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Your Stories

Yesterday I talked about forty novels I really want to work on. Writing that article didn’t help any, either. Some of those were books I dreamed up a while back and haven’t thought about in years, but I just threw them in to pad my numbers.

Once I put two sentences into describing them, though, I found myself itching to dive right back in. Characters I’d mothballed long ago came sauntering back into memory, charming me with forgotten qualities and promising compelling plot twists. By the time I finished writing that article, I felt my creative impulse being pulled violently in forty different directions.

And that’s just two series! As I said at the end of that post, I’ve got other novels scattered across half a dozen different genres — eleven completely developed book ideas total, some of them already finished manuscripts. Right now I’m actively working on three first drafts (and only one of them from yesterday’s list), and trying to find some rewriting time for four others (all of those from yesterday’s list).

Accepting Inspiration

One of the hardest lessons for new writers to learn is that it’s not enough to wait for inspiration. If you want to become a serious storyteller, you’re going to have to learn to write even when you’re not inspired.

That doesn’t mean there’s no place for inspiration in the writer’s toolbox, though. It’s always inspiration that gets us started, and some of the best moments in a writer’s career are driven by inspiration. A good writer knows how to keep progressing in the craft, day in and day out, so that he’ll be ready to create true art the moment the muse finally appears.

Of course, that’s where so many of these Chronic Project Accumulation problems come from. It doesn’t matter if you’re just hitting the first act break in a 100,000-word novel or if you’re up to your eyeballs in housework and editing chores. When inspiration strikes, you’ve got no choice but to chase it down.

That’s one of the three projects I’m working on now. SEATAC is a new science fiction novel in its own universe that just came to me while I was walking one morning, and it’s not one I’m willing to let go.

Of course, to pursue it I’ve got to borrow time from another project, The Girl Who Stayed the Same, which was another flash of inspiration during a morning walk. And that one was already borrowing time from my most recent Ghost Targets novel, Shelter.

Managing Multiple Projects

Honestly, honestly, I can’t work on three projects at once. I can and do juggle two, and maybe next week it’ll be a different two than this week, but for the most part I’ve had to set aside Ghost Targets altogether while I deal with these two.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to write all of these two before I go back to Shelter, though. Mainly, I want to do as much as I have to do to capture the inspiration, pin it down, so it’s still there when I’ve got time for it.

I do that with a projects list. You won’t be at all surprised to hear that I keep mine in Google Docs. Actually…you really shouldn’t find any surprises in my process at all.

Every book gets its own entry in my project list, and each entry has a handful of components (all of them optional):

  • Title
  • Tagline
  • Mock TOC
  • 2-4 paragraph story description
  • Character list
  • Conflict Resolution Cycle Worksheet
  • Plot synopsis
  • Sample scene
  • Complete scene list

Yep. That’s my entire Prewriting schedule. I’ve mentioned most of the items in that list in their own articles here, and I’m sure I’ll hit all of them before October round. Among them, it’s enough (for me) to capture the complete shape of a story.

I usually just try to fill out everything that comes easily. Sometimes it’s a title and a couple paragraphs of description. Sometimes it’s just one character description. Then again, sometimes it’s 2/3 of the list.

If the easy stuff makes the story seem worthwhile, I might invest a little more time to fill out more items. Mostly, though, when it gets to the point that Prewriting feels like work, I’ve already recorded the spark that I needed. At that point I can tuck it away safely until I’ve got time to give it the attention it really deserves.

Share Your List (Creative Writing Exercise)

My dad’s been writing for almost two years now, and in that time he’s finished two novels. He’s also put together a projects list that could probably match up with mine. It’s impressive.

Then again, as I’ve said from the start, I don’t think that’s terribly unique. I think chances are good you’ve got a list of your own, with more projects than you could possibly work on right now.

Capture it. That’s your exercise, and my earnest plea. Don’t let the ideas get away, just because you don’t have time to deal with them right away. Maybe you don’t want to record pages and pages of prewriting like I do, but find a method that works for you.

Put them in a scribblebook or a Google Docs spreadsheet or give them all their own folders on your computer. Whatever appeals to you, get in the habit of making nests for your story ideas, where they can incubate safely while you’re busy elsewhere.

And share it with us. I never feel so much like a writer as when I sit down and spell out all the tales I’m anxiously waiting to tell. Dad loves sharing his, too, and we all got to learn a valuable lesson from Courtney’s just last Wednesday.

What are you projects? Enumerate them in the comments — or, better yet, make a blog post of your own, and share a link. We’d love to see it.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

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