How Many WIPs are Too Many?

I try not to burden myself too much with the WIP phenomenon — what makes a WIP, is it alright to have more than a single WIP, how many WIPs are too many, and other questions of the kind, but the recent and somewhat uncharacteristic accumulation of WIPs for various Darksiders fanworks has forced me to consider this in some depth.

Normally, I work on a single big writing project at a time, where big is anything upwards of, say, 3000 words, plus occasional drabble diversions or very rough drafts for pressing ideas. I won’t necessarily work on a single thing until it’s finished before I’ll start some other thing; indeed, most of my novel-sized projects are still unfinished (lol). I only completed one (Thinker Traitor Soldier Spectre, my Mass Effect fanfiction novel) out of five (the other four being: an untitled novelization of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion from 2009; Ghost in the Machine, another Mass Effect novel; Under Her Wing, my Nano 2017 winner that awaits the final polish after being rewritten at least thrice over these five years; and my last year’s original fiction project that’s still in development). Of the four unfinished ones, two were over 90% complete when I decided they weren’t good enough and needed complete rewriting which either never started or hasn’t ended yet.

These unfinished novels are emotional luggage. I heard some author say that it’s important to finish things because we only have so many beginnings in us: starting a new thing requires an investment that only pays off when the thing is done, and if you keep starting things you don’t finish, eventually it will drain you. I don’t think this is some immutable law that everyone will relate to, but I do. Finishing projects puts my mind at ease while unfinished ones constantly nag from the margins of my awareness, and the bigger the project, the greater its effect in both cases. I have a folder full of aborted short stories, mostly for Mass Effect, that don’t weigh on me at all, because I didn’t spend much time with them; and some of them were successfully cannibalized by other stories (for example, the first chapter of The Precedent, my most recent Mass Effect story, was pieced together from a couple stories I started and abandoned all the way back in 2011). Among my unfinished novels, the one for Oblivion doesn’t bug me, because the first draft was really bad, and I only wrote a single chapter when I decided to restart it. But Ghost and UHW bother me big-time. Ghost, because I have so many neat ideas that need to be shared; and because I made the mistake of publishing it before it was complete, I feel I’m failing the readers (in addition to failing myself) by leaving it incomplete. UHW bothers me because it’s one of my few original fiction works, and it’s pretty good, and it’s this fucking close to complete — but somehow I’ve been unable to cross those last hundred yards. I don’t know if this makes sense, but the latest WIP, another piece of original fiction, doesn’t bother me precisely because it’s nowhere near done.

Anyway, back to Darksiders and the accumulation of WIPs for fanfiction, essays and recently even fanart.

I started generating Darksiders ideas all the way back while I was writing my first story in this setting, Not Alone, and haven’t stopped since, though the pace is slower nowadays. Not all of them are WIPs. The thing that sets apart an idea from a WIP is the Work. An idea is usually a one-sentence prompt. For example, “what if the Horsemen spent some time on modern-day Earth in disguise, solving some problem of cosmic proportions while clueless humans mill about, unaware that their world is on the brink of destruction?” This is just a thought, it requires no work; it just happens. Pretty much anything beyond this will constitute work, and turn the idea into a WIP. It doesn’t matter if it’s written work; work that happens in my mind alone, or in dialog with friends, absolutely counts. Say I go through the trouble (not being sarcastic, this shit is really hard for me) to develop the example above into something like, “angels or demons, or some unlikely group that includes both, have been abducting humans to study them in the attempt to repeat Lilith’s act of creation, and make new creatures of their own design” — and yeah, I could qualify this as a WIP now.

So, not all of my Darksiders ideas are WIPs – but by this criterion, most are. I enumerated them, and the count was a staggering 12.

12 WIPs

Not counting ideas. With ideas, it’s probably upwards of 20.

Your mileage may vary, obviously, but for me this is a huge number. I remember the time, not so long ago — in 2019, before writing The Precedent, which has spent almost a decade in WIP status — when I had something like three or four of them, for Mass Effect, and considered it quite the backlog!

Among the 12 Darksiders WIPs, eight have some writing done for them — be it the actual story material or development notes; among those, 3 are drafted start to end; and of those, one is finished and ready to post. So, even if I was to narrow down the definition of a WIP to such things that have something written about them, it’d still be twice as many as what I left the Mass Effect fandom with in 2013.

I’ve had the nagging feeling that I should be finishing at least some of these for a while now. Not quite sure what’s in the way. It’s not a classical case of the writer’s block because I can write just fine. That one WIP that’s ready to post, I wrote in one sitting and polished in another two, about a week back; and another, longer one, I worked on daily a couple weeks ago until I ran into some difficulties. Recently, I’ve been busy learning to draw, which has definitely slowed down the writing, but that’s perhaps the last two months — and I was already very slow before that. And it’s not burnout of any sort: most of my free time I still happily spend on Darksiders fan-things — only not on finishing my WIPs, apparently.

I think I have too many of them? When I decide to sit a while, writing, it takes me a minute to scroll down the mental list of all the things I could do, to sort it according to some criterion that might change from day to day, and pick one of the few top-rated ones. That’s a lot of work to do before even starting the actual work!

You must be thinking, “well, do this ranking exercise once, then work on whatever you picked till it’s done”. Doh. If I could do that, I wouldn’t have 12 WIPs. The most obvious candidates are, I suppose, those that are the closest to being complete. But adding the final touches to a complete draft is often more difficult than writing a whole new draft for another story. Which is how the two drafts get relegated down the ranks. One of the WIPs is half-drafted, I had massive fun writing it so far, and the stuff ahead holds promise of even more fun, but I’ve become beset by doubt on whether I should write it at all, because, 1) it’s incredibly self-indulgent; 2) if the War/Strife ship is a kayak, this would be like a life-west or something. I suspect not even my friends will want to read it. And 3) it’s in post-DS1 territory that I’ve been reluctant to explore because reasons. Which is how that gets relegated down the ranks. There’s one that I haven’t touched yet past the relatively detailed plotting, that I postpone for political reasons (cultural appropriation, sigh). The others are simply… too big for me at the moment? I feel like I’m not equal to the task of writing another story of Not Alone tier (or higher, in a few cases) right now; and having too many WIPs that crowd my head-space is one of the reasons why.

And now that I’m thinking about this, it’s not even just the writing WIPs. There are at least two involved Darksiders posts that I’ve been planning to create since forever, and a few that are not-too-involved but apparently involved enough to not get done. Not to mention my ongoing transcription project, which will hopefully be finished and published soon, and the plans I have for future projects of the same kind. (I’m vague on purpose. I want it to be a surprise!) Let’s throw the actual playing of the Darksiders games into the pot too, because it’s a thing of the same nature: a WIP. I’ve started Darksiders III a few weeks ago, but at my pace of playing a couple of hours a week, it will take me months to complete it, like it did with I and II. Last but not least, now there’s also a rapidly expanding list of drawing ideas and WIPs. Counting all these things, it would probably be more fair to say I have something like 30 fucking WIPs.

It’s madness! No wonder I’m getting nowhere.

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