“There is the risk you cannot afford to take; there is the risk you
Most career novelists are blessed with more story ideas than it’s possible for any one person to develop in a lifetime. How does a writer decide which of the multitude of ideas to develop into story next?
In NINC Member Mary Jo Putney’s November 1994 Nink article “Setting Goals and Making Choices,” she discussed how your career goal influences your choices. “I usually have half a dozen story ideas simmering, but the next book I write is always the one I think is most likely to take my career where I want it to go.”
She continued, “I don’t know if my decisions are always the right ones but I always try to make them based on a balance between rational business considerations and emotional, creative considerations.”
I asked Mary Jo how she would answer the question, “How do I decide which book to write next?” today, almost 20 years further along in her career, when her published books have reached beyond historicals and Regencies to YA novels and stories with fantasy elements.
“I would still say the same,” she responded, “but with the addendum that indie publishing has opened up wonderful creative opportunities. I’m still going to write the book that is best for my career goals — this is my career, not my hobby. But if I have the time, I can also write the oddball project that will satisfy the Muse.
Maybe it won’t make a lot of money, but it will make me happy. Having other creative outlets means we’re less likely to get bored with the career-building books. I’ve written a whole lot of Regency historicals, and I still enjoy them — but if I hadn’t wandered into other fields along the way, I might have gone stale. Usually the other fields are fantasy, and writing such stories sends me refreshed back to the bread and butter historical.”
A few years ago NINC member Edie Claire posted to NINClink that she felt her best chances for a quick sale were to either rewrite a finished book to please a picky editor or to complete a proposal that was twothirds done. “But can I work on either of these projects?” she wrote. “Of course not. Because some $#@# Muse I’ve never even seen before hijacked my brain last week and will not let me think about anything except ‘project 3,’ a grandiose, time-consuming, and implausible book that I know I will never finish, much less sell. I keep telling the Muse I need money and that I’m not interested in her stupid, time-wasting, pie-in-the-sky ideas, but the wench has a Glock to my temple and she just won’t let up. Help! What can I do? Is Musecide a crime?”
I suspect there aren’t many of us who haven’t been in her shoes at some point.
Edie sought advice from NINC members. One contingent believed the new idea was a form of selfsabotage to keep her from the hard work of completing a serious project, that she should kill off the Muse and get back to her “real” work. Others suggested working on the new project as a reward after completing her daily work on one of the earlier projects. Some believed she should take a short break to write down the basics of the story, then set it aside and finish the almost-completed projects.
“I’m always hesitant trying to do in a Muse,” former NINC member Karen Harbaugh wrote. “The last time my Muse hijacked me, I ended up with more than twice the money I had made before, and wouldn’t you know it, she did it just when I was the most financially strapped and thinking I should go with the same old