For anybody who doesn’t know, a WIP stands for a ‘Work In Progress’, and if you know anyone who is an artist in any form, I can guarantee they have gone through a time where they have dozens upon dozens upon dozens of WIPs smothering them. Perhaps that will be in the form of folders filled with half-completed ideas, or notebooks crammed with concepts that need fleshing out. Maybe it will come in the form of sketchpads sitting on shelves with half in line art and the others only partially coloured. Even further, it’s possible there will be scarves with needles still stuck in an incomplete pattern, scrap pieces of paper with lyrics scribbled on them, sketched canvases littering an attic just waiting for their artist to return to put some oil paint over the pencil. If you know an artist, this is a life they have surely led at one point.
I’ve been living this life for a few years now. I am incredible at creating new ideas and new scenarios, new characters, new scenes. It’s what I live for, and so I have many a notebook and many a folder on my computer crammed with future ideas that I will eventually get around to when I have the time.
The problem with that, as any other creative person will tell you, is that you will eventually realise you don’t have the time. If you have dozens of WIPs waiting to be completed or fleshed out, you have to pick and choose which ones get your attention, your focus. And when you have dozens of WIPs you love, that can be hard.
What this has kind of resulted in for me is flipping from one to the other. I’ll write a few scenes, get involved in that world, and then I’ll be distracted by another scene from another world and suddenly jump back into a different WIP before, yet again, falling hard for another character and deciding, oh, I must write out this WIP instead.
Is it wonderful to see all these different worlds come to life, even if only briefly? Absolutely. But what this leads to is an enormous selection of WIPs with a handful of scenes, half-competed stories, beginnings without endings, or endings without beginnings. You’ll have lines of dialogue but no idea where to put them, interactions that you adore but no clue where they fit into the narrative, a killer ending line and yet no story to get you there. Having a mind swimming with creative ideas is beautiful, but it is also madness.
And that madness can be overwhelming. These past years, I’ve been juggling it just fine, managing to get stories completed in the chaos. But when you keep adding stories and only ever completing one or maybe two, you get a backlog so full, you have no idea where to start. You jump from one to the next and then realise, just after you’ve completed one, you’ve got another fifteen vying for your attention that weren’t there a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly, you’re swamped with characters screaming for your attention or worlds that aren’t fleshed out that are desperate for you to fill in the holes. Sometimes, it’s beautiful being able to see all these worlds you’ve created, but when it gets to a point where you have so many and you don’t know where to start, sometimes with fictional or very real deadlines approaching, it can lead you to not wanting to write at all. Eventually, you might find it difficult picking up a pen or opening your laptop because you’re just going to sit and stare at this blank page as all these ideas beg you to complete them, and you don’t know which one to go to next.
I’ve had these moments of being overwhelmed before, and they can be a very stark reminder that you have to be selective. When you’re creative, not every idea is a gem waiting to be refined, and acknowledging that is important. And then, when you have a handful of gems, it can be vital to sit down, look at them all, and decide which you want to refine first. Writing is a discipline, and disciplining yourself to be selective is a major part of getting things finished. I’ve been able to do it before, but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed again.
So my July’s been tough. It’s been difficult finding the time to write this post and it’s been even harder trying to sit down and get something fictional written. On top of that, I’ve been feeling very physically and mentally drained recently (it’s hard being an expat and it can be hard studying too). Could it be burn out, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I, once again, need to take a long, hard look at all my WIPs and force myself to focus. I certainly wouldn’t call it procrastination, it’s more that I keep jumping from one project to the next without giving anything the time it needs to head towards completion.
Obviously I’ve got my handful of Projects that I’ve spoken about here on this blog, and Project #3 is something I really need to commit to because I do have an imaginary deadline for when that needs to be completed. But I’m not good at focusing on just one thing at a time. And maybe I should do that, it would surely make a whole lot of things happen faster.
But I can’t help but churn out new ideas that are eager for attention. I know this is not a problem specific to me, I cannot explain how often I see this idea of WIPs folders circulating online. Creation is a very beautiful thing, and sometimes that means seeing idea after idea pop into your head, each one trying to push other ideas out of the spotlight. And sometimes that can work out for the better because it means a new idea can jump to the top of the list, as seen with Project #3. However, it can also lead to feeling sombre as you look at drafts that are years old, wondering when they might get to see the spotlight or a few new sentences written again.
I’ve been sombre throughout July, not only because I am feeling drained, but because I keep jumping from project to project to project. I know, if you want to make it in a creative career, you have to be ruthless and you have to forget about other WIPs, other beautiful ideas, and set your sights on what you’re going to work on next. I know that’s what I have to do, and I have, occasionally, been able to do it before. Sometimes, it can be easy because the words you need just flow and you don’t even think about another idea as you get a blank page full of what this concept needs to head towards its next completed draft. Sometimes, some worlds just grab you and they don’t let you go, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
Other times, it can almost be impossible. You see a dozen worlds, hundreds of characters, and you want to be with them, exploring and writing, and you see interesting turns at different points for different stories that grab you, pulling in a dozen different directions. And, as you have no idea which is the one you need right now, you end up sitting there, waiting for a decision to be made that you don’t feel up to making yourself. And as I look at my WIPs, deciding what I need to work on in the beaks between Project #3 (which are longer than I would like because I can’t focus on just Project #3 when I need to either), I’m having real difficulty narrowing it down.
As beloved Bilbo Baggins once said, I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I know every creative person has felt like this at some point, it’s what it means to be creative, but when you feel like that, it’s hard to know what to do to make yourself feel less stretched, less taut and spread out over a hundred things at once. It’s something I know I’ll likely have to work on for the rest of my life. If I had any advice I could give, this is where I would give it. But I don’t really have that advice because I’m still working on it myself. I know I need to be better at letting new ideas sit in the background. It’s always important, I think, to get these new ideas down, you don’t know what could one day be your magnum opus, but it’s that decision of letting something sit in the background that’s hard, a trait I have yet to even come close to mastering.
So, yes, July has been rough, and I have a distinct feeling it’s probably going to extend into August too. But, right now, it’s time to look at these gems in my hands and make a decision about which one needs refining and which ones need to sit on the table and wait for their turn in the spotlight.
Wish me luck.