An idea wakes you up. Stumbling to where a notebook and pen wait—no time for the computer to boot before the idea evaporates—you scrawl in a half-asleep daze.
Perhaps an idea pops into your head during a walk (or any of a thousand instances—why is it always when I’m in the shower?) and you scratch it out on anything handy. It’s not perfect, you know, just a seed of the “greatest damn idea you’ve ever had.”
Take a deep breath.
Ideas streak through your mind many times every day, but not all are worthy of a story or novel. It doesn’t matter; write them down anyway. Testing ideas to ensure they are worthy of the time needed to mold them into a completed project is the next crucial step. Not all ideas, no matter how great they at first appear, are worthy.
Writing projects take time. Validating an idea worthy of a novel, especially, can save months of gut-wrenching agony when you realize, at page 201, the story has no destination.
My wife and I have owned and operated several businesses. We approached starting or purchasing a business with a set of tough questions geared to making the best decision based on information available at the time: This is referred to as Due Diligence.
Determining whether a writing project is worthy incorporates a similar Due Diligence process, which includes answering questions about the Costs, the Value, and the Expectations.
The cost of writing is the approximate time required to complete a project. Unlike a business (whether online or brick-and-mortar) where tangibles exist—wages, taxes, equipment, travel time, rent, luring potential customers—writing has its own set of rules.
For me, a blog post takes between 2-4 hours; a short story may take a month or two; I calculate writing a novel at 1 year. Each of these approximates include several drafts and many edits.
The cost of writing invariably falls to time. How much time you set aside each day dictates output. 500 words a day equals 15,000 words a month—2 to 4 short stories (more if Flash Fiction), 8-12 blog posts, or 20% of a 75,000 word novel. Considering most writers have numerous projects in the works simultaneously, monthly completion is combined across varied projects.
Prioritizing the ideas comes when you have determined the worthiness of each project.
Valuating a story or novel idea gets dicey. A great deal of thought is required to estimate if the seed idea is worth pursing to completion, not to mention the emotional upheaval caused when things don’t go right.
The idea must have great value to you, first and foremost. Taking an idea and transforming it into a full-fledged story will become an integral part of your life; you live with the characters, become them, anguish with them, and share in their joys. Many craft issues will also present themselves over the course of creation.
As best you can (and this is difficult), at this point remove emotion from the equation.
Secondly, the story must have value for your reader. Is the story unique? Are the characters’ lives intriguing and their goals reasonable to pursue? Must the story be told?
Answering these questions enhances your decision of whether to proceed.
Expectation starts with completing the story. Why else begin if you don’t plan to finish?
A caveat: No matter how much the Due Diligence convinces you to write a story, some languish in spite of your best efforts. At some point—hopefully not on page 201 of the novel—you realize the story has not gestated enough. That’s fine, and it’s okay to put it aside a while longer to allow your subconscious to figure out the rough spots. Regardless, the plan is to finish the story at some point. I have dozens of ideas awaiting my attention when my subconscious informs me the story is ready to continue.
If you plan to sell the story, whether to a magazine editor, agent, or publisher, is the idea fresh enough and the writing strong enough to withstand the scrutiny? This is a hazy gray area.
Less than perfect stories sell all the time, even dreadful stories make it past an editor’s icy glare. There is no accounting for taste, and that is true within the publishing world as anywhere else.
If your desire is to publish, especially in the traditional sense where somebody pays for your writing, several things can be done to improve your odds: beta readers, critique groups, a professional editing, etc.
Whether seeking the traditional path or self publishing, write the best you are able, compose a story only you can tell, and finish it. First Draft, editing, Second Draft, editing—repeat until the story satisfies the best you can do.
Some ideas demand to be written—they consume you. When this happens, forget the Due Diligence and write: evaluation can come later. When in the throes of the electric creative energy, get it down on paper. The story will not be complete at this point, but writing as much as possible makes the evaluation process easier, and in the long run is the best course of action.
No amount of planning guarantees success; too many variables can occur to derail even the greatest of ideas. But determining that an idea is worthy of the investment is the only way to tilt the pendulum in your favor.
In the end, you must believe in the idea with every fiber. Yes, there will be roadblocks, setbacks, and push-backs, and only your complete confidence in the idea will enable you to leap past the many hurdles toward your goal.
If there are no hurdles in your life, you are not running the race.
When the story or novel is the best you can do at this point in your career, send it to an editor or agent. A Writer writes, an author submits.
See you on the next page,
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