Friday, 27 April 2012

So Many Projects, So Little Time

I must confess that I've been a bit of a creative butterfly of late. I have trouble settling to a new project when I have something out on submission, because there's always the hope in the back of my mind that someone could email me in high excitement and pull me into another round of revision. It's been compounded this time by the fact that I've had an unusually large number of good ideas for a new novel (five and counting), and I can't decide which one to pick.

Children's writers do like to dabble, so I'm by no means in bad company. Maureen Lynas's post earlier this month proved that, with an amazing laundry list of all the different types of books she's written over the last twelve years. I felt a bit of a fake contributing to that discussion, because over the last nine years since I began writing for children, I've managed exactly three finished books (and a couple of abandoned works in progress).

As a part-time writer, I don't have the luxury of committing to multiple projects or the financial pressure of needing to in order to make ends meet. I'm a pretty analytical person (as I'm sure you've noticed by now), so I like to weigh every decision I make very carefully. For instance, one of the ideas I've had for a new book is conceptually brilliant (he said modestly), with a really strong pitch and hook. I spent a couple of weeks thinking about how I might write it and fine-tuning the voice. But no matter how much I progress the project technically, it just doesn't grab me emotionally. I think this links in to what Sara Grant was saying this week at the SCBWI Professional Series. Sara - being very process-minded as befits a Working Partners editor - prepares a bullet point summary of every novel idea she has, giving special attention to what is at the emotional heart of the story. If she can't find that connection and reason for writing the book, she doesn't proceed with it.

Writing a novel is a long, hard business, but your passion for the story has to extend way past the end of that process - into submission, through those meetings with editors and eventually out into the real world with promotion, marketing, etc. Picking a story just because it's interesting or challenging, isn't necessarily going to cut the mustard. So, approaching the problem from a different angle, I started wondering about what was grabbing me emotionally at the moment. I realised that a lot of the issues I was trying to work out in my last book were still hanging around – I hadn't achieved closure, so much as reached a fictional climax. Thus, the question became one of wondering how I might tackle those issues in a fresh way, and hopefully develop some more as a person, as I take another journey with my characters.

Will this latest novel idea be the one that finally compels me to get started? It's early days - so we'll see - but one of the things I've definitely learned over the last few years is this: A good idea is not enough – if you don't believe in it, your book is still going to suck.



  1. This is also relates to what Patrick Ness said at LBF about feeling that each book may be our last, and that we, therefore, have to put everything of ourselves into it. Another great post, Nick!

  2. Jane - I was quite influenced by what Patrick said, especially the part where he stated that no-one was interested in the books he wrote for other people, only the ones he wrote for himself. I think the phrase he used about writing a book was that you should always "shoot for the moon." Good advice.

  3. oh Nick, I've got the same dilemma at the moment three YA novels plotted and started plus one for younger readers, but ! can't settle on which to proceed with. Soooo frustrating! How's about a raffle to choose?

  4. Great to hear about all those book ideas, Nick! And yes, go for the one that tugs hardest at your heart, especially if it's the one that scares you the most, too. Can't wait to see what you choose!

  5. Just write the one with the most zombies. Or crabs.

    One day I'll have a serious comment to post...

  6. Thanks for this. I can relate with too many pb projects on the boil. A good idea, or even serious comments or encouraging feedback aren't enough. Even when something else more interesting or challenging even, there's something about characters the emotional pull of characters. How they can pull at you, wanting attention like kids. Maybe they can pull you to the moon if you let them?