I'm now in the homestretch — the last 5,000 to 10,000 words — of Welcome to the Fold's first draft. Normally I'm reluctant to talk about projects in progress like this, because it feels like either bragging or promising more than I can deliver. The book could change drastically in the second draft for all I know, so I don't like to lead on that it's going to be a watermelon when in fact it's going to be a pumpkin. Vegetable metaphors aside, the occasion did bring some other thoughts to mind.
At about this phase in any project of mine, I start thinking about the next step. Right now I have about three, possibly four major things that could be the next big thing to work in. All are radically dissimilar in tone, conceit, length, and intentions. This is, to me, a good thing: it means I've learned how to give myself the broadest possible range of options.
The downside is trying to suss out which one will be most "worthwhile", a trap of thought if there ever was one. I have this bad habit of thinking that only the longer, more ambitious projects are "more worthy" — this from the guy who has said any number of times that he'd rather read 50,000 good words than 5,000,000 lousy ones. But we all love to pull the wool over our own eyes, and find a reason to believe it's our 5,000,000 words that won't stink like the other guy's. Doubly so when the book in question hasn't been written yet, because a project that doesn't exist can have any number of attributes assigned to it. It can always be the best thing ever made, because it doesn't have to be hemmed in by the limitations that spring up the minute you type Chapter One or FADE IN:.
When I first started working on long-form projects, I had just enough exposure to other authors — some serious, some wannabes — to notice how one key difference between the two was not just that the former would actually work to give their ideas form and the latter would not. It was that the former understood on some fundamental level that a flawed story that exists is better than a perfect story that doesn't. The price of having your great idea truly appreciated by others is giving it form — and since in order to do that you have to make decisions about what's on the page and what's off, that means making it into one specific thing and not letting it be any number of free-floating things.
Amateurs, I think — and I mean this most specifically in the sense of people who are perpetual amateurs — lack the nerve to declare what their projects are and are not. For them it's just better to talk a good game, to get praised for sounding or seeming like a "creative person", and to get patted on the head for coming up with an "original idea". But from all I've seen, it's the outlook and the personality behind a story that most needs to be original; the idea itself, and the resulting artifact, is just one possible endpoint from that.