Everything in the Spreadsheet

I had a revelation about the novel project the other night.

I was talking to a new neighbor who is a video game designer and asking him all sorts of questions about his job, because I love asking people questions about their jobs. He just finished a project and, for the first time in a long time, is starting on a brand new game, set in a brand new world that still needs to be dreamed up. Right now it’s just a spreadsheet with a bunch of ideas, most no more than a paragraph long, and his team needs to determine which ideas they want to pursue and start building them out into an actual story. Sounds a lot like embarking on a new novel.

The revelation came when he was explaining his preferred next step. Some people want to try to do everything in the spreadsheet, but after being a video game designer for many years, he knows that it will be a higher-quality game if they choose a handful of their ideas and focus on making them really good. They can always go back and add additional features or storylines later, once they’ve got that foundation.

Focus. It sounds so simple. And yet.

I’ve been struggling with my novel project. Lately when people ask me about it, I just say it’s a mess. There are two timelines, a screenplay, a blog, a found autobiography. I have a good idea of the plot now, but all these other ideas I’ve pursued along the way have left me with 50,000 words that don’t really advance that plot. I have been trying to do everything in the spreadsheet, and maybe if I had more time, I could do it — but I could also just choose to make the most of the time I have.

I’m saying it here for accountability. My new word is focus. Just get the main story down and don’t worry about all the half-pursued trails in my working file. If it doesn’t add to the main story, it goes on hold (for now).