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Another question

Thanks everyone who answered the question about works-in-progress and the various definitions of what WIP means. After reading all the responses, one in particular seemed to finally allow me to figure out what it was I think these things might have in common.

matociquala said, in response to a question I'd asked, I generally have a number of works in progress, because I find it counterproductive to work straight through on a single project. Generally, I write a few thousand words (between three and ten) of a book, and then stick it aside to ripen while I work on other things. I'm not actually *writing* on multiple books at one time (usually only two, and one of them will take over at some point and push the other one out for a while) but I have a lot of books cooking.

coffeeandink said I also have things I consider in queue but not in progress, because I haven't written any of them, although I may have a sentence or a paragraph in my head. But generally they're unwritten and still accumulating the necessary critical mass.

After thinking about this for a bit, I have a comment, and then a slightly different question.

I need about a year's lead time before I start to break words on a novel. I need it to be sitting in the back of my head, carving out subconscious space in places I haven't begun to consciously think about. I need to think about the things that I can think about, but I realize that I can never completely predict anything with accuracy. I need to let these things settle and sink roots.

But I don't need to do that during writing time. The writing of the novel is a different process; the two aren't the same.

If, however, I start something without the lead-time, I find it much, much harder going. In fact, hard enough that I generally probably acquire a year's worth of lead time in the cracks between the stalling and pauses. I've tried this; it's why I know this about the way I work. My editor knows this and understands it, so between us, we always know which book I'll be writing after I've finished the one that's due.

Keeping this in mind, how many of you can sit down at start writing something right away? How many of you who have many different projects on the go, and who shift between them when one stalls, started those projects without the subconscious lead-in that I have to take? I'm sort of curious because I'm wondering if you're essentially taking that time between multiple projects -- if you're sitting back to let the subconscious work on whichever project has stalled, while moving onto one that has had that backburner time.

Montreal, next post.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
lnhammer
Nov. 16th, 2004 11:48 am (UTC)
Shifting is explicitly simmering time, for me. It's that sometimes I have to get it all down before I can simmer it.

---L.
matociquala
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)
Usually, I start with cooking time, followed by research and cooking time, then I write something to get the characters into my head, followed by more cooking time, and then I write the book--in one or two long pushes.

Sometimes I have to stop in the middle to regroup.

I had to write WORLDWIRED without the cooking time. It was hard.

Hard, Hard, Hard.
dancinghorse
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC)
I operate under the same principles. Can only have one book going at a time, or nothing gets finished. Even if circs force me to have two or three in progress, I have to take six weeks to concentrate on one if I want to get it done.

For series, cooking time is cumulative, so even if I do the official proposal for book 2 or whatever and then start the book fairly soon, it will have been simmering for a year or more under the surface of the previous book.

Multiple projects for me mean too many excuses to drop them all in the middle (aka the muddle).
mizkit
Nov. 16th, 2004 02:48 pm (UTC)
For series, cooking time is cumulative, so even if I do the official proposal for book 2 or whatever and then start the book fairly soon, it will have been simmering for a year or more under the surface of the previous book.

*nodnod* I'm discovering that, too. Useful, that. :)

aka the muddle

*laugh* I feel like I'm in the muddle right now. :)
stakebait
Nov. 16th, 2004 11:48 am (UTC)
how many of you can sit down at start writing something right away?

Depends on the project. Sometimes I have to start right away, before the glorious gestalt of rightness of the idea fades, like writing down a dream as soon as you wake0. Sometimes I've got basically half a story, and will carry it round in my head for years waiting to either get bored with it or have the other half appear.

How many of you who have many different projects on the go, and who shift between them when one stalls, started those projects without the subconscious lead-in that I have to take?

Broken Glass Slippers had no lead in -- or rather, I wrote the beginning of the short story it came from ages ago, but once cadhla convinced me there was a novel in there I started outlining frantically and typing the next afternoon. Middle Prince had years of lead time, though.

if you're sitting back to let the subconscious work on whichever project has stalled, while moving onto one that has had that backburner time.

Often, but not always. It depends on whether the motivation to switch is "stop writing this" or "start writing that".
celeloriel
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:50 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I have to start right away, before the glorious gestalt of rightness of the idea fades, like writing down a dream as soon as you wake.

I think that's so right.

Generally what I produce in those sorts of sessions are notes and drawings and diagrams that give me the huge outline of the plot with the randomest details (favorite color? how will that play in? oooohhh) thrown in as I work it all out.

Anyone else find that the better the idea the more tablespace they need?
mizkit
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:26 pm (UTC)
I work a lot better if it's had time to simmer, too. I do tend to have a lot of half-started projects, some of which aren't any more than a two-page lead-in to an idea I want to develop, some of which are as much as 50K long. Since I've started selling, my focus has been more on the paying projects, but the others still get a little time and attention now and then. I've got about five of them right now... by the time I get to them, I expect they should more or less leap fully formed out of my forehead. :)
zhaneel69
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
Most of my short storise have at least a thread banging around for a while (3 months to 10 years) before I sit down and write them.

Rarely do I polish off something having never thought about it before sitting down (I've done this twice... once I hated the result, the other turned out very well).

So, I don't have a standard lead time. And I know when I'm pushing too early if I sit down and NOTHING comes.

I don't count the subconscious effort as a WIP. It is so deep that I often don't know it is there.

Zhaneel
msagara
Nov. 16th, 2004 01:34 pm (UTC)
I don't count the subconscious effort as a WIP. It is so deep that I often don't know it is there.

I don't count it as a WIP either, but as a part of the necessary process of writing a novel.

So I wouldn't count BLACK GAUNTLET as a WIP, but I often think about it while I'm working on HOUSE WAR. I'd agree with dancinghorse that the series gestalt changes the necessary subconscious time, for me, often shortening it because it's all part of one long story, with appropriate breaks and arcs.
sartorias
Nov. 16th, 2004 03:35 pm (UTC)
The only time I can sit down and write something is a white fire project, real rare. They grab me and just pour out, and I don't have to think about them. (So rare that I can name them all, over forty years of writing novels.)

Otherwise, some need decades of thinking time, some just months. Some need buttloads of rewrites, some come out okay enough...but of course if there's a deadline, that matters as well, as to how 'done' it gets.
verdandiweaves
Nov. 16th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
A year sounds about right to me for a novel. When I finally start writing everything flows and unfolds. I may during the year keep a few notes - but literally less than a thousand words. I also incubate short stories - or at least I think I do. They errupt in threes or fours and then stop.
I seem to take my life-experience and brew it for a long time before it turns to prose.
The exception would be when I am writing a play. I will usually redraft prose two to three times, but I write up to thirty versions of a play - and yet I cannot start until I know what the story is all about.
Writing a play is not disimilar to attempting to turn myself inside out. I am remarkably happy when it is over, but what a process.Whereas writing prose is, for the greater part, a joy.
dendrophilous
Nov. 16th, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC)
I need projects to percolate subconsciously before I sit down to write them - it's not a matter of it stalling, there will be nothing there to stall.

I have three novels on that all got their percolation period. I'm not switching back and forth so much as taking long breaks from the first one.
domynoe
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:23 am (UTC)
My process is . . . a bit different, I think. I take 4 months to "build" my plots from a 3 sentence paragraph gradually up to a full rough draft. I sort of developed it when writing from word the first to word the last failed and failed again and failed yet again. (why it took 3 or 4 tries for me to realize it was the process and not the story idea that wasn't working, i have no idea - slow on the uptake I suppose). The full blown process goes something like this:


» 3 sentence paragraph - very basic, resolution not needed
» 5 sentence paragraph - resolution included
» fill out a plotting form with the main plot, any side plots, the character plots, character interactions, and where the characters end up
» plotting outline using the plotting form
» synopsis narrative that turns outline into a present tense synopsis
» expanded narrative that takes synopsis and expands it and turns it into whatever tense i'm using for the book
» notes draft expands again and turns it into a mix of notes and scenes to help fill out the details
» a building draft expands on the notes draft and sketches the scenes out even more
» the rough draft where I actually write the story and remove any remaining notes


Now that I have a handle on my process, I have to admit that I'm working out which steps I absolutely must have, so steps are getting dropped and picked back up as I try to figure out what I need to get to the end. So far, the last 2 drafts before the rough draft have been combined.

I know it sounds like a long process, but it's not really. I can have a completed rough draft in 4 - 6 months doing this (versus the 14 years it took my first book!), and it makes the rough draft incredibly easy. It's the revising that's been slowing me down, but I think a lot of that has to do what I'm reaching for with the particular novels I've been working on. Other projects I have in mind won't be nearly as brain burning for me.

I must sound nuts. :-/
zhaneel69
Nov. 17th, 2004 09:34 am (UTC)
Not nuts. Just very knowledgable about your own process.

Zhaneel
domynoe
Nov. 17th, 2004 09:43 am (UTC)
I just wish I'd known I couldn't write linear-intuitive 14 years ago.

Then, again, the novels would probably be way different too - I have a much better handle on writing overall now than I did then.
domynoe
Nov. 17th, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
Btw, I should add that this isn't the same for short stories. Because they are short, I can get them down in one sitting, then I spend about a year on revisions, but only because I'm taking a lot of breaks between drafts while I work on the novels. ;)
aynjel
Nov. 17th, 2004 09:20 pm (UTC)
[ how many of you can sit down at start writing something right away? How many of you who have many different projects on the go, and who shift between them when one stalls, started those projects without the subconscious lead-in that I have to take? ]

These are rather hard questions for me to answer because I find so much of what I write come from things I've seen, heard, watched, read, whenever. Everything seems to simmer in my head, so even if I sit down with nothing but an opening line for a story, what comes out is, undoubtedly, the result of, well, living, so I can't say I haven't had the subconscious lead-in time.

If something stalls, I'll either jump to something new (and pray I don't get stuck in an awful series of magpie moments and starts that never finish), or I'll jump to somewhere new in whatever I'm working on. It's possible that the time between putting something to the side when it stalls and picking it up again later is cooking time (as matociquala called it). I don't know. I haven't looked too closely at my process lately because it seems that every time I try to figure it out, and think I'm close, how I deal with things changes, as if I'm constantly trying to fool myself into figuring things out better or at least differently.
radiantfracture
Nov. 19th, 2004 04:41 pm (UTC)
false and true starts
For a novel, er, going on the several not exactly complete ones I've written, I seem to have to have a prolonged false start with it over several weeks or months, then leave it and come back up to a year later to do the full draft. No matter how much momentum I seem to have to begin with, that gap almost always intrudes.

V. frustrating.

Short stories are different for me, and can be written down at once. In fact, they should, or they get stale and much more difficult to work with.

{rf}
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )