Dec 9

Crack that WIP!

Posted by A Writer


 "Work in progress" is another example of the English language's ability to play fast and loose with definitions depending on the context involved.  (In fact I sometimes worry that English has a slutty side to it–it'll say yes to almost any meaning you want to impose upon it–but that's a discussion for a different day.)  In sports or business, a "work in progress" refers to something or someone which/who isn't quite measuring up to snuff.  It could get there, but you have a vague sense that it's kind of like the kid who never quite figured out what life was all about…it's always a little disappointing.  "The New York Knicks are a work in progress."  Actually they're really a work in regress, but you get my point.  You don't refer to someone who you think will learn on the job as a "work in progress"…an "up and comer" or a "real go-getter," maybe (what are they going to get?), but not a "work in progress."

In writing, on the other hand, the mythical "work in progress" is the sign of membership in the club.  Writers revere the term "work in progress," so much so that many of us even abbreviate the term using capital letters: WIP.  Some even add what chapter and page is being worked on, so the whole business seems vaguely Biblical:  WIP 3:65.  (And lo, the third chapter was nearly finished; and the author looked upon it, and saw it was good.)  There seems to be a certain comfort in the idea of something constantly being worked on, that we're never really "finished" with anything but are always moving on to the next project.  I'm a busy bee!  I've got so many ideas I don't know how I'll live long enough to write about them all!  What about the book I just finished?  Well, uh, I didn't actually finish that one, but my WORK IN PROGRESS *rumbling effect* is so much better, let me tell you about it…

I bring all of this up because I am closing in on the end of my current WIP (14:214, if you're following along at home) and have started to get excited at the sight of a light at the end of the tunnel (which I hope is not an onrushing train).  But I've also started to consider my next project, which is this really cool…

Wait a minute.  What happened to the book I'm about to finish?  And see, this is the problem with the almighty WIP; it doesn't let me rest on my laurels even for a second.  Hell, it doesn't even let me acknowledge that I've won a laurel.  All that matters is that I move on to the next project, and the next, and the next…until…what?  Well, there is no "what," you say; it's about the journey, not the destination.  But by constantly focusing on the next milestone, we forget about the ones we've already passed, and that's a dangerous condition in which to constantly live.  I suspect that one of the reasons we're so obsessed with having a WIP is that it keeps us from focusing on the completed works (assuming we do complete them, which can be another problem) that haven't been published, or didn't sell well, or are starting to disappear from bookstore shelves, and rather than mourning the loss of something we dearly love (and you're in the wrong profession if you're not deeply attached to the books you write, warts and all) we simply move on to the next big thing. 

Maybe we're the sluts.

Anyway, I guess I want to put in a plug here for writers allowing themselves to enjoy the work they've completed, and not rush on to the next thing within a day or two.  I think it may be worth it to let the accomplishment (and it is one) sink in, to reflect on the process that just happened, and consider ways to get the book out there through the query process–and then give yourself the time to celebrate, with friends and family.  And don't accept the idea that you're a failure if you're not constantly rushing to open the next blank Word document.  Let your friends drive themselves crazy with blowing ever more printer toner and (hopefully recycled) paper.  Relax a bit, and let your "work in progress" shift in your mind to "work is produced."  Now that's a WIP worth having.