Too Many Cooks

I have a problem.

It’s a pretty severe one for a writer to have, and it’s common. Among a group of people, it’d be easy to classify my issue as a matter of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” But I’m one person, and that’s compounds the issue. I can’t kick anyone out of the kitchen, because all of the chefs are me. Now, I’m not claiming a multiple personality disorder (although anyone who’s seen me before noon knows that Morning Chris is the Hyde to the mild-mannered Jekyll of Rest-of-Day Chris), but I do have primal forces warring with one another in my brain.

They’re all telling me what to write next.

It’s not that I’m low on concepts. Most writers don’t suffer from a lack thereof. Any good author will tell you that ideas are cheap. We come up with a dozen other stories we could be telling while working on the current one or two. That, by the way, is the reason why no self-respecting author has ever responded to the proposal, “Hey, I have this great idea and I want you to write it!” with anything more than a scornful laugh. It’s not because we’re jerks. It’s because our dozens of ideas are just as good as yours or better, and they have the benefit of being ours.

(Okay, that was kind of a jerky thing to say. I’m at peace with it.)

Some writers can work on multiple projects at once. For me, there can be only one. Because of this, since finishing Binder’s Blood, all of my concepts have been fighting one another like deranged Highlanders in my brain. I’ve come up with a few conclusions to grease the path to the coming Quickening.

The Wrath of Sequelitis. The moment I finished my second edit of this story, I said to myself, “I want to know what happens next.” Though the story I told was self-contained, there are some obvious hooks for a sequel. If there weren’t, resisting the temptation to continue would be easy. But here’s the issue: I don’t have an agent. I don’t know if this book will draw one, and I certainly don’t have the audacity to hope it’ll garner a publisher’s interest overnight. I’m proud of this piece, but I also want to be a working author. Right now, I don’t have the career luxury to throw good words after bad. So no, no sequel for Kal and his plucky crew of binders. Yet.

Sequels are a great path for writers who have a book contract in hand, especially one that mandates continuing or concluding a story they’ve already begun. For me, the best thing I can do is move on and try something vastly different. Which brings me to…

Nostalgia, Interrupted. Remember how I said ideas are cheap? They’re also numerous. Bunnies on Viagra numerous. My journey so far is littered with the aborted beginnings of no few stories. It’s tempting to pick up work on Champion or Songs of the Flame, or other works with dumber working titles. So tempting that you can call me Tantalus. I love my old stuff. Every story had a bit of gusto to it that I’m finding harder to recreate as I mature.

They’re also crap. Each tale that I picked up and put back down, I rejected because it wasn’t what I was looking to write. As tantalizing as it is to seek shelter in my old stuff, anything that I pick up and dust off is going to need plot doctoring to the point that it will almost be unrecognizable from the tale I loved. I’m okay with killing darlings. I’m that guy who cheered when Ned Stark’s head went for a solo stroll at the end of A Game of Thrones. But I’m not sure I’m all right with shattering the rose-colored lenses through which I view some of my earlier work just to turn them into something functional. So there’s always the last option.

Trying New Things. This sounds like it should be easy, right? There are a figurative ton of ideas duking it out in my head, punctuated by quips in a terrible Christopher Lambert impersonation. I should be able to pluck one or two, force them to get it on (I’ll bring beer), and abduct the resulting story from its spent parents. Turns out that it’s not so easy.

Having ideas is not the same as having good ideas. Having good ideas is not the same as having writable ideas. And even the ideas that are good and writable come under some suspicion. You see, completing a book is immensely freeing, but it can also be crippling. The next work can’t be too similar, or it’s just the first step on the road to M. Night Shyamalan one-trick ponyhood. No one wants that.

So I’m tossing things together. Seeing what works. Starting with characters, or with setting concepts that enthrall me. I don’t yet know what I’m going to work on next, but I feel like it’s sitting there, just beyond my grasp.

And on that, at least, the cooks agree.