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On the Interbook Indecision


Right now, I’m in that horrible place between WIPs. I’ve put two (very different) WIPs to bed, wrapped up both beta reader feedback and revisions on one, and am now awaiting the final pass on another. This means the two books are far off in the back of my mind, no longer front-and-center. Theoretically, this should free me up to focus on a new book. But I’ve once again run into what I call the Interbook Indecision, and it’s driving me batty. I wonder, do others run into this?

What is the Interbook Indecision?

It’s a heady feeling to finish a book. Finishing that first draft and typing “The End” is awesome. Of course, that is never the end: revisions, beta reads, more revisions, sometimes more beta reads, etc. all await until the project is judged “good enough” to go out to agents and editors (which itself prefigures yet more passes).

For me, doing revisions and awaiting beta reads translates into lots of waiting: either I’m waiting for a WIP to “settle” in my brain so that I can approach it fresh, or I’m waiting for beta readers to get back to me. Since the WIP is done – or at least paused while I wait – I find my writing time idle. And that’s no way to run a railroad.

At this stage, I usually start working on a new concept. At first, it’s easy going: I’m excited by the idea, interested by the voice and the characters I’m creating, and I’m having fun with it. Coming off of the book-finishing routine of writing one to two thousand words a day, I find it’s pretty easy to make a sizable dent in a new project. But then something comes up.

Usually at the 10 – 15 thousand word mark, I run into one of those typical writerly problems: I realize the pacing is broken, character motivation needs re-working, plot sequence is out of whack. Whatever it is, it’s a relatively minor problem. I’ve faced – and solved – similar problems before, so I think…no big deal! I’ll just give it a little thought, figure out the solution, fix it, and be back on the road in no time.

Only it never works out that way.

I give it a little thought, sure. But it’s always at this point that I get distracted by a shiny new idea like some sort of creative jackdaw. So I’ll write a chapter or three of the new idea – just to test the waters, of course, to clear the creative palate – and see if it feels like a story with legs. And of course, I’ll forget that when you’ve only written several thousand words, every story seems to have real legs. And here arises the Interbook Indecision.

I’ll have two stories (or sometimes more) which are all interesting, exciting, and fun (for me, which I think is a prerequisite for readers eventually feeling the same). I’m not (at least not yet – maybe some day!) one of those writers who can produce two decent books at the same time. I find that writing a book takes a great deal of concentration, but having two projects that (to me) seem equally viable is naturally inimical to that focus.

So what to do?

My Favorite Solution: Phone-a-Friend

Whenever the Interbook Indecision strikes, I know that I’ve lost perspective. Having written four book-length projects in the last three years (and two in the last year alone), I know that I have the ability to finish either of the projects open before me. But determining which I should finish – or the order in which I should tackle them – may simply be beyond me. So that’s when I seek an outside opinion.

At some point, I’ll have an agent and an editor who might provide feedback and help me choose between warring concepts. Until then, however, I rely on The Professor’s editorial insight. Having her unvarnished opinion helps me to prioritize my projects, keeps me on-target, and focused enough to finish the next book. (full disclosure: the fact that each time I finish a book, she knits me a pair of awesome socks helps, too.)

Yet even with her sharp editorial eye, this process isn’t without its challenges. She (thankfully) has no qualms about telling me when a concept falls flat. But she draws an intelligent distinction between “I don’t like this concept” and “This concept isn’t for me, so I can’t really judge.” And when I hear that, it just means the judgment call has been bounced back to me…when, as I’ve already stated, I’ve lost perspective on the choice.

The Backup Solution: Finding the Core of the Story

So lacking the perspective to judge between two options, and with my Phone-a-Friend option coming up flat, the decision comes back to me. In this situation, what I find helpful is to take each of the stories and try to identify the core nugget within that initially caught my interest.

This is – at least for me – a more difficult process than one might think. When I write a story, there are layers to my own motivation and those layers are ever-shifting based on a wide variety of factors (e.g. my mood, stress outside of writing, what I had for lunch that day, etc.). Yet underlying those layers is a solid foundation, the core of what made me excited to sit down and write the book in the first place. Once I’ve figured out what that core is, I’ll often find that one foundation is more exciting than the other. I’ll also often find that one foundation is otherwise more stable than the other (for example, I’m often prey to fascination with a particular voice, and so might want to play with that voice even when the underlying story is relatively weak).

It’s really a question of figuring out which core concept makes me rub my hands together in child-like glee the most. And once I’ve done that, it’s a question of committing to that project with the conscious acceptance that I’ll see it through to The End.

I wish that this process were easier, or that it were faster. This Interbook Indecision has hit me after each finished WIP, so it’s part of the writing process that I must learn to work through. With four finished projects, I think I’m building a way to do it. Between outside opinion, introspection, and examination, I’ve built a method that (so far) works for me, even if it’s not fast. The consideration and weighing of choices takes time, and it is annoying in that when I’m considering I find myself not writing. If I don’t write, the story doesn’t get finished, and that is incredibly frustrating. But this Interbook Indecision may be part of my mental composition as a writer: something I need to accept and deal with, as a natural consequence of finishing a book.

Thankfully, I’ve already started to refine my method. And if neither outside help or careful consideration helps? I guess I can always flip a coin. But it hasn’t come to that yet.

Does anyone else run into this Interbook Indecision? I know others get distracted by shiny new book ideas when they’re about three quarters done with a WIP, but does anyone else get distracted when they’re 10 – 15% into one? If so, how do you deal with it and settle on a project to finish?

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