Dirty Birds birding on bunnies. Plot bunnies, that is. How weird will we get, and how many times will we get off topic?
Kate: We should do a contest one of these days. People can guess how many times we’ll wander away from the topic.
Ana: The Dirty Birds Drinking Game! Gets you just drunk enough to get through that first draft! Hey, we’ve never done that talk on writers and alcohol.
Zoe: Oh good, we’re at the beginning of the discussion and haven’t been on topic once yet. Situation normal.
I think my brain needs a story that has zero pressure on it, and that’s why it frantically comes up with new plot bunnies while I’m trying to get other projects done. The other day a friend of mine told me to start at least stream-of-consciousness writing about Walt & Donny, my two new head-resident serial killers, but I think if I did that, another bunny would just pop up in their place.
Kate: I think that’s why we all like the plot bunnies so much, no matter how much we complain about them. They are low stress, and a brand new plot bunny is easier to write than the soggy middle that’s driving us to drink. I love starting new stories, they’re so easy. Until you get about three chapters in……
Zoe: Yeah, my slowdown is usually around 11k-14k.
Ana: I have a confession to make. I have lived completely plot bunny free for at least two years of my writing life.
Zoe: I had six months without stories in my head, but it was a really bad time. I’ll take the stories in my head over that any day.
Ana: For me it was while I was working on my first novel, and then the sequel to it. I had those stories in my head, and plenty ideas for it, but I had no clue what I’d be doing when I was done with them. I was actually worried that might be the only story I had. I was super relieved when I was done and I found a plot bunny somewhere for that year’s NaNo. Now I get too many of them. I don’t know what’s changed.
Kate: I’d say. I don’t think I’ve ever been without bunnies. Too tired to do any writing, yes, but there’s a whole pile of them bounding around in my head, procreating and making messes. I’ve probably got at least ten years of writing up there. Even last summer, the bunnies were there, but the words were gone on vacation.
Zoe: It was a really strange six months for me, and really frustrating not being able to escape into fictional worlds in my head. I don’t think I did much beyond sleep and worry and panic during that time. Chemical issues in my brain.
Kate: I find that being tired makes the bunnies less active. I remember having them, but I can’t pull them forward. This past week I’ve gotten nothing done, and was worried about it, but then I slept most of yesterday and today, and I’m picking away at Kev ‘n Mo right now.
Ana: I remember when I didn’t know what I was going to do after I was done with the novel I was writing, I got annoyed at the stereotype of the writer with too many ideas. It made me feel like I wasn’t creative enough to be a writer. Even though I’d just finished a 90k story.
Kate: That’s a scary feeling. I wonder how common it is? I know last summer, I thought I was done, even though I’d finished, or mostly finished two stories. I wonder, Ana, if that down time was your mind changing gears because you were so focused on the first story and its sequel?
Ana: There sure wasn’t much room for anything else in my head. I was a bit… uh… obsessive? Sometimes I miss that.
Kate: That’s a great feeling, though, when the story is working so well that nothing else has room to butt in. I don’t get that near enough, which is why I usually have between 4 and 6 different stories going at once.
Ana: See, I wish I could work on multiple projects at once, but it’s still hard for me to switch gears.
Kate: The only time it works for me is when I’m almost done and I’m just filling in the last spaces before the end. Other than that, it takes a while for my mind to work through steps in a plot.
Zoe: I prefer working on two projects at once, though it’s not always possible. But it’s great to be able to switch when something’s not going well, and it’s great to be able to use one as a carrot to get work done on the other—”I reallyreally want to work on story B, but first I have to meet today’s goal on story A.” (Even when both stories are being difficult, there’s always one that’s a little less difficult.)
Kate: Yes! I love that about having more stories. Sometimes, I can write myself into the mode with one story, then the tough one works. Like a warm-up.
Ana: How do you decide which plot bunnies are worth pursuing? When there’s so many to pick.
Kate: I ‘feel’ my way down the plot, if that makes any sense. I often get visual images of what’s happening, and the clearer the image and the emotion are, the more likely I am to work on a story. The more images I have, too, the more likely I’m ready to start one. But it’s usually the one that’s been running through my head for at least a couple of weeks steady. I do a lot of plotting and planning by running ‘mock ups’ in my brain just before I go to sleep.
Zoe: I go by whatever one I actually have an opening for when it’s time to sit down and start something. Getting started is the hardest. (~she says, until she gets to the middle~)
Kate: If I did that, all I’d ever have would be beginnings. My muse would love it, though. She loves beginnings…
Zoe: You do have to stick with it and keep going after the start. 🙂 But for instance, my Walt & Donny plot bunny, I know tons about them and their story, but it has no opening, so it’s not at all high on the list of potential next stories. (Sorry guys.)
Ana: I think I mostly go with the most annoying plot bunny. I’m a push over. I’ll give in to whoever is most stubborn about being written. The ideas that keep coming back at me even when I try to ignore them.
Zoe: All my bunnies think they’re The One.
Ana: I get some that fade after a few days of my not paying attention to them. It’s a kind of plot bunny Darwinism.
Kate: Survivor Season 37: Ana’s Brain.
Zoe: 😀 My bunnies are like that old lesbian joke. They show up with U-Hauls after the first date.
Ana: But I do consider some other things too. Like, how much research would it take? Do I feel like doing all that research? Do I think I can sell this story? Maybe the last one makes me a sell out, but I’d be lying to say I didn’t consider the issue.
Kate: I’m not sure it’s being a sell-out, so much as being practical. There are stories that I chunk bits and pieces onto every once in a while, but they mostly sit on the back burner because I really want to write them, but I can’t tell if they’re saleable. I think, if you only have limited time to write, and you plan to make a money-earning career off it, you have to pick and choose a bit, especially at the beginning. Maybe later, those little favourites can be published, once you have an audience. Or maybe they’ll never be anything but your pet project. But I think it’s necessary to triage a bit.
Zoe: I never feel like my ideas are particularly salable. Maybe early on they seem like it, then I chunk things onto it that narrow the niche. Which I guess makes it easier to pick which story I want to work on—it’s whatever one I want to work on.
Ana: I’m not saying I discard every idea I think I can’t sell. If they scream loud enough, they get their shot. But I do still think about it.
Kate: The other thing is, if you have an idea that you think can’t sell on its own, you can look at your other bunnies and see which one might blend with this one.
Zoe: I’m way better at doing the reverse. Case in point: perfectly salable mainstream idea about a young man adrift after his brother is killed who goes down the wrong road with the wrong crowd…and I decided the wrong crowd would be a satanic cult. So much for mainstream success. 🙂
Kate: I don’t see why that’s a problem. Why wouldn’t it still be mainstream? A lot of people like horror.
Zoe: Horror’s a much smaller niche than mainstream. And changing it to horror changed the whole character of the second half of the story.
Kate: Is it really horror? I guess it depends on how you handle the cult. You could tweak it to mainstream thriller, too.
Zoe: I’m positioning it as a nostalgic call-back to the satanic cult books of the late sixties/seventies. I’m really happy with the idea; it’s just got a much smaller niche now. But that’s fine. Money’s great, but I only have so much time in my life, so I’m good with spending it writing what I want to write.
Ana: Writing’s hard enough when you write things you’re excited about. I couldn’t imagine what a slog it must be to write things you’re not that into.
Zoe: I imagine it’s a lot like a job then, and I already have one of those. I know there are people who recommend writing “what sells” to get yourself into a position where you can quit the day job, and then you’ll have time to write what you love. But I’d have to keep writing what sells to keep paying the bills, and I wouldn’t have energy to write what I love at the end of the day. By keeping the day job, I get to earn money without burning out my writing energy.
Kate: I have the quandary where I’m working two jobs and if I’d like to give up one so I have consistent writing time, I need to replace that income. So I’ll admit, I move more commercially viable stories up the list a bit faster.
Zoe: Yes, you’re definitely in a different situation than I am.
Kate: It’s awkward. I keep reminding myself that these are stories I would have written anyway, I’m just doing it earlier. But it requires a bit more discipline, to keep the brain working at developing them instead of something else which is quirkier (and probably less saleable)and makes me giggle quietly in the dark recesses of my brain.
Ana: I think it’s an important distinction though. You’re not looking at the market and coming up with a story to write to it. You’re just inspecting the bunnies you already have for their inherent market appeal. Or lack thereof.
Kate: I’ve never thought of it that way. I wonder how many of the big authors do that?
Zoe: If you visit kboards, it’s all the loud successful ones who post under anonymous names. STUDY THE MARKET. WRITE TO MARKET.
Kate: Okay, for a second there I thought you weren’t being sarcastic.
Zoe: I wasn’t. That’s really who does that. They are apparently raking in the bucks by putting out frequent releases geared to the market.
Kate: Do we have proof? I’d like to know how John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman choose their next bunny.
Zoe: Neil Gaiman chooses it by seeing which one gets him closer to the mountain. 🙂
Ana: I’d think he’s already on top of the mountain and waving down.
Zoe: I do like his mountain analogy. I’ve been using a similar philosophy to make decisions about my writing career. His is “Does it get you closer to the mountain” and mine is “When I look back from my deathbed, will I wish…”
Ana: Mine is “Will it get me closer to chocolate?” if I promised myself some. But seriously, I adore Neil Gaiman’s ‘teachings.’ I sometimes listen to that speech when I’m feeling uninspired.
Kate: I kind of think that he chooses the thing that’s going to push him somehow in his writing, but I’d like to hear it from him. Maybe I’m wrong and he has some other algorithm he uses.
Zoe: I’m Googling. So far I’ve found Neil’s answer to when he starts a story: “I start off a story when I know where it begins.”
Kate: My first thought was, “That’s not helpful.” Then my second, and much smarter thought, was, “Yeah, he’s got that right.”
Ana: Does he have any pointers on how to end a Birding?
Zoe: We can end it with another quote from Neil: “I decided that I would do my best in the future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work. Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money, either. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.” So, we can assume Neil chooses his projects based on what he’s excited about.
Kate: Neil is wise.