One Pot


My cautionary word of the day.

Works for investment bankers, works for me. I’ve stated previously that I’ve got enough scripts and script ideas that I’ll likely never be able to produce them all by myself in one lifetime. Despite the conclusion I reached in that previous post about these scripts spanning a gamut of genres, ultimately this diversity is a good thing. I recommend it.

And remember, you’re reading the thoughts of a man who once spent nearly four years invested in one project. Not something I recommend.

It seems like a pretty obvious bit of advice but it - like many little gems - bears repeating to ourselves every now and then. It’s not worth getting overly invested in one project. You have to have other things going on - and not just to have something else to jump to - but for the health of all your projects. When you’ve just got the one thing then it becomes an obsession (see, four years of your life in trade for a cartoon). And the obsessed tend to lack perspective on things. To put it differently, the more you put into one pot the harder it gets to lift off the stove. And what happens to something if you can’t get it off the stove? It burns and you go hungry.

Better to have a few pots on the cooker.

7 Responses to “One Pot”

  1. Godheval Says:

    Tyler, your metaphor here is a good one, and I am currently doing exactly what you advise against. My project - a novel - I’ve been working on for the better part of 6 years, although “working on” implies a steady commitment, which hasn’t been the case.

    My question is, HOW do you step away from your “baby”? I do other things - but not in the same realm. As far as fiction goes, that novel is IT. I feel like I can’t move on to anything else until it is complete, and it is the project that I think stands the best chance of being “successful”.

    Others have told me to branch out, do other things, come back to the main project with fresh eyes. But I haven’t been able to do it.

  2. Tyler Says:


    What’s your definition of success? Or, better, at what point do you think you’ll be comfortable typing the words “THE END”? Are you just stirring the pot because you’re not sure what the next step is or because you’re genuinely agonizing over perfecting your masterpiece. If it’s genuine agony then what can I say, no pain no gain. But if it’s the former then I’d say figure out what that next step means to you. Does it mean finding a publisher, self-publishing or just getting this project out of your system. I’ve got a novel in a drawer somewhere that’s been read by maybe five people. Ever. I worked on it for years, too. Never even tried to get it published. It was just for me. And it was a success in that I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.

    Why are you writing this? Why haven’t you finished it yet? Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to answer.

    I’ve got open projects that literally span decades at this point… Wow, hadn’t quite thought about that in those terms before… Some of them spent a lot of time as the one pot. To completely milk this metaphor of all its meaning, don’t be afraid to put another pot on the stove, the first one will be ready when it’s ready.

  3. Godheval Says:

    If I’m being totally honest, it’s like the story wants ITSELF to be told, and I am just a vessel. But it has to be told correctly, and that’s why I agonize over it. But it’s not an entirely selfless pursuit. I don’t know how to measure success in any universal way, but in this particular case, success would mean several things:

    1) That the book sells widely - nationally, even internationally. Not for money, but as personal validation of knowing that the work I put in is appreciated by others.

    2) The book meets my expectations for being suggested in middle or high school classrooms, or analyzed in book clubs. I am aiming for a balance between popular fiction and literature here - I want people to enjoy what it offers on the surface, but also be inclined to probe for the deeper meaning. And there is so much deeper meaning. In truth, this one is even more important than the first.

    3) I can finally know for sure, for myself, that I am every bit the writer that I think I am.

    As for which publishing venue - I do not want to self-publish. I want to believe that mass market appeal and SUBSTANCE are not mutually exclusive. Some real CRAP has been published in the same genre - I mean absolute garbage - and for that to be published, but mine not…would probably make me sink faster into cynicism and misanthropy.

    I do have other projects, but it’s like I can’t even think about them. Part of the reason is that I have made some major strides in my writing ability, and all throughout these transitions I have been working on this main project. My other stuff is still mired in that dark morass of terrible writing that I once thought was so good, or in some cases, little more than an idea.

    To go to those projects would mean “starting from scratch”, and after all the progress I’ve made, it’s hard to even consider doing that.

  4. Tyler Says:

    I don’t think you’re any different in your hopes and aspirations than any other writer. And those aspirations being what they are, maybe you’re subconsciously dragging your feet on your novel because of the potential for “failure” by the standards you’re setting for yourself.

    You’re facing the writer’s dichotomy: Inherent misanthropy teamed with a desire for validation by others.

    Bear in mind that I’m only one guy so the following statement is based solely on my own unique experience, but the chance of your work being studied to the depths of thought that you yourself put into it are infinitesimal. That said, always do put that depth of poetry, philosophy and intellect into your work. If not for yourself, for the fraction of your audience who may actually get it. And of course for that infinitesimal chance that you may be writing the next Lord of the Flies.

    And by slim chance I don’t mean the likelihood of your novel being outstanding, I mean the likelihood of it seeing its way through the cosmos to the ranks you are hoping for. Much of that is going to be out of your control.

    But back to simply finishing. Remember that regardless of how concerned you are about how it will be received, it can never even get that far unless you finish it. That’s the bottom line and that’s where we find safety in incubating our work indefinitely. You may wind up with a classic on your hands but one absolute certainty is that if you don’t just wrap it up and send it out, we’ll never know.

    And don’t doubt yourself. You may think that this is it. The most brilliant thing you’ve ever thought of and that you have to make it work. It’s not. You will have other ideas if you allow yourself to finish this one. You’ve got a lot more wisdom now than you did when you started this project six years ago and that will amount to the next brilliant idea.

  5. Godheval Says:

    The writer’s dichotomy. Never heard it put in those terms before, but that definitely describes me. I also see it through the relationship between romanticism and cynicism - two sides of the same coin. Only when we have lofty ideals can we be so thoroughly disappointed by a world that fails to live up to them.

    And yeah, of course I realize that no audience will get out of my work everything I put into it. I think all of the depth I put into it - that part is for me. If anyone else gets it, well then perhaps I’ll have made a new friend. =)

    The thing about finishing… As I mentioned earlier, this story seems to write itself. And only when it wants to. I can sit in front of the computer with the document open for hours. Sure I’ll get distracted by the internet at times, but there are long periods where I just sit there, with my head on the desk, thinking, trying to work past a writer’s block, or just trying to get anything down at all. I may eke out some more summary, or make some anal retentive edits, but seldom anything substantial.

    But then, out of nowhere, one little thing will happen that will unclog the blockage. I mean totally trivial. For example, I wrote a scene where the characters fell into a hole. Within the scope of the story, this event is nothing, it’s just a device for a needed transition. But simply making that transition made the writing that followed just flow from my brain and onto the page. I wrote two whole chapters last night after that, when I’d been struggling for the past month or so just to write a page.

    You talk about having little control over how the book is perceived. Hell, I seem to have little control over whether or not the book gets written! But moments like these - where the writing just flows - are so rewarding that it negates all of the tough patches.

    Hey, and thanks for all your feedback on this. I appreciate it.

  6. Tyler Says:

    When I used to write long form fiction I never wrote it in a linear fashion. I’d write whatever chapter I felt like writing about. I think this helped stave off writer’s block because I never approached the story from one direction. That said, I haven’t written “fiction” in a long time - it’s been screenplay format for a while. And I’ve developed a pretty clinical approach to it that seems to work very well (for me). I’ve been meaning to share my process on this blog for a while but haven’t a chance to settle into it yet. Will do soon though.


  7. Godheval Says:

    I’m the same way, but I also write a bunch of summary or general ideas. Trouble with those is that they satisfy the creative impulse, and leave me with less desire to write the actual story.

    Oh, and I’d be very interested in your screenwriting process. It’s always been my intention to branch out into other mediums once I mastered the novel. I actually started with the intention of writing for video games, but that’s not a field one just breaks into - most of those guys wrote books first.

    On a separate note - my copy of Refrain came in the mail on Wednesday. Looking forward to watching it soon. Peace.