Work in Progress

How do you define WIP?
Yes, I know the acronym stands for “work in progress”, but how do you define progress? Have you ever stopped to relate that to your actual workflow?

This question brought to you by a friend who was spinning herself up into an anxiety attack with heaps of unnecessary guilt and angst, because, as she put it, she’d compiled a list of all of her WIPs and the more she dug, the more she had to add onto an ever-increasing list, and this didn’t even count the ones she was certain she’d forgotten…

Now wait a minute, says I, in my ever-so-tactless way. If you’ve forgotten it exists, or you have to dig it up, how can you possibly think it’s a WIP?

…because if it’s not in progress, it by definition can’t be a work in progress.

I set an arbitrary limit of 6 months. (Functionally, it’s closer to 2.) If I have not written on a story in that time, it’s not a work in progress anymore, it’s a story I’d like to get back to someday. Every year, a few months into the year, I make a folder for the year prior, and move everything I started that year that’s not actively being worked on into it. Once it’s in that folder, it’s mentally archived.

That’s not to say I can’t go back and work on things. I have one story – roughly, a sequel to Shattered Under Midnight – that has been getting reworked and played with off and on for 6 years. When I pulled the last draft out of the 2021 folder and started writing on it again, it became a WIP again.

Which means I have two WIPS right now, which I regard as one too many. Still, more words is more words, right?

Apparently, this is not how others function. When I asked other writers, I got these responses (roughly paraphrased):
1. “Everything I’ve ever written or wanted to write but not actually written on, including things I’ve vaguely planned for the future.” (Yes, that hurts my brain, but several people responded with variations on this.)
2. It’s a WIP if I have a generalized intent to finish. It doesn’t need a specific plan. Unless you actually throw it away and decide not to look at it ever again, you can still consider it in progress.
3. I have lists! This list is everything I ever started, and am going to get around to someday, except the random snippets. This list is everything I plan to write on this universe / got into but got stuck. This list is the production schedule! If it’s on the production schedule, it’s in progress.

And this is where lots of time in logistics rears its head: I look at the last one, and the words “production schedule” warm the cockles of my heart. (Okay, not everyone said that. But at least one person did, and the others have their works divided up for clear attention to actual output. )

I personally have never found having a generalized intent to do anything to produce meaningful results. I have a generalized intent to get a seaplane rating. I haven’t done anything about it in 15 years, and I’m not any closer now than I was 15 years ago. I cannot in any honesty say that getting a seaplane rating is in progress, now can I?

On the other hand, I have an actual plan to get a back porch, and right now, my back porch is complete except for painting over the last welds, hanging the lights (acquired the means to do so last week), and installing the rain barrels. I’m probably going to hang the lights this weekend, while it’s the last bit of coolth Texas is likely to get for the year. Painting over the last welds requires a lot of kneeling, so I have acquired a nice knee-saving foam pad, but I may apply money directed at teenage enthusiasm instead.

That said, just because I’m crotchety and very fond of production schedules and timelines and keeping my to-do list as clean and focused as can be doesn’t mean I’m right for everyone else’s workflow.

So how do you define a WIP, and why? How’s that working for you as a creative writer, and how’s that working for you as an indie publisher?

16 comments

  1. I said this on the discord, but figured I’d repeat here (perhaps more coherently.)

    I have a LOT of things in a pile that are on the writing Queue. And I have lists. (I’m actually in the process of making those lists coherent rather than in my head. Organization is not my strong point but if I it it with a rock enough sometimes something useful emerges.)

    Active Queue: Usually 3-4 works that I’m currently rotating through as I run up against a wall. Usually I’ll work on one of these more than the others. It’s rarely the one I planned on working on. These are my true Works in Progress.

    Immediate Next Queue: These sometimes get called Works in Progress because every now and then something will go for the throat and something in here will get worked on. If it really gains momentum it gets added to the Active Queue. If not I’ll get the thing a do not want to forget down and it’ll get back in line. (I have a story on here, that gets worked on slowly over time because when I’m in a certain mood it’s the ONLY character that’ll talk to me. But that mood doesn’t happen very often.)

    Story Queue: Stories that are louder than ‘someday’ but aren’t currently either actively in the rotation or waiting for their turn in the rotation. This list and the Immediate Next list have a huge amount of permeability depending on what my brain is doing on any given day. These are not works in progress even sometimes. If they become even temporary works in progress they get moved to Immediate Next.

    Idea Queue: This is the pile of everything else. Snippets, fragments old things that REALLY need a re-drafting, and aren’t’ loud enough yet for me to start that.

    It’s messy. I’m trying to make it less messy with a little thing called Air table. (spreadsheets with more ways of looking at the data.)

    1. It’s more important for me to remember to keep going back to works on the back burner than anything else.

  2. > my back porch is complete except for painting over the last welds

    I did some major structural repair on a house. After getting the correct permit, I chose appropriate materials, did the job, and called the Code Gestapo back for inspection and sign-off.

    Gestapo: [looking at series of steel weldments and shiny stainless-steel bolts] “You did it with… metal…”

    TRX: “You got a problem with that?”

    Gestapo: “Uh… no…”

    You can only do so much with patches and wood screws. After that, it’s welder time!

    1. Yes it is. One of the subframes of my fairway mower is broken. In three places. 😡 Metal fatigue, apparently. Therefore I will be dismantling that monstrosity and welding up a new plate with thicker steel. Like 3/4 armor plate. There will be torching and welding and all kinds of sparks flying.

      And then, because the subframe was forged by Vulcan himself in the fires of Olympus, something -else- will break. Hopefully something easier to get to. ~:D

  3. The thing I am actively currently doing. Like physically in my hands that very moment.

    Everything else is varying shades of intention. (Some of them quite strong. I intend to eat sometime today and sleep tonight, after all, but they’re still only intentions until I bring them about.)

  4. What I”m actively working on, with a plan to finish in the foreseeable future. That means stories that I dash off a scene for, then tuck away for a while, are not my WIP. While I was working on _Overly Familiar_, I wrote two major scenes for the next book, but it did not count as WIP. Now that _Overly_ is finished, the intro bit I wrote for _P. Familiar_ yesterday counts toward the WIP.

    If it is at an editor, or with alpha and beta readers, it is post-WIP, even if (as I know the Merchant book will) it comes back and needs a lot of work. The WIP is what I’m currently gnawing on. All the other things are “pending projects”. And if some of them never amount to real stories, hey, they were good exercises.

  5. “So how do you define a WIP, and why?”

    I usually do them one at a time, so WIP is the one I’m working on. They’re big, complicated things with lots of moving parts, and I’m not clever enough to hold more than one at a time in my mind.

    I like the way the stories come out, but publishing is more difficult because when I’m writing, I’m not publishing. Brain only holds one thing.

    It might be different if the stories weren’t sharing brain-space with furniture designs, metalwork, busted machinery and the rest of Life ™ but that’s how these things go.

  6. I am looking forward to your WIP being finished. Till then, I will reread your 5 novels that I own. (And go back and read your Roses posts again) 🙂

    1. Thank you!

      I’m working as … as well as I can. I know I could be faster. I wish I was faster. But I don’t want to go faster than I can write well.

  7. I’d say it’s anything that has moved beyond the idea stage but isn’t yet to the published stage. This includes anything I am actively drafting, anything that is drafted but hasn’t yet moved into the editing queue (what I call the “aging” stage), and anything I’m actively editing.

    Of those, I suppose only the aging stories don’t qualify by your definition, given that they can sit for years sometimes before I get back to them, but there is a plan to get back to them. A significant step has been completed, and I will eventually edit and put these together.

  8. Sounds like different brain-hacks– with some allowance for context, I define WIP as “something that I’d reasonably open up and do something with when I get stuck elsewhere, or think of something Really Cool.”
    So I can’t have “no work in progress that I can do” unless it’s not the story, it’s something else. (Usually lack of sleep, lack of spoons, or difficulty typing with cooing child on lap)

  9. I have a “story ideas” file with dozens of things.
    I have a white board with a list of nine things that run from “Really must finish this” to what I’d call WIPs — currently writing, editing. and publishing AKA out to betas, doing covers, formatting etc.

    Right now I’m wrapping up a series arc with one out to betas, one actively being written, and a bunch of in-universe shorter works that need to be finished and/or polished and possibly shoved into a collection or two. So I’ll say four to seven WIPs at the moment, depending on how I clump the shorter stuff.

  10. I like some of the new thoughts here.

    I like the idea of the ‘have a production schedule’. I’m disorganized. I probably have some of the skills, but I’m not quite sure how to get them all working together, and have myself working diligently according to the plan.

    The screwed uppedness of my creative writing projects are a special case of the general screwed uppedness of my projects.

    I don’t really have much of a WIP list for general projects. I have a priority list for future projects. I have a list of completed projects. I have a list of abandoned projects, and of project ideas I will probably ignore.

    I may have several things on a list for ‘do ASAP’. But, my working on any one of them is usually in unpredictable chunks. I can’t tell, early on, in any chunk of working, whether it will finish it or not. I work on the next bit, and if it finishes before I crash or take a break, then it is done. If I crash, or take a break, it goes into a sort of limbo. Because I rarely know which item I will work on next, or how much of it I will do.

    Panic and desperation somehow results in things getting done, a lot of the time.

    If it is incomplete, it is a “I’d like to do that some time” or “I should probably not do this.”

    If I am fortunate, I know I have a deadline for X, or an opportunity to concentrate on Y that may be enough to finish something.

    1. “If it weren’t for the last minute, I’d never get anything done.” Hard deadlines meeting unfinished work can be a wonderful motivational tool. Or they can lead to total brain cramp. *Raises paw*

  11. I’ll class it as a “WIP” if there’s enough text and outline that I could switch to it if I find myself blocked on the project I want to be working on. I have a couple of books out that started as a “while blocked” project. There’s a few in this category, one of them a novel with 12k words and an outline to the end of the book. But as long as words keep coming on the current series it’ll have to wait.

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