Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Too Many Stories; Too Little Time

Since finishing Under the Ember Star in July I haven’t done a lot of writing. I took a couple of weeks off, and then school started and I’ve been pretty well swamped. But I’m starting to get the itch again, badly. I’m ready to get started but the question is what to start on. There are so many stories I want to tell, so many characters crowding my head.

In psychology, we have the concept of the “approach-approach” conflict, which is the conflict that occurs when you want two things but can only choose one. Writing is like that for me. It’s why I start so many things but typically end up finishing only a few. Right now I’m working on a story called “Harvest of War” for an anthology. I’ve completed the rough draft and am handling the polishing now. That one will be finished because someone has already asked me for it. But that one is not calling for full-time effort at this point so which other project do I pick up? I have a lot of choices.

Wraith of Talera: Two years ago I started the fourth book in the Talera series. I’m about a third of the way done with it and I have a very good idea what is going to happen through the rest. This one will be complete in and of itself but will also be part of a duology. I want to tell this story. My mind is urging me in that direction. But....

The Razored Land: One year ago I started this post-apocalyptic novel. It will be told in two parts and the first part, roughly the first half, is finished. I really like the idea behind this work and I think the topic is quite timely. Not only do I want to write it but I think it might be a little trendy even. But....

"Down Home": A few weeks back I put up a blog post with some potential first lines to stories. One of those ignited my imagination and I began the piece. It’s going to be a departure from most of the writing I’ve done in the past ten years in that it’ll be more literary and realistic. I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge and I love challenging myself. But....

Where It Wanders: About five years ago I started a horror novel and wrote probably the first one-fifth of it. It’s going to be a more complicated book than "Wraith" or "Razored Land," but I really like the characters, especially the two primary villains, and I am enjoying the twists and turns. I think this one would particularly appeal to those readers who liked Cold in the Light. I recently reread the stuff I have and thought it was very good. But....

In the Time of the Gun: I’ve been reading a lot of westerns in the past few years, returning to one of my first loves in fiction. I put together Killing Trail and it has been well received. I wrote two brand new stories for that collection and man did I enjoy them. I really want to write another western, a full-length one, and I already have a character that I find fascinating. If I could get it done I’d probably put it up on Kindle and Nook to try and follow up on the success of Killing Trail. But.....

The Darwin Book: I’m over three-quarters of the way done with this one and I’m currently doing a lot of background reading that I need to do to complete it. That reading should be done within four to five months and then I could make a final push. But....

There’s “The Morphy Machine,” “Farhaven,” a collection of essays on Robert E. Howard, a compendium of fantasy words, etc, etc.

I guess this is mostly a good problem to have. At the pace I manage, there’s years of solid writing right there. I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas for the next decade or so. On the other hand, having too many ideas can lead to a crisis of decision making, at least for me. As in the classical approach-approach conflict, when I commit to one project I’m putting all the others once more on the back burner. And that back burner is getting crowded. Something will almost certainly get lost in the shuffle, as with “Farhaven,” a kid’s novella I started about ten years ago, and “The Morphy Machine,” an SF chess story I started about 25 years ago.

I don’t suppose I’m asking for ‘which’ project to pick. I’ll eventually make that decision. But I wonder what others do in an approach-approach conflict. How do you decide? What “breaks” the tie for you? In writing, or elsewhere in life?


Chris said...

I envy your ability to come up with titles. Hell, I have my share of ideas, but none of them have titles. That's the worst part of the process for me.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I have a pocketful of ideas, which for me is good because I used to take a long time between ideas.

Now, though, I don't have enough time so I need to map out my writing better.

I am a terse writer, so my latest sights are aimed at cranking out a couple of longer stories - 15~30K. I guess they are baby steps toward a full novel.

So, the concept of wanting to write longer is currently breaking-the-tie in my head. I've been leaving some shorts on the back burner - unfortunately, that sometimes means letting open deadlines slide by. I'd like to contribute, but cannot afford a switching gears distraction right now.

I am hoping maybe one of those novelettes will end up reading as a viable outline for a novel length expansion - but first I need to lay ground work.

Travis Erwin said...

The writers demise. I too share this trouble from time to time but usually one speaks to me more than the others. Usually I wind up dreaming about one and I figure once it invades my sleep it is the ONE.

jodi said...

Charles, don't trust logic or the suggestions of others. Always go with your gut and the think that you are most drawn to.

Golden Eagle said...

I have several started projects, some of which I did research for, but never finished. What breaks the tie for me is usually the one I end up thinking about the most; some fade into the background, while another will continuously ask for attention.

Angie said...

Your HD looks like mine. :)

When I sit down to write, I'll usually know what project I want to work on and know what the next line or three are going to be. That ability to actually work, word-by-word rather than just figuring I know what's going to happen in the next quarter of the story, often makes the decision for me.

If I feel like writing but I'm not sure what, I'll look over my various WIPs and try to find one that jumps up and gives me the next few lines. That's pretty much what it comes down to -- not reading over or editing or planning, but being able to sit down and actually add words to the story. That's the one I work on. Sometimes I'll work on more than one in one day; that's fine. But I work on the projects that have ripe words ready to add to the file.


Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, I do think I’m kind of lucky with titles. I’m not sure where they come from but I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about them. I really like “under the ember star,” for example.

Paul R. McNamee, I went through a period like that too, where I deliberately tried to do longer and longer pieces as I worked toward a novel. It worked. Sometimes now I have a harder time being terse, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be an “epic” writer.

Travis Erwin, that’s a good way to choose. I do find myself distracted at times by “salability” issues but since I’m not making a living anyway I should just forget about that.

jodi, I think so. I think that will ultimately be what works out best. But like a parent with children, I love them all. Just one a little more than the others perhaps. :)

The Golden Eagle, I find myself finishing those old projects at times. Like “Farhaven.” It’s been with me for over a decade now and the idea still resonates. One day I will finish it.

Angie, good point. I like the concept of “ripe words.” Sometimes, unfortunately, the most ripe words are for some as yet unknown item. But it’s better that way than the reverse.

Steve Malley said...

Hm, let's see... I've got 6 novels in various stages of revision. I started the year intent on putting four or five up on Kindle. At this point, I'll be lucky to get one.

The 'structure pass' I'm doing right now has turned into an extensive rewrite, and it's driving me nuts because I want to finish that first draft of the steampunk story based on my paintings.

Oh, and Kane's second story (set in Paris) grows steadily more and more heavy-- I don't know how long I have until my literary waters break and that novel drops.

I'm not sure I'm the right guy to comment. :)

Steve Malley said...

For what it's worth, my writing heroes include Isaac Asimov, with his room full of typewriters, each set up with a different project, and the wheeled chair he'd use to work on one and then another.

Also, I'm intensely jealous of those old pulp writers of the 40's and 50's, so many of them able to stay awake on coffee and bourbon for two or three days straight and have a damned good finished novel to show for it...


Deka Black said...

Finish Wraith of Talera. Because the world needs more stories like that.

And for me... i am not able to write long stuff. Only shorts

G. B. Miller said...

Sort of have a mini version of your delimma this year.

Started on one novel, then put it on the back burner when the enthusiam waned. Pulled out a trunk novel that I had set aside a year and a half ago and began working on that.

Put that aside when a short story idea,based in a genre that I have no experience in writing, popped in my head.

I'm currently working on that, but that trunk novel keeps whispering in my ear saying, "Come back G, come back."

laughingwolf said...

i'm waiting for the next 'chapter' of 'cold in the light'... but you know that! ;)

wish i had your ability with ideas, i can't even get back my weekly shorts... not even looked at prompts i chose, months ago... ::sigh::

Richard Prosch said...

I usually make a list on a legal pad and let it gel while I'm doing other stuff. Eventually, one or two of the projects just catches my eye more often. It/they grow brighter as the others dim. Sounds sorta hoodoo-voodoo, but it's really just subconscious reasoning.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I completely relate, I have far too many ideas coming at one time and sometimes it creates a fire to start something new before finishing other projects-which is a problem.

I think I have at least 30 starts in various degree sitting in my files and new ones are still being born.

Ron Scheer said...

I don't write a lot of fiction, but I try to keep to only one project at a time. It's distracting to have something else unfinished and wanting attention.

RK Sterling said...

Oh, Charles, I do know this problem. (If you'll recall, I *did* ask my blog readers for help choosing because it took matters out of my hands and gave me some good feedback.) Still... those others do sing their siren's songs.

Sometimes I choose whichever story I know the ending to, because those are easier to finish, and sometimes I choose whichever one I've already completed the most of.

Good luck to you, whichever you choose. They all sound good (though my unasked for advice is to flip a coin over Wraith and Talera then go for it.) ;)

Travis Cody said...

It is a good problem to have, particularly since you like something about each of the projects. My tie breaker often comes down to whether I can find the bridge from the last word I wrote on a project to the next words I've yet to write.

In other words, when I get a thought about a stalled project, I go to that piece and wring every last word I can out of the thought. It's not a very useful approach for finishing stuff, but it gets a few more scenes down on paper to build on next time I get a thought.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, it always takes me longer than I possibly think it can to get one in final readiness. I’m slow, slow, slow. I remember reading about a couple of different writers who kept more than one typewriter going at a time. Hard core pros, I’d say.

Deka Black, I do love a good imaginative adventure. The best of all.

G, I know the feeling. I’m trying to avoid new ideas for a while. Gotta get some older stuff done.

laughingwolf , sometimes it takes a while to get back in the running. I’m sure it’ll come.

Richard Prosch, I generally let my subconscious do the guiding too. Otherwise it takes too much mental energy and I’m pretty lazy.

David J. West, new ideas are always so much fun! But sometimes you have to force ‘em aside and get on with older things.

Ron Scheer, the problem for me when I’m doing longer stuff is that school comes around before I can finish and that means the project has to come to a halt for at least a little while.

Kate Sterling, I’m leaning toward Razored Land because of that very fact. Ahh but then I have to leave other ideas behind. :(

Travis Cody, When I come back to a project I always start off reading everything I’ve already done, which generally does trigger some kind of bridge. If not I’d definitely have to go to some alternative.

Dionne Charlet said...

I love reading your blog. I so long for a class setting, and your posts have a way of setting my task bar on a green light with my self-imposed assignments.

It is fascinating to read your thoughts on writing, your goals, your dilemmas. I am excited to see which choice you make.

Cloudia said...

you truly make my head spin, Charles!

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

Lisa said...

Hello Charles, I've (finally, sorry I took so long) ordered two of your books, Writing with Fire and Bitter Steel and they are coming in with Clodia's Aloha, and I am excited!

I can only approach a project that I am passionate about. I understand keeping discipline but I have to work hard at it because I tend to just follow my whims and fancies (not practical). I sensed your passion in Darwin and so even though I know you are not seeking advise but I would recommend that project.

Charles Gramlich said...

Dionne, thanks for visiting, I appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed.

Cloudia, uh oh, better call an exorcist.

Oceangirl, I will be working a bit on the Darwin book at least because it's something I need to do for my job. Need to keep up with some scholarship.

the walking man said...

Generally speaking what forces my decision is which has the better aim or is closer...then I know which way to turn and fire.

Tom Doolan said...

If I don't have a specific project on my mind, I usually just start opening files and seeing what catches my attention.

Which would go a long way towards explaining why I have accomplished so little...

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, a military strategy. hum, perhaps!

Tom, I sometimes do that just to refresh my memory as to what kind of stuff I have started and to see if anything ignites.

X. Dell said...

The Darwin book I'm looking forward to, but a SF chess story? If you don't finish it, I will.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, the Morphy machine, named after Paul Morphy. one of these days.

SQT said...

Wow. That's a LOT of writing going on. I'm a mood person. I can't approach anything if I'm not in the right frame of mind, so that would pretty much be the only deciding factor. Just saying to myself that I should do something isn't going to be enough.

(Can I vote for the dystopian one?)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am working on four stories now, think I may be done one, but the problem is the other three don't really thrill me and I am pushing them along rather than chasing after them. And I badly need a title for the one that is finished. Just can't think of a good one.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sqt, mood plays a big role in my choices but not the only role. I find that I can convince myself to enjoy something if I really have to do it anyway. At least most of time. Vote duly noted. :)

Patti, often I find a title within the story itself, some fragment of a line that resonates well with me. Doesn't always work.

EA said...

I love the title "The Razored Land," so that's my vote on the next project to start on.

Charles Gramlich said...

Elaine, "The Razored land will have two "parts," each with a rather cool name too. I'll talk more about this at some point.

David Cranmer said...

I like your titles and your proposed ideas. You will never be in need of a next project.

Erik Donald France said...

That's a tough one but in your case, a "nice problem" (a lot to choose from).

Tradeoffs, weighing options. Usually I do this with budgeting, much more so that I used to. What's the most important thing?

Both time and money can be tricky to budget in a perfectly balanced way, certainly.

ivan said...

The perenially successful writers I know seem to work your way, that is to say, plan, block out, and go at things step by step, hoping, perhaps for a quantum leap that will synthesize the story, bring it to a head.
Myself, I am not entirely convinced of all this careful outlining and methadology.
It seems to me that good writing is what you do right there on the page at that particular moment.

There is, of course what you describe as the“approach-approach” conflict, which is the conflict that occurs when you want two things but can only choose one.
This seems to double and ten itself at times when you are super-busy as a writer. So many ideas, contracts in so many genres...And then there is the teaching, which is a kind of creative activity of itself, especially the writer-teacher, who seems to construct a great sprawling novels in the air with every lecture. Myself, I was called more "dramatist" than lecturer.
This seems to lead to being just as high as a performer as a writer. This probably harkens back to the cave man days when the blind old guy woul carry on with his epics, sagas for the young 'uns.
It all takes energy.
It is small wonder that overly- stimulated people like writers and teachers have trouble with their spouses. You become a maniac. It's the beautiful words, images that are important...Makes you hard to live with.
The words, the words, the beautiful words!
Maybe that's what you search for when you write. That moment, that right time, when the words come straight and clean.
Screw the outline, or maybe even plot!
It's a manic condition.

Of course your friends might ask, "What does your wife think of all this?"
My own was bored, felt ignored.
(Talk about “approach-approach” conflict).
I chose the "beautiful words" and have been, I'm sure, suffering in humble solitude ever since. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

David, it's gonna be a while at least.

Erik, time seems to be my worst issue at the moment.

Ivan, much of that happened with my first marriage. I'm a bit more assured and controlled now, and Lana is creative herself so she has more understanding of the process. It helps.

Unknown said...

I get paralized with such choices and end up doing nothing.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Hi Charles!
So neat to see all your babies laid out on the line. You've such neat ideas.I like what Jodi says with going with your gut, but I know what you mean about it being hard to know which one your gut wants (if that makes sense). Here's something I do when i can't decide on something. Close your eyes and imagine your books. imagine tiny red and green lights. They'll each flock and encircle a book. The green lights circle the story you truly want to write. I've also used this with horse racing too, works almost every time. Ha. ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, sometimes I feel that way myself.

Jodi M., hum, i never tried anything like that. Will have to give it a whirl and see what happens. ;)