A Thousand Ideas, One Book

I’m writing a book. One book. I have a thousand ideas on the topic; some are tiny, and others are larger. Some of the tiny ones could be developed into something interesting. Others are just passing. One of the problems with having a thousand ideas and only one book is that I think as I go. I don’t know what I’m going to say, practically, until I see the words scrawled on the page.

I used to just write in all directions, trusting that somehow a book would emerge. But I’m now on draft X (where x is greater than six but less than 10, and really I’d rather stop counting, please). I don’t want to write in all directions, I want to write in one direction. I want to focus on the right ideas and vignettes, the ones that will fit into the book and be good and interesting. I don’t want to just write 1,000 words a day, I want to write 1,000 words a day that are relevant to the book.


I remember wondering how I would ever get a book-length manuscript. I remember wondering how to structure chapters when I didn’t know what I was writing about. I remember freaking out because I had no idea how to write a fucking chapter. I remember freaking out because I don’t have an arc. (I’m still not sure I have an arc. That’s a lie. I do have an arc. I’m not sure I show the arc well enough.) The answer to all these questions was just keep writing. But maybe, just once, I should sit down and plan.

How do we do this thing?


10 responses to “A Thousand Ideas, One Book

  1. I think there are as many ways to do this thing as there are writers trying to do it—or maybe more.

    But I think, if you feel the need to plan, then planning is what you need to do. It might make it easier to figure out which parts need to be removed (and saved, maybe for other things) and which need to be reinforced.

    (that’s the long version of “damned if I know,” but at least maybe it sounds like I might…)

  2. When I have a project that I don’t know how to proceed with, I get out my machete, fling my (non machete) arm over my head, and throw myself into the jungle, blind and swinging.

    After a day or a week or a month of this, I open my eyes, look behind me, and it becomes clear whether I’ve been making a path or a labyrinth.

    It is neither fun nor efficient. If you can find another way, do it.

  3. 1) Start writing so you can figure out what the story is, then .
    2) Stick to it and make it work.

    I think that’s the same thing Anna said.

    Have you got a story yet? What is it?

  4. “We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

    Henry James – “The Middle Years”

  5. We have to do it the way we do it. If that means writing a sentence an hour (William Styron), or throwing away 2,000 pages (Mary Karr), it still comes out to be your book. Keep going, Indy.

    • Exactly. There is no right way. I tend to rebuild by picking relevant scenes out of a draft and placing them in a new document, then building out from there. But I think we arrive at our methods because our minds tend to work in a certain way and that shows up in our writing. I like new things and don’t like to be reminded of mistakes, so this is how I roll.

      Just keep moving forward. That’s all we can do.

  6. Pingback: Machete, Plan, Machete, Plan, Machete | Fangs and Clause

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