Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Long to Wait

I've asked this question of my writing group.

I've asked this question of the vast world of Twitter.

And now I'm turning to you.

How long do you wait between finishing one writing project and starting a new one?

I ask because I am not doing what I normally do. See, I have to focus on only one project at a time. HAVE TO. If I start thinking about another project, I will drop the first, never finish it, and always sort of regret that little story that might have been. So when I write--in all stages of writing, from planning to editing--I am entirely, 100% focused on that one project.

But I always know that I'm done with that one project when I start thinking of another one. I knew I was done with my MG WIP because when I sat down to work, I couldn't think of anything else to add, change, or edit on that WIP...I was thinking of a new story by that point. Coming up with a new idea, new plot, new story is my personal signal to move on--because otherwise, I'd worry a story like a dog worries a bone.

But when I look at my current WIP, the YA SF...I think it's done. I look at it and am satisfied that this is the best I can do. I read through it without thinking of what to change. I have a sense of closure with it--to me, now, it's done.

(That said, there's every chance that if it wracks up a ton of rejections or something I may re-evaluate and go back to it. I'm not so stubborn that I don't think it needs work--I just don't see how I can do anything to it now.)

This should be about the time that I come up with a new idea. A new story to write.

But I'm not.

I think perhaps this problem is because my YA was so emotionally draining to write. I made a real effort to write with my finger on my characters' emotional pulse, to draw out the pain. I made an effort to make things worse for my characters--worse and worse, and not just physically. Even the ending, which is not entirely happy, is one that was draining to write in such a way that after writing it, I felt, literally, exhausted.

It was tiring to write it, too, in that I tried to make the language beautiful. With this work, I didn't focus just on story (as I am apt to do), but also on the actual written language, trying to make the turns of phrases beautiful, struggling to find the right words in each situation.

But either way I look at it, for whatever reason, when I try to tap that creative well now and move on...I'm coming up dry.

It's a very very strange reality for me. I am usually a fast writer, and I usually have between 2 to 3 good book ideas in me per year. But here it is September, and I'm still not untangled from the work I started in January.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you have to take a break from writing when you finish a project? What do you do when the ideas run dry?


Natalie said...

I take breaks sometimes--when my home life gets crazy or I don't have a new idea I'm passionate enough about. I don't let myself spend too long without writing though. After a week or two I start writing just so I can write (even if I'm not totally into the story). Often I'll get a new idea while practice writing and then I can delve into the new story that I really want to finish.

storyqueen said...

I am a different sort....I have several books that I am working on at a time. It takes longer to get to the finish line, but something is always in progress.

However, I have interim times as well. What I do it make files of possibilities. (Now that you really KNOW your own process, it may be hard to commit to a project until you know it's worthy). Make some files and jots some notes, scenes, line from books you'd LIKE to write.

Pretty soon, one will take over and demand to be written.

Good Luck!


Vonna Carter said...

Like Shelly, I always have several books in various stages of planning. I keep the files on my desktop so whenever inspiration strikes I am ready to jot down the notes. I love the feeling of security I get when I see those novels-in-waiting.

Sage Ravenwood said...

If your waiting for replies from queries, agents or even publishers - It can be a long wait. Go ahead and start that next book. A writer needs to have that creative process flowing constantly. Once you finally get that call you want to have something else on the burner to offer up. (Hugs)Indigo

PJ Hoover said...

I have a hard time starting something new when a project has just gone out on submission. I find it takes a couple weeks for my brain to get past the tension aspect of this.
So take your break and use it to read a ton.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Agents who blog will tell you once you've completed one WIP and started to query that manuscript, it's time to start a new one. I agree with that. Although, if an idea strikes me, I will take the time to plot it out without thinking too hard about it. I basically want to get the idea down. Then, I go back to my WIP.

Lynnette Labelle

Heather Zundel said...

I like PJ's advice. A break to clear the senses has always helped me. And with all that reading, something is bound to inspire you. But if you are itching to write something, go read some unknown fairy tales until one strikes you and go write a short story on it. Good luck. :)

Clementine said...

I think that's a personal choice. I know with me, it was a couple of months before I could embrace a new character. I had to "come down" from one world before I could immerse myself in another. I spent the in between time jotting down ideas for a new story, but at the same time letting my brain recharge.

Scott said...

Once upon a time . . . many projects all gathered together in the frying pan, some in the center, some on the outer edges, and some just waiting to be dropped in with the rest of the eggs.

Then . . . pretty much one project at the time, beginning to end.

Now . . . one project at a time, though I will work on other things in between draft stages. For example - finish rough of one project, start rough on other project, begin phase two of first project, finish phase two, start phase two of next project.

So, my philosophy regarding my writing has changed over time. Since I always need space between draft phases of a project, the space in between is normally a good time to write the rough draft of a new project, or an editing phase of another project.


Elana Johnson said...

Well, I work on different projects simultaneously, so I'm not the best judge. I have ideas that just simmer in my brain for months. Then they might explode out while I'm in the middle of something else. Okay, really it's when I'm at the end of something else. I have a real problem writing endings. So I usually distract myself by writing something else. I do fear the day when I just can't think of something new to write. But I've felt like that before, and the next idea always comes. It will for you too.

lotusgirl said...

It sounds like this YA story is drawing your best out of you. I'm not a good judge of this sort of thing. I don't have enough experience. Good luck figuring it out. I'd love to see what you've got in this new story. It sounds interesting.

Pen Pen said...

In my experience, don't just do normal stuff when u have no idea what to write about. I take a drive to somewhere interesting and watch people-I don't go far-but I do go somewhere I have never been on like a day trip. That usually triggers a little something in me. OR- I have my boyfriend tell me his dreams-which usually trigger ideas too. It's always good to take a break when ur overloaded from an emotional piece tho! The longest I've waited was 2 months.

Christina Farley said...

I totally see your point. And I think every story is different. Some stories we write are fun and easy and light, while others we have to reach deeper to grasp. And that may just be what happened in this case.

I'm a big fan now of taking two months off. December and July. During those months, I'll blog and jot ideas down and participate in my critique groups, but really it's a time for me to daydream. Imagine. And read all those books I really want to read.

There is something powerful in letting your imagination just run wild.