One at a time… but which one?!

Like many, many other people around these parts, I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times now, which means I have about five incomplete manuscripts lying around collecting dust. Those of you who have actually finished and edited yours have my unmitigated jealousy and you shame me intensely. That’s why I recently started working on one of my older drafts, the one I’ve talked about here a couple of times: The Blue Lady’s Children. It’s been fun and sort of liberating to tear it apart and put it back together better.

But oh, my most recent novel attempt, The Lamanai Codex. Why must you try to seduce me with your pulpy antics and your charming main characters? Your dangerous love interest and your icky creature feature violence? Your devil-may-care dialogue and your crazy cult members? Don’t you realize that I am working on a different novel right now?

Once again, I assume that many others have experienced a similar dilemma: which of my multiple manuscripts should I work on first? I started with the one I wrote first, but that’s about as arbitrary a reason as any other. I could have started with the one I liked the best, or the one with the most interesting characters, or the most fully developed world, or even the one that I thought would require the least amount of work to complete. Given the struggle I’m having with the one and the siren song of the other calling out for attention, I can’t help but wonder: did I choose poorly? Or is my frustration with the one fueling my enthusiasm for the other?

So, my comrades-in-arms, how do you decide which of your manuscripts to work on first? Do you have any specific criteria in mind, or do you go with your gut, or what? Do you stick with one at a time or switch it up when you lose steam? Share your methods and madness!


13 Responses to “One at a time… but which one?!”

  1. Amalia T says:

    I choose by commercial market pressures. What do I think is my best story, strongest book, and what do I think is the book I can sell most easily to agents? That’s why I’m focusing on Helen now– because I think I can sell it. But obviously, as you well know, I do get sidetracked by other manuscripts sometimes when the going gets rough. A day here, or a week there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily.

    It kind of depends on what your end goal is, though. Are you writing and editing and revising toward publication? If so, go with your strongest book, period. The one you think is the best example of your talent as a writer, and make that happen! If you’re writing for the fun of it, or to experiment, feel free to jump around. Make sense?

  2. ElshaHawk says:

    Whatever I feel like! Since I don’t have a deadline, I may have an idea for one story over another. I also have a collaborative work, so if my partner is working on it, then that’s great motivation.

  3. Gracie says:

    I’d say go for the one you’re most drawn to… even though that sounds lame. But which one are you the most excited about? The one you keep thinking about the most? If there’s one that won’t leave you alone, that’s the one I would choose.

    I recently had a glut of ideas (some even came in dreams), three of which could one day be novels, and they all seem pretty good. But there’s another, older one that I can’t get out of my head, that just “speaks” to me… and that’s the one I just started seriously outlining. Because it will not be denied.

    So in other words, I guess I go with my gut. Go with yours, too.

    …And switching up now and then just to keep things fresh doesn’t sound so bad, either. Ah, I’m no help. 🙂

  4. Tessa Conte says:

    Oh, I’m a switcher. I also come up with new ideas periodically, which of course need to be worked on a while, before I can get back to my actual WIP.

    Currently I have four WIP that are vaguely serious, and a whole file cupboard full of ‘ideas’ with maybe a scene or two each.

    I just write whicheverone ‘speaks’ to me, as Gracie put it.

    Not necessarily the most efficient method, but so far it works for me. Of course, I haven’t finished anything yet…*embarrassed grin* so maybe you should ignore me.

  5. Amy Saunders says:

    I have two main criteria for choosing an idea: 1) I’m really excited about it and love the concept/characters/etc. and 2) It’s a big idea that has blockbuster written all over it. Some of this is gut but you can analyze it too. Is it unique/original? Does it leap off the page (or out of your imagination) or just sit there?

    Personally, I focus on one piece at a time or I never get any of them done. I have my WIP, and when other ideas start coming (which they do because I’m greasing the wheels up there), I take some time to purge. I write it all down, get it out of my system, and then go back to my WIP.

    Hope this helps and best wishes on whatever you choose. Finishing is tough but it’s worth it! 🙂

  6. Mia Hayson says:

    I’m a switcher too :S

    I always return to my main WiP eventually though, the one I fell in love with first.

    I know you shouldn’t do this, not *really* but it helps when I’m in the wrong state of mind for my main WiP, to have other things to work on :~) That said I really can’t help you choose since I would go with all of them.

    Sorry 🙁

  7. Valerie says:

    Amalia: Ah, the mercenary approach. I think you’re definitely right about your stuff, but I have no clue which of mine would work better that way. But as for the “pick your best” idea, that’s a great one. Why start with the crappiest draft?

    Elsha: Free-wheeling is fun! I’m trying to get more of a schedule going so I actually finish something instead of just letting it happen naturally. I think I work better that way, but not everyone does, for sure.

    Gracie: Nothing wrong with going with what calls you, I’m just worried about multiple things tugging at me! It’s easy to get frustrated when one project is a slog, thinking the grass will be greener on the other side.

    Tessa/Mia: Maybe you and Gracie are right, and maybe I need to let myself switch when I get frustrated. I might accomplish more if I don’t force myself to stick with something that’s giving me headaches. “Wrong state of mind” indeed!

    Amy: I’m bad about getting excited; I think my blood pressure is too naturally low. 😛 And I totally suck at figuring out what’s marketable, like I said to Amalia. But as you mentioned, I worry that getting sidetracked will mean I’ll never get anything done. As it is I’m juggling two serials along with the novel(s) so my time is definitely limited.

    Loving the insight! Thank you all so much!

  8. Great topic! I usually stick to one and take notes if any ideas come my way for new projects. I really like to have that ‘finished’ feeling before I start working on something new. I do have one unfinished hanging out there. Not sure if I will go back to it or not. We’ll see where I’m at after I finish this WIP…target is the end of the summer.

  9. KM says:

    This is definitely hard to work out, and I haven’t figured it out myself. Typically, I have a zillion novel ideas running around my head, but only one will stay for the long haul. I either can’t get around plot holes or lose interest in the others. So I guess it works itself out for me. Sorry, that’s not really that helpful. haha But I would suggest not forcing anything. Go with what you’re most interested in.

  10. Alas, it’s a procrastination technique, albeit a sneaky one. It disguises itself as hard work but really it’s your mind wandering from the task.

    You need to pick one and finish it. This is how we (whoever) end up with five to pick from in the first place: for a while there the hardest thing is just to finish. However you pick it– market demand, your own favourite, best characters, closest to finished– stick with it until it’s done. Until it’s done, no matter what the others say! And then you’ll never have to feel jealousy about other writers’ manuscripts again. 🙂

  11. I had a chess sensei who once told me my problem is that I don’t want to play the correct game, I want to play the interesting game. That, and I didn’t want to win enough. I think his schizo-addled advice is applicable to you.

    1) Are you focusing on the story you can complete, or the story that most interests you? To put it another way, do you feel more magic when you are inspired or when you complete a composition? Perhaps you are caught in the cycle of inspiration-chasing: looking to catch the next high? Or perhaps you can’t do what you would like to do with your prose, so you seek a project that will force you to raise your game?
    2) Perhaps you don’t want/don’t feel ready to finish a novel. That’s valid too. But why? Not good enough? Why are you competing with Muriel Spark? To get one’s foot in the door, one only needs to be better than the lower 50% of your competition. I think you will write a better book than you think you will and it will be better than 50% of the books out there. So if you hold yourself back because you don’t want to win, consider what game you’re playing.

    Also, the anxiety of writing for a project like Nanowrimo enforces a tempo that may not come naturally for you. Performance anxiety, etc. It probably won’t be the best thing you’ve written, but we are not always what we seek to be. I think the more one accepts that, the more unselfconscious one’s writing becomes. Once one abandons preconceived notions of the self and what a finished VV book (for example) should look like, one can just get down to writing. Some of the tics we most despise in our writing are sometimes the traits our readers most admire.

  12. Valerie says:

    Thanks for more great thoughts on this.

    Karly: Unfortunately I let NaNo get the better of me, so it’s too late to avoid other ideas before finishing the one at hand. All of the ideas have a month’s worth of work and somewhere between 30k and 55k words done. So now it’s a question of deciding which one(s) to work on now. If I could go back in time and do things differently, I’d probably go with your method for my own sanity.

    KM: Interest is good to start, but when interest flags, that’s a problem. Force myself to stick with the one I’ve got or jump to another until that gets old and then go back to the first? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

    Jen: I see you’re definitely in the camp of pick and finish. The initial pick is what’s getting me in trouble now; I think I’ve picked the wrong one, but how can I really know? I’m worried about the procrastination trap but I’m also worried that I really did just pick poorly to begin with.

    KW: Initially, I focused on the story that I wrote first. It interests me, certainly, but that was essentially my sole criteria. Hence this soul-searching! The one I went with was poorly conceived in the first place and requires a lot of work to whip it into shape, whereas this other novel wooing my attention looks (on the surface) to be a much better product requiring less extensive reworking. I’m not so much afraid of failure as I am interested in working on the novel that will be the best use of my limited time.

    Perhaps I’ve answered my own question there? I need to figure out which one is in better shape and go with that. I have to take a really hard look at novel #2 to see whether it actually is better quality or whether it just looks greener from the other side of the fence. You guys are absolutely magical. Thank you so much!

  13. I go with my gut, absolutely. I follow my inspiration to the story that comes into my mind naturally. But I tend to stay inspired by one book for a long period of time, so that works for me. If I were more ADD about writing, I’d probably have to work on my discipline and focus. As it is, though, I go with the story I feel like writing, because I do my best work at my best pace when I’m inspired.

    If I ever get an agent or publisher, it will be a different story! Then I’ll have to work on what’s expected of me. But for now, I go with the flow to maximize my productivity and quality.

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