The Pull of Projects – Inspiration or Sabotage?
Many people, be they writers or in any other field, sabotage themselves by not finishing what they start. Whether it’s a stack of half-written projects or a stash of partially knitted pieces, unfinished work drains creative energy. If you drop something any time you get an adrenalin rush for something new, you won’t reach your goals. You’ll just hoard unfinished projects, which causes depression and anxiety.
At the same time, sometimes a project moves forward and demands attention. So what do you do?
First of all, it depends on the type of schedule you’re on. If someone else is counting on you to finish a project by a particular deadline, you do it. Whether or not you feel inspired; whether or not another project is pulling at you. Especially if you’re on a paid contract. You don’t have the right to screw up someone else’s schedule because you’re flaky.
If you’re in a situation that’s negative on many fronts, that’s something different. Then, you either fulfill your obligation as quickly as possible and make sure you don’t get in that situation again, or you find a replacement and withdraw gracefully.
But you don’t do that high-pitched little giggle and blame The Muse because YOU are unreliable.
Sometimes, however, you have to have enough flexibility to rearrange your schedule and deadlines to accommodate an additional project or a new opportunity. If you’re offered an outstanding opportunity, you don’t say no, and you especially don’t use the “I don’t have time” excuse. People who don’t MAKE time for opportunities soon find that Opportunity goes and knocks on someone else’s door – someone who will invite her in.
You factor in:
–how much you want to do this particular project
–how it fits into the overall vision for your career
–how much you’re being paid
–how many other people your participation or non-participation affects and where those individuals fit into your life
–how much time you have to MAKE in your schedule to add the project in and keep up with your other commitments.
So what if you’re tired? Get up earlier; go to bed later for a few weeks. Spend less time on your cell phone, on social media, or watching TV. Make your creative work your focus.
I’m facing a current dilemma about rearranging a couple of novels on this year’s roster. I’m nearly finished with the draft of DEATH OF A CHOLERIC – behind where I wanted to be, but I’m close. I can taste it. I’m pushing ahead to get it done, so it can marinate, and then I can come back to it with fresh eyes, do another draft (or two or three), put together my submission package, and get it out there.
The next novel on my roster is TIE-CUTTER, which I started last year. It has a slower innate pace than the mystery, and it was one of the two novels I wrote in tandem during last year’s Nano (the other being CHOLERIC). It’s also a very different direction for my writing. Originally, it was supposed to be completed in March. Because CHOLERIC is behind, so is TIE-CUTTER, so that deadline will have to be adjusted.
However, I’m pulled very strongly by the novel that’s supposed to be third on the year’s list, after TIE-CUTTER, called SONGBOUND SISTERS. That was originally started last August in a workshop; people loved it and encouraged me to continue. I put it aside because of other commitments, such as Nano and, at the time, BALTHAZAAR TREASURE (before I knew my publisher was going to shut its doors). I decided to put it on this year’s roster – it’s a fantasy novel, not completely outside what I usually do, but more epic sword-and-sorcery than urban fantasy.
I had SONGBOUND SISTERS with me when I went to the retreat in Vermont at the end of January. That is the piece I read in our work sessions – mostly because I had a bit of remove, and it is detrimental for me to read something to others I’ve just worked on that day. Again, SONGBOUND got a terrific response. I was confident in keeping it on the roster for this year.
I’m winding up the CHOLERIC draft – and SONGBOUND is pulling at me strongly. So, I’m considering flipping SONGBOUND with TIE-CUTTER. I’ve been making notes as ideas come to me – I haven’t written my way into it enough for my Writer’s Rough outline, although I have a general idea of the book’s shape. But SONGBOUND is filling the waking hours away from my writing, much the way CHOLERIC has done the previous months. Therefore, it makes more sense to work on SONGBOUND.
Why can I do this flip? Because neither book is under a contracted deadline. Do I have people who’ve requested First Look at all four novels this year? Yes. But it wasn’t on the typical meet-and-greet, what-do-you-have, send-it-in-48-hours. The First Look agreements came out of more casual conversations that sparked interest.
Flipping these two novel projects doesn’t affect the contracted deadlines – the two plays. The first one is still due on June 1; the second still due on November 1. Those are worked alongside the novels. I spend a portion of my writing day on whatever novel has the primary focus, then I switch to the play of the day, or the other way around.
When I go into edits for CHOLERIC, I will be drafting whatever is the primary novel of the time, writing the play, and editing CHOLERIC. All will need to be balanced in the time I have – and, if need be, I’ll work later at night or get up earlier in the morning.
There will be other projects inserted as well – freelance articles, revisions on the scripts that are currently out, new script commissions, short stories. Once the rights revert to me at the end of this month for the pieces published by Amber Quill, I have to take a breath, decide what’s next with each of them, and move forward on that. Several of the shorter pieces need companion pieces written for them before they can go out again. And new covers.
I have several pieces out on submission – they will need additional work once they go to contract. Plus I have other job responsibilities and my work as a Trustee of the Marine Life Center. And things like the garden and the house and the cooking – chop wood, carry water.
And there are other pieces demanding to be written, that are being developed through a few dozen pages here and there, with an eye to adding them to the schedule as possible, without overbooking myself.
That is how a career is built, and how it is maintained. Accept commitments that move you forward and be unrelentingly reliable once you agree; refuse what does not excite you or pay you well.
To what will I say no? Unpaid “work”. This month, I’m about to give my last speech without pay. The person who invited me to speak only accepts paying gigs – why shouldn’t I? That doesn’t mean I’ll never in my life do another freebie, but not for the foreseeable future. I’ve already changed my freelance business to focus on marketing writing and script work. When I do editing work, I’ll only take jobs from a publisher, not from an individual writer. That will cut the frustration level because the writing will have already been vetted at least once before I get it, and publishers (usually) are more reliable about paying than individuals. The unpaid work is where I “don’t have time”.
It’s always a delicate balance between being flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities that come up in a way that means you finish what you start, and that each project builds on the previous one. It can be done. But only if you put in the work.