Project Inventory

With Yin-Yang finally finished, and the year wrapping up, it seemed like a good idea to sit down and do an inventory of current writing projects.

The cliche remark about creativity is an exclamation or a question about coming up with ideas. In my case… I’m unable to not have them. The world is filled with them on all sides. Does that make it easier? Um, no, not really.

For me, there’s a fairly consistent progression as far as how much effort is going into a given phase and what the payback is.

Usually there’s a bit of a spike in the required input at the beginning, while I’m digging around on name websites and through books for character names, trying to work out what they do with themselves in very broad strokes that will be refined in the next phase. At that point, I’m so excited about having something new to explore and seeing so many possibilities that I barely notice the cost. More energy is being generated from that excitement than I’m using.

That’s followed by an initial writing phase, when I plunge in and start writing or typing words as fast as my fingers can move in a mad race to record everything I see in my head, while every scene gives birth to several more. Characters come to life and take off running, and sooner or later, if it’s a good idea, I’ll blink and realize that I’ve tripped over a plot. This phase is exhilarating, intoxicating, and the greatest high in the universe; sleep and food become secondary, and with all the other aspects of mundane life they become something to get through as rapidly as possible in order to return to writing. It’s intensely addictive, and it’s a significant drop when it fades, which can be after a few thousand words, or a few tens of thousands.

Once it does fade, then it’s possible to consider the whole thing more rationally. Is this idea actually worth continuing with, or does it go in the “fun but not worth continuing with” category? Quite a lot goes into the latter. At one point I thought of those as wasted time; now, I accept them as they are, which is as excellent practice for a variety of skills and as fuel for the pure joy of creation, regardless of whether they seem to be novel-worthy.

For the ones that seem to have potential for more, this leads to the next phase: finishing it. This is a complex sort of phase. It involves further sessions of wild creativity, though shorter and less overwhelming, combined with a lot of serious thought about the whole work instead of being lost in any given episode within it. Some writers hold the philosophy that you should finish the first draft entirely before ever looking back, but for me, everything builds on everything else, and that just isn’t feasible. The first rush gives me most of my framework to build on, though. This phase is an emotional and energetic roller coaster of moments of optimism and inspiration mixed with hours of research and plotting out chapters and hammering out inconsistencies and choosing scenes to crop out and on and on and on. It’s hard to stick with it. There’s very limited payback, and the whole phase is fuelled almost entirely by the drive to share, to put it in a form that can be enjoyed and appreciated by other people so I can show them what I can see. It’s an immense investment, and like any other, it’s a gamble: will anyone read it? Will they like it? If they do, then the pay-off is equally immense: each and every person who says, “I loved it! I got lost in it!” makes it worth all the work.

That last phase is the longest by far, and it’s the massive counterbalance to how easily ideas come to me. Following through on something in the hopes of a reward for the exhausting effort is even harder when you have the siren-song of a new idea calling to you and promising the immediate pay-off of a few days or maybe even weeks of ecstasy. And especially when I’m wrestling with depression or anxiety, I need that escape right now, at any cost. Combined with the knowledge that my cats depend on me, that has kept me alive and kept me more or less functioning even through the bad spells. Even when I’m not crashing, those periods of high-energy creativity feed me and keep me going through the low-energy periods of finishing, editing, and formatting earlier projects.

Which has added up, over some 25 years of writing, to a LOT of projects on the go. I updated my list and did a count, just out of curiosity.

Discounting the ideas for short stories or fragments of notions yet to be explored, I currently have:

  • 3 finished novels – in order of release, BlackWolf, Lamia, and Yin-Yang
  • 2 ongoing projects – Moonblood and my playground Gaia
  • 2 sequels begun, for BlackWolf and Lamia (and several requests for a Yin-Yang sequel)
  • the Resurrection Project: 1 novel in the finishing phase, 2 more that have high potential, and at least 5 more that might be worth tackling to see what would happen (interestingly, the list has almost identical comments for every one: “Characters are great and work well, premise is interesting, plot has some very bad flaws that need to be fixed, technique is abysmal.”)
  • 1 urban fantasy, well underway, planned to be the next completed release (but plans change)
  • 1 high fantasy, with a decent (15k words) beginning that I do expect to finish if I can find a way to fix a couple of flaws
  • 1 high fantasy, well underway, that I’m unsure whether there’s an audience for (of course, I thought that about Yin-Yang too), which could conceivably have a sequel and a prequel
  • 2 urban fantasies, at least one of them in the same universe as Lamia, and 1 high fantasy, in very early stages but with high potential
  • 1 tentative urban fantasy ongoing story
  • a handful of bits and pieces that could, if I sit down and actually start playing with them, turn into more, since they worked well in my “sandbox” trials

How many does that add up to? I suppose it depends on how you count and where you draw the line. My conclusion, when I looked at this last night, was that if I got no more new ideas for ten years, I’d still be working on what I already have by the time another one comes along.

Does that make it easier to write than it would be if I had fewer ideas? Um, no. Staying focused on any one project for any length of time, past the initial rush, takes self-discipline and determination that I admit I don’t always have. If you aren’t producing finished work for other people to read, what difference does it make what the exact reason is?

I’m working on it, though, and I’m getting better at it. The encouragement I’ve had from the people who have read work I’ve already finished and posted is a huge source of motivation, and I’m grateful to everyone who gets back to me to tell me what they thought.

Now, back to writing. So, let’s see, which one do I work on?

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About Steph Shangraw

More often known as prysma-kitty, prysmcat, or variations thereof, than by my "real" name of Steph Shangraw. I'm a crazy cat lady, indie fantasy writer, part of Kingston Pride, and admin of Cheezland.org, in no particular order. When not writing, I'm generally making cat toys for friends all over the world or for Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative (TNVR and then some) as fundraising, maintaining a lolanimals website for my friends, serving my three feline overlords Trick-or-Treat and Cory-Bear and Freya, serving as secretary/treasurer for the local Pride committee, and occasionally eating and sleeping. Anything writing-related, including my blog about the process and my serial fantasy Moonblood, can be found via my author site, apart from my old collection of shorts. Since I tend not to say something simply for the sake of saying something, that blog and my cats-and-life one are updated irregularly. A series of household disruptions, including health-related, through late 2015 and the beginning of 2016 has caused some serious delays in everything, including novel releases and writing, but I'm hoping to resume all around now things are getting back to normal.

Posted on 10 December 2013, in writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “Some writers hold the philosophy that you should finish the first draft entirely before ever looking back, but for me, everything builds on everything else, and that just isn’t feasible.”

    Seriously. And sometimes you get a new line or phrase that’s a perfect replacement for what you wrote before, and you have to back and get it in before you forget it.

    I’m nowhere near where you are on this writing business, but I’m becoming well-acquainted with the obsession of it. The fact that the kittehs need fed might be the only thing that gets me away from the word processing program these days . . .

    Like

    • My purrkids are familiar with, though not always pleased with, the necessity at times of reminding me about things like food. Since I frequently write at least first drafts on my netbook while sitting on my bed (which is the same ancient 3/4 frame I’ve had since around the time I started writing, though then it was longhand on a clipboard), they’re generally pretty willing to curl up beside me or in my lap or otherwise within reach. Playtime can be a little more dicey, though. 😉 I’ve noticed that writers are far more likely to have cats than dogs. I suspect that has a lot to do with having to take the dog for a walk while there’s a story scene singing in your head and desperate to get out! (Not the same as choosing to take a walk to clear one’s head and let ideas gel – I do that all the time, but at need, not to a schedule.)

      Living other lives, seeing reality from other perspectives, experiencing things that can’t happen in everyday life, exploring what things could be like… it’s addictive and it’s ever-changing, and in a world that encourages everyone to shut down mentally and spend all their time on TV and on mindless repetitive Facebook games and the like, it keeps some of us alive in a very real sense, I think. It makes me sad to see people choosing to spend so much time that way, and I want to celebrate everyone I encounter that finds and revels in the fire inside.

      There are no levels as far as “this writing business”. I write madly, but I have a very small audience and my work’s offered entirely online in digital formats, and I get nothing for it but the comments of readers. Depending on your standards, that might mean nothing I write should be taken seriously by anyone, and that might still be the case if I ever get around to some form of formal self-publishing. Something being published even by one of the big houses doesn’t automatically make it worth reading, though, and something offered less formally might well be. Maybe more so, depending on your tastes. Skills and quality get better with practice, just like anything else – like I said, my RP notes are pretty much all the same, but with the one I just finished a first draft on, I think the extra experience let me keep the best bits and fix the worst of the damage rather neatly. And the best motivation to practice is loving every minute of the time spent on it, even the frustrating ones. 🙂

      When you start talking to friends about your characters like they’re living breathing people, let me know. 😆

      PS, Awesome blog on writing in general, that often gives me interesting things to think about: http://laurensapala.com/ I must remember to add that to my writing links.

      ‘Scuse me, current story is calling!

      Like

    • Oh, and going back through what’s been written: as is amply demonstrated above, I generally have a ridiculous number of projects on the go at any given moment. When stepping back into one, it’s rather helpful to first read back through what’s already there, as a reminder of what’s been covered and where it’s going. I generally see things that need fixing at that point.

      The rest of the time, backtracking on first drafts is because I suddenly realize, “Oh, THAT’s what that is / why that’s been happening / whatever!” and I run back to correct the earlier instances and add it into places where it should have been but was overlooked.

      Like

  2. Sry. That should have been “go back and get it in.” Whoops, it’s late. 😉

    Like

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