25 June 2010

Picking Your Projects

There are those who start a project, then finish the first draft, then go back and edit it a few times, and finally submit it off while they start their next project and work it in the same order.

And then there are people like me…

At the present time, I currently have two full-length novels in work. One is in final edits (and should be complete in the next month or so) before I send it off to the beta readers. The other is in the middle of a first draft.

Add on top of that my short stories, of which I have several in the submission queue (two of which I just finished the final drafts on), one that I finished the first draft on and need to get back into, one that’s still in the first draft mode, and just under a handful that are simply plotlines waiting to be molded.

So, how do I choose which project to work at any given time?

A number of factors go into my decision. Sometimes it’s whatever I feel like working on at any given moment, subject to change on a whim. As an example, I had a great idea a few weeks ago for a short story. I plotted it out and immediately started drafting. A week went by and I got bored with the story so I put it aside. I’ll likely come back to it sometime, but nothing good comes from a writer who sits and stares at the screen for hours, wondering where the story should go (and this, with a plot at the ready).

Sometimes, there’s a more pragmatic method behind the madness. Finishing a project is a great boost, and so a project that’s languishing might need to come to the forefront and be the primary focus until it’s finished. As another example, the novel I’m currently editing was actually taking a back seat to the first draft (of my third Aston novel, which I was working in order to bring out for the fans). At some point, I realized it would be quicker to get this novel completely edited and sent off. Frankly, I think this one might be a really good chance for me to obtain representation (versus the Aston novels, which no agent out there wants to touch), so naturally I’m a bit stoked about finishing it because I think it has real potential in the marketplace. They claim you should never write for what you think will sell, but write what you’re most passionate about. Maybe I’m just passionate about selling lots of books?

Sometimes, things have to happen a certain way to keep the flow moving. As my various short stories get picked up for publication, the number I have in the submission pipeline is reduced. To keep stories out there in queue, I have to generate them in a timely fashion. So, I might take a few weeks here and there to generate three or four more stories for submission.

And then, ultimately, the people paying the bills (editors, magazines and publishers) ultimately have a huge say in what I’m working on. For example, an editor I’m familiar with recently presented me with an opportunity I really wanted in on. Unfortunately, two of my stories that would be involved in working this were just in draft mode. So, I dropped my other projects and went off to edit and polish those two stories. Once all of that was completed, I returned my focus back on completing my edits on this novel.

So, ultimately, there are any number of ways to decide what to work on and when. There’s nothing wrong with working one project at a time, but for the rest of us, variety is the spice of life. Hopefully these suggestions have been helpful, and if you have ways that work well for you that aren’t listed above, feel free to chime in.


T. M. Hunter has always had a fascination with interstellar travel, spacecraft (and aircraft) and beings from other worlds. Twice a top ten finisher in the P&E Readers Poll for his short stories (2007, 2009), his book HEROES DIE YOUNG earned Champagne Books’ Best-Selling Book of 2008 award. FRIENDS IN DEED is his latest novel. For more information, including links to his published short stories and novels, please visit AstonWest.com. You can also find T. M. Hunter (under the Aston West moniker) on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace as well.


  1. This is the second post I've read on the subject today. I'm definitely the first sort of person--work on one project at a time. It gets my undivided attention. I will start something new, though, before I go back for revisions. I think you've presented some good ideas on deciding what to work on. Too bad you can't find an agent with the Aston novels. There are several people in my house who really enjoy those! I hope you'll keep writing them.

  2. I'm with Angie on this one. One project at a time till it's perfection

  3. I don't know how you do it, but like I mentioned, there are some people who can.

    Of course, I've always been a bit strange, so...... ;-)

    Glad to hear they're enjoyed, Angie...and I don't have any plans to stop writing Aston stories and novels anytime soon.

    When you start a new project before going back for revisions, when do you go to it?

    I'm hoping to finish edits on THE CURE this month (though it may be early next month) and send it out for beta reading...it'll be a tough call what gets pulled next from the queue. I'd forgotten to mention the novella I had half-edited as well. Oops.

    Still thinking I'll go ahead and finish the first draft of the 3rd Aston novel, though.

  4. It's kind of hard to answer that. I spent so many years writing short stories, which didn't require much revision that I'm used to just going from one project to the next fairly quickly. My first novel sat for TEN YEARS before I went back and revised it. I'm not going to do that this time. I think as soon as my husband finishes proofreading, I'll read through the novel again and make my own revisions, but until that happens, I want something to write or I'll go crazy. I usually edit a lot as I'm writing, so revisions are usually pretty easy. I hope to have a solid idea to work on next week.

  5. I try to work on one thing at a time, but I always have other projects to divert to. This is good if you write nonfic as well as fiction. With nonfic you can be at the mercy of slowdowns in research, like waiting for a book or microfilm to arrive at the library, so it helps to be able to move on.

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  7. I'm right there with you, Angie. I have to be writing something or I go crazy as well. In fact, someone (I guess a reporter of some sort) asked me why I wrote today at the signing. My response: Because I just have to.


    Yup, I could definitely see a number of obstacles to a steady workflow in nonfiction as well, Robert.

    Thanks everyone for stopping by!

  8. I am a self-admitted multi-tasking addict...I love nothing more than having several things to juggle at once.


    When it comes to writing, I really have to focus on one thing at a time. I can't even write a short story while I'm writing or editing a novel.

    So, while I do set things aside for awhile and pick up something else before returning (ie, draft five of one novel, draft two of another novel) I'm pretty much a one project writer.

  9. Heh...maybe I'm the only multi-tasking fiction writer out there? :-D


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