i could give it a good pass through so I can finish it. Again, it’s a story idea that I really like.

      ’09 Nano – the story I found that I couldn’t remember what it was about – 10k words that I’ll find something to do with.

      As for serializing a work in progress, I’m not ready to do that yet…but maybe some time. 🙂

  3. I meant, having a blog post about works in progress, but now that you said that I think you’ve already mentioned it in your posts.

    Serializing a work in progress is an idea, except, me personally, I don’t read fiction online. I prefer that on my kindle. But Michael Stackpole put his first chapters on his website to boost sales, so there’s an idea. I feel like people with iPads get a lot more internet reading done, so that audience would be a good fit.

    Tully is so good, you could expand on that. There’s plenty to build off of – short stories or novel length.

    I think it’s a good idea to try and make use of your two nano tries. You may have to rewrite, but they are still at least ideas you could work with.

    • Oh yeah, I’ll do posts about works in progress, but I don’t want that to be the only thing people find here. The industry is in such a state of flux, information needs to be shared constantly so everyone is up to speed.

      The Nano books will be completed. That will be quite an accomplishment for me, since I’ve never COMPLETED a novel. Novelette and short novella lengths have worked best for me, to date.

      Thanks for the kind words about “Tully”. I didn’t initially plan on expanding on it, but I can put that in the idea dump file.

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