One of the challenges I struggle with as a writer is determining which projects to focus my efforts on at a given time. Unfortunately, I’m not a fast writer. I simply can’t churn out thousands upon thousands of words every day. That means I have to prioritize and make tough decisions if I want to get anything done.
For example, right now I’m working on a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel aimed at younger readers. But I also have the outline of the third Chronicles of Rostogov book plotted out and ready to go. Then there’s the partially finished outline of a steampunk novel based on the world and characters featured in my short story story “The Iron Face of God.” And on top of that, there’s a couple different versions of a cyberpunk story (set in the same world as “The First Price” and “Lena’s Song”) I’m trying to sort through. Not to mention the dark fantasy story about a murder in an isolated coastal village I sketched out a while ago and haven’t gotten around to fleshing out. And then there’s…well, you get the idea.
I know some writers who can dash off 10,000-15,000 words a day (or more), which allows them to keep books coming at a steady pace. While I’m very diligent about getting work done, I just can’t write that fast. When I commit to working on something, I have to do so knowing I’ll be living with it for the next few months. It can be hard to maintain that level of focus, especially when you stumble into rough patches along the way (as you inevitably will).
So how do I make that decision? Sometimes it’s merely a process of elimination or taking what’s available. In my current case, the post-apocalyptic fantasy was already outlined in detail and has been since early last year. I’d even started writing at one point, getting a few hundred words into it before losing interest and confidence. When I decided to get the year off to a good start by immediately starting on a new book, this was one of two options available.
But why this project and not the other one? Well, in this particular case, it seemed like a better idea to focus on something completely new rather than work on the next Rostogov book. To be perfectly honest, the second Rostogov book, Mirona’s Law, hit the market with a dull thud last spring and hasn’t improved much since its release. There just aren’t a lot of people out there right now clamoring for the next installment in the series. I’m still committed to the story and will finish out the series at some point, but it didn’t make sense to work on it right now.
I also decided to work on this project because it’s different from what I’ve done previously. The Rostogov books are aimed at an adult market and my unpublished third novel, Blackspire, is even more geared for mature audiences. Sometimes you have to find a way to mix things up and try a new approach if you want to get different results.
All of these factors came together to help me decide what to work on right now. If you’re not the sort of writer who can focus on multiple books at one time, you need to come up with some kind of process, even if it’s arbitrary and illogical, to determine how you’re going to focus your creative efforts. Whether you write quickly or slowly, time is the one resource you have to spend as a writer and it’s very important that you develop a way to utilize it effectively. When I can’t decide on a project, I end up relentlessly tinkering with various outlines and concepts, bouncing from one idea to the next without actually writing anything. While this time is valuable for helping you to work out ideas, it can also distract you.
I spent pretty much the whole of 2017 trying to figure out what to write rather than writing something. In retrospect, I’d have been better served just working on what I had ready to go while dedicating a bit of time every week to planning what I might write next. My traditional way of working consisted of devoting all of my time and energy to a book, and then spending a long stretch of time after its completion figuring out the next book I wanted to work on. It introduced a lot of dead time into my writing process because I’d get hung up in those planning phases rather than actually writing anything new. That dead time became incredibly frustrating because I felt like I wasn’t making tangible progress on anything.
I suppose the moral of this story is to do whatever you need to do to keep writing and see a project through to the end. Don’t take on more than you know you’re capable of doing at one time and have a process for making decisions about how to spend your time that prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by choices. While the craft of writing is important, being a writer also demands that you become a project manager. After all, writing the most brilliant, eloquent prose won’t do you a damn bit of good if you’re never able to finish anything.