I often go hunting for quotes from authors about writing, usually for my weekly writing update posts. I recently stumbled across the following quote from novelist Philip Roth, and I really dig it. He said:
“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
It’s a great quote, and I think it cuts to the heart of the most difficult thing a writer can do–call something “done.” If you’re like me, then your hard drive is chocked full of flash fiction pieces, short stories, and novels languishing under the label “work in progress.” So I thought I’d take a dig through my files and see just how many projects I’ve started and yet to finish.
First some ground rules. These rules apply to me and only me. You can, of course, make up your own mind for what counts as a work in progress.
- One, I will only consider a piece I’ve actually submitted as a work in progress if it is currently undergoing a major revision, like pretty much a total rewrite.
- Two, I will consider a work as “in progress” if I have actually completed an outline. Jotted-down story ideas don’t count.
- Three, anything I am contractually obligated to write I won’t count because it WILL be finished. To me, a true WiP needs a little uncertainty.
Okay, let’s have a look.
Flash Fiction WiPs: 13 (about 13,000 words)
The main difference with my flash fiction works in progress is that everyone of these is technically a finished first draft. That has a lot to do with how I generate my flash fiction, primarily in one-hour flash fiction contests/writing exercise that by their very nature ensure I end up with 1,000 words by the end. Most of these are in serious, serious need of revision, but a couple are almost there and will likely head out the door in the near future.
Short Stories WiPs: 22 (about 50,000 words)
My short story works in progress range from simple outlines to ancient completed works that need to be totally rewritten and everything in between. A fair number of these might never see true completion and submission, but there are a half dozen I’ll finish in the next few months, let my critique partners read, and then send them out into the world.
Novel & Novella WiPs: 3 (about 65,000 words)
This includes one novel in which I’ve written about 35,000 words (my next project), a full novel outline, and a finished novella I’m still tinkering with. The novel that has progressed beyond the outline stage will definitely be finished, and I’m working on it now. The outlined novel I might get to one day, but it’ll be down the road a ways. The novella needs some revision, mostly because it’s the sequel to a published short story, and I’m not sure it works without that short story.
In total, I have 38 works in progress totaling about 130,000 words. That’s actually less than I expected, though if I counted stories that have been submitted at least once and are not undergoing major revision, that number would be much, much higher (maybe double).
Now let’s answer the question I posed in the title of this post. Do I have too many works in progress? Maybe, but it’s more a question of identifying which works are actually worth completing and which I should maybe set aside as ideas that are not gonna pan out. If I did that, I guess I’d end up with half the number of flash pieces and short stories, and, as much as I hate to say it, that outlined novel might not make the cut either. This kind of winnowing of WiPs is probably a good thing for every author to do at some point. Basically, I want my creative energies going toward works that are meaningful and might have a shot at publication. Of course, that’s a tough decision to make, and, as you can see, I kinda suck at it.
How many works in progress do you have going? Tell me about it in the comments.