Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Choose Your Next Project Via a Nifty Househunting Metaphor

So you're finished writing and revising your latest novel. Maybe it's going out on submission. Maybe it'll live in a drawer. Hellooooo, square one. You're back to a word count of ZERO. What's next?

Understanding what you want and need from your next writing project is the first step toward actually starting it. Trust me, it's easy to procrastinate. That blank page is scary!
And if you have more than one sparkly almost-idea, it's natural to be torn. But choosing an idea worthy of a novel-length commitment will help you see this new project through -- and hopefully save you time and agony in the long run.

Since our engagement, my fiance and I have spent countless hours searching through hundreds of homes for the one we want to buy ... and let me tell you, no matter how many episodes of My First Place and Property Virgins you watch, you're soooo unprepared for how tough it is.
BUT ---- silver lining time! ---- weighing a ton of super important home-buying factors made me realize how similar the househunting process is to the idea-choosing process.

1. The Listing: So you have this idea -- but should it be a novel? It's a huge investment, after all. Sometimes an idea becomes nothing more than an idea, just like when you check out a real estate listing for a home...but don't take the next step.

2. The Drive By: Some ideas deserve a little more thought, like when you drive by a home that's on the market to give it a closer look.

3. The Showing: And the ideas with the most potential -- that's when you schedule a showing. And maybe even a second or third showing after that. You dive into your idea, picture yourself living there for the foreseeable future. Is it worth making an offer?

Factors to Consider:
What can you afford to spend? Writing a novel requires sacrifices -- sleep, sanity, leisure time, etc. That's why you must be passionate about your idea. If you're unwilling or unable to make the commitment, then it's not the right idea for you, no matter how grand.
Are you comfortable with the structure of the plot, with the flow of the story? Are there limitations to the story or is there potential for growth?

Fixer-Upper: A rough, awkward nugget of an idea that needs a little---or a lot of---TLC. 
New Construction: This novel jumps into your brain fully-formed and beautiful.
Move-In Condition: This solid idea has a few gray areas you'll have to work out as you go.

Some people want a cozy country home, but others want a sprawling mansion. Just remember, the more rooms you have... the more rooms you have to clean. Unless you can afford a maid.
Will your idea be a small stand-alone or book one in an epic fantasy series?

Potential for Building an Addition
So you're comfortable with your happy little only child novel... but you want to know that, if you changed your mind in the future, you could give it a baby brother or sister sequel.

What's the market like? Is your idea too similar to other books already published? Does it stand out from the trends?

Your "One Thing"
What's your dealbreaker? Does the house need a spacious kitchen? A walk-in closet? A park-like backyard? Alternately, is it a automatic "no" if it has old windows or only two bedrooms?
Maybe you're sick of writing third-person novels, and your next idea MUST be first-person. Or you want a male main character. Or a murder mystery plot. Sure, maybe you'll be ok with another third-person story in the future, but are you willing to invest in one now?

Walking Away: Sometimes you just have to say no to a house. Sometimes saying no hurts.
Time to shelve the idea to reconsider at a future date. You can't force it to be for you, no matter how badly you want it!
Putting in an Offer: You analyze, you agonize, and you comparison shop until you're ready to give up altogether. But then you find that house that tells you it's yours. Maybe it's not exactly what you envisioned, but there's some harmony to what you see that makes you know that this is worth the investment.
This is the idea that calls to you, standing out among the crowd. THIS is your next novel!

The Inspection
Sometimes the inspector finds small problems that you're happy to live with and fix yourself. Sometimes the inspector finds a horde of termites that are eating your dream home from the inside out.
Before you 100% commit yourself to this future bestselling novel of yours, it's helpful to get a second opinion. Even if the person isn't a professional, a second pair of eyes might find a huge flaw that could suddenly be a dealbreaker -- or that person's eyes will widen in awe as they proclaim your idea the most incredible thing everrrrr, and totally worth the investment.

Most of the time, the "perfect" ideas/homes aren't as perfect as they seem. Shoddy construction, maybe? Often you'll find that the unexpected homes are your biggest contenders. Choosing the right idea for you takes patience. Don't be afraid to write a couple chapters or a rough outline ("go to showings") and see how an idea fits. Just believe that you'll find it!
I Googled "inspiring picture" for this one.

Your turn! (Because I'd very much love to hear what you think.)
What's your new idea experience been so far?
Got an idea metaphor that's better than mine?
Anyone else househunting out there?


  1. Great analogy, Donna. I've been wondering over the last week which new project idea I should pursue next, as they're flooding my mind now. I settled on it a few days ago and am oh so excited about it!

  2. How about when you put in 4 offers and they all fall through because of your crap real estate agent? *end bitterness*

    Great analogy! There are times when writing a book feels way easier than trying to find a house...

    Good luck with the market!

  3. Great metaphor, Donna!

    There's also the decision to rent vs. buy. Are you ready to commit to another project? Or is it maybe time to rent for a little while--write some short stories, catch up on your reading, water those houseplants you've neglected for the past six months?

  4. I am in the process of house hunting in a town about 70 miles away. We get to walk through a few tomorrow! I was hoping one would jump out at me as THE winner, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen. Between looking for a new house, and prepping our current one to sell my writing brain has gone on vacation.

  5. Janine - Yep, I'm mid-search myself.

    Summer - My real estate agent is fantastic -- my problem is that all the houses I want are going off the market in less than a week. Apparently the housing crisis hasn't hit certain areas of Philly.

    Sara - Rent vs. buy is a great analogy! Renting in my writing life is veryyyy tempting right now.

    JenE - Wow -- 70 miles is tough! Househunting is so time-consuming. I'm lucky I don't have a home to sell... but I am also planning a wedding. Thanks for taking time out to read this blog!

  6. This is such a cool post and a perfect analogy. I've done the country estate in move-in condition, with plenty of room to expand. I've also done the fixer-upper brownstone - actually that's what I'm working on now, and no coincidence, it's a YA urban fantasy.

    To be honest, the fixer upper has worked out better. LOL

  7. What a fantastic analogy! I have home-owner envy (a few years away from buying yet) but I'm coming up on a completed first draft of my WiP, and seriously thinking ahead to what my next project will be.

    I have a question on the "inspection" stage -- I generally don't share anything with anyone for a long time when I start writing. For those of you that are braver than I am, who do you show your work to? Is that helpful before you really dive in and start working?

  8. Jay - I'm just finishing a move-in condition brownstone. I can see why the fixer-upper can end up a higher quality, simply because it forces you to really think about what you're writing!

    Sarah - I show my work to my critique partners. I know some writers who show absolutely no one until a draft is done, but my drafts can take two years, so I don't want to waste that time! I find it helpful because it can quiet my self-doubt and point out potential problems. Good luck!


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