There’s a wonderful sense of freedom that comes at the end of a book project. After being locked into one idea for a year or two or three, you’re free to do whatever you like, experiment, play. But then, at some point (the point I’m at now), you’ve got to decide on THE NEXT PROJECT.
Once you’ve settled on it, you know it’s going to be with you for a long time. It’ll be the first thing you think about in the morning. It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night demanding to be tended to. So choosing the right project is very important.
Right now, I’ve got three potential projects on my desk, and they are all appealing in different ways:
Project A: My space novel
I’ve been working on this novel, set partly in space, since Instruction Manual For Swallowing came out in 2007. I’ve rewritten it from scratch three times now. And it’s still faulty. A fourth draft will have to be started from the blank page again.
I’m in love with the idea at the core of the novel, and I keep exploring it from different angles, setting the start and end points of the story at different points in time, trying out different narrative methods. But every time it falls far short of my vision for it.
I worry that it’s beyond my current capabilities, and I couldn’t bear to spend years more on this thing and have it beat me again.
Project B: The goose novella
I’ve mainly been a planner throughout my writing career so far. I like to know where the story will go before I start it. My early attempts at making the story up as I go along were failures – I’ve got three abandoned novels hidden in my attic. But I kept reading interviews with other writers who said that making it up as they went along was the only way they could work (my hero, Haruki Murakami is in this camp), so I thought I’d give it another go.
I sat down this summer and began writing about a girl re-organising her flat and just let it flow out from there. I wrote 25k words in a couple of months, not putting any pressure on myself to build a story, trying to let my unconscious do the work.
I got into a good flow with it, but was then interrupted by some other writing commitments. This novella has sat half-finished on my desk every since.
There was something liberating about working without a plan, but now that the story has gone cold, I’m not so excited about it as I was before. For some reason it has a goose as a central character. I know very little about geese, and I’m not sure I’m sufficiently motivated to invest time in researching goose-care.
Project C: New short stories
I like nothing better than to sit in front of a blank page at the start of a new project. Those first stages of a new story are always wonderful, when you tug on the thread of an idea and it all comes flying out almost too fast to get it down.
Short stories are my comfort zone. They are a pleasure to write. With short stories, I’m free to take risks, to experiment. The creative potential is enormous. And there is the satisfaction of regularly completing something. Plus, my Evernote folder is full of story ideas awaiting development.
Where to go?
A big part of me is very keen to start on new short stories. But then another part of me pines for the bigger canvasses of my longer projects. (And to not be beaten by them.) And after investing so much time already in the space novel especially, I’m anxious about abandoning it and losing what could be – if I succeed in realising it on the page – exactly the kind of book I would most like to read myself.
I guess what I’ve got is FOMO. Fear of missing out. That if I choose one project, I might choose the wrong one and never know whether one of the others would have been more successful.
I can’t just line them all up and work on one project at a time – there’s a potential four, five, six years of work sitting on my desk. Over that time, I’ll have other ideas I’ll want to pursue.
I’m really lost with it. Indecisiveness is my character flaw. One of my flaws. You should see me trying to decide what to buy for dinner in a supermarket. It’s embarrassing.
I sometimes imagine what inspirational mentors might say if I chatted through problems with them. Right now, I’m imagining sitting in Starbucks with Seth Godin describing to him the dilemma I’ve just described to you. I’m pretty sure he would advocate the high-risk, high potential gain of the space novel.
But then again…
I don’t know. What would you do?