It’s tempting to think that these three words should be on a notice pinned to your door in big, bold letters so that your nearest and dearest can see when you DON’T want to walk the dog, collect the kids from school, paint the Sistine Chapel or run a couple of marathons backwards with a candelabra balanced on your head.
However, work in progress (or WIP as it’s known in the manufacturing industry) is something all writers are involved in, consciously or otherwise, all the time.
Like most scribes, I have an ‘Ideas’ folder, where I place all my back-of-the-envelope scribblings until they’re needed. These can range from thoughts about follow-on books in a series, to vague jottings about characters, names, plots or scenes which I might use in the future. Whatever they are - and this is largely psychological, I admit - I prefer to think of them as works in progress, no matter how vague or unformed they might appear at the time - especially to an outsider. (And looking at one just recently, if the notes had fallen into the hands of a zealous policeman, I’d have probably been introduced to some rubber hose treatment, such was the wording: kill street youth – body of woman – bogus church group – kidnap teenager – blackmail parents.)
Not, as one might think, the ravings of a would-be psychopath planning his next evening out, but a working writer’s ideas being jotted down for later use ( which, incidentally, became my third book).
And this is how most writing begins: as a seemingly random collection of words, on the way to becoming something more concrete. But for it to become that, the ideas have to be continually reviewed to see if anything sparks off into a workable story, otherwise they shrivel and die.
A way of not letting such valuable thoughts moulder is to immediately add a few words, allowing your instincts to kick in, and sketching out how you think the idea might grow and which direction it could take. Thus, in the heat of the moment, use that flash of inspiration, garnered through seeing something, hearing a snatch of conversation, reading a headline or whatever, and take it one stage further by jotting down a few extra words to make it more than just a passing thought. This way, you’re setting up a chain of ideas for the future, even if you change it completely later.
In the case above, I’d been reading about the death of a rough sleeper in London’s west end, and started thinking about what might have caused it other than drugs, disease or malnutrition (it’s always worth trying to find an alternative to the obvious, if only to make you think harder about something fresher and less tried).
At the time, there had also been a story running in the US about a bogus church charity preying on vulnerable runaways, and this gave me the idea of marrying the two events and combining them into a single story. The rest fell into place bit by bit.
Of course, my initial idea might have easily fallen by the wayside or become something else entirely. But by thinking of it as a work in progress, I was committing myself to looking at it seriously and trying to build it into something solid.
The important thing is, never let a good idea go to waste.
My WIP folder contains all manner of oddments like this, and I regularly trawl through them to see if anything gives me that spark which will set me off onto a new project. It may be a short story, it could be an idea for a novel. But whatever it is destined to be, I see that WIP folder as being full of workable nuggets which I will get round to one day. And whenever I dip into it, I usually find myself adding a thought or two to one of the documents, like bricks in a wall, until one begins to take on an energy of its own.
Eventually, that document will ‘go critical’ until I can’t leave it alone any longer and it becomes a tangible piece of work with a deadline or a market in mind.
Occasionally, one of these ideas may be used subconsciously elsewhere, either in total or cannibalised to fit another work. It’s therefore essential to cull them on a regular basis and leave only the fresher ones to work on.
The other aspect of my WIP folder is that anything in it stays there until it’s completed and submitted. Only then do I transfer it into a different folder for finished work which is out in the market place. Why? Because by definition, anything in the WIP folder is still being worked on, polished, buffed up, amended – all those things we writers do until we’re satisfied we’ve done a good job and can submit it with a clear conscience.
- Ideas need fleshing out, without which they remain undeveloped.
- Review your WIP folder on a regular basis and weed out any dead wood or add thoughts to others where you can.
- A WIP folder means you are never in the position of not having something to work on.
- A work in progress is merely that until it’s submitted or sold.
- Your WIP folder is your breeding ground for the future.
Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.