In the past six months, during which I finished my first draft and embarked on the second, I have seen in various fora for writers and aspiring writers, a number of statements that if you want to be successful as a writer, you need to be writing more than one thing at once. I forget the sources but the words sank in. Someone said something like, “You need to have written ten books before you’ll have a chance of making money from any of them – you need stuff for your readers to read next,” and a published author said something like, “I usually have about three books at different stages: one in the planning/first draft stage, one in second draft/editing, and one in beta-reading”. Someone else said, “You need to be publishing something at least once every six months.”
It has taken 7 years, as the clock ran, and maybe 3 if you take out the bits when I wasn’t actually writing, to get my novel this far. And this is really all I’ve got to work with: conventional employment has thus far tended to turn up its nose at me and snub my attempts to break into, you know, regular work. So the fact that I have been focussing on just one work, the story that I am writing now, the story that I decided at the beginning of 2012 that I would FINISH, for once, makes me feel a little inadequate in the light of the above advice.
It’s not for want of ideas. Oh, God, it’s not for want of ideas. No, ideas are two-a-penny in my brain. Ideas are what make it hard for me to finish anything in the first place and distract me from what I am doing. Ideas are a problem only in that I have too many at once.
Time is an issue. Until I start to make a living wage from writing (which, let’s face it, is the exception not the norm for writers, and ever has been) then I have to spend a significant proportion of my day either looking for a “proper job” or else actually doing one. Squeezing in the dedication to finishing this one book has been a challenge, especially when there are distracting video games and TV programmes and, good grief, all those other books out there by Other People for me to read (and someone else suggested that a writer should be spending 3-4 hours a day reading on top of doing writing and research and all that stuff).
Even so, it would be nice to have decided, “when this book is finished I will already have something in the pipeline.” It would be satisfying to have one of those oh so many ideas germinating and sprouting from its seed. It would, above all, be reassuring that I actually can develop another idea that far.
So sometimes when I daydream about the scenes for these other ideas, I think about which one has the most potential, which one would I be able to turn into something sellable – and sometimes even, which one would be the best marketing strategy (since very few of the ideas are related all that well to the current Work In Progress). I wonder if I “should” be getting started on sketching out where I want the next story to go, who the characters are, and so on. I worry that if I do, that I will leave yet another thing unfinished because when I sit down to write I always end up feeling like writing the new idea, instead of working on the second draft I worry that if I don’t, I am doomed to failure as an author.
And then I come home, and I open the second draft, and the first draft with progress marked, and my notes for the various characters, settings and so on, and I plough on with the one that I know I can finish. I struggle with the scenes that should have been in the first draft because at least two significant characters didn’t exist until halfway through the first draft, and I think they should be peripherally there earlier in the book. I struggle with trimming away all the stuff that the reader doesn’t need to know, but I did in the first draft. I revel in seeing the ideas I had turning into better prose and worry that it could still be better. I worry that what I think is good writing is actually dull and leaden, and I get on with doing one thing at a time.
I want to go to the alien invasion story, or I want to take The Last Difficult Conversation and turn it into a novel (although deciding who/what the adversary is going to be, and why, is more of a challenge on that one), or I want to take my erotic short story idea (tentatively titled “Not Having Sex”) about a guy who will do anything except PiV, and the vanilla girl whom he picks up one night, and develop that into an erotic novel.