Even with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned barely off my plate (it's still in edits), I'm already mulling the next big thing. I thought I had some idea what it was going to be, but, ha ha, fooled myself again.
I keep a fairly large roster of possible projects to work on. Sometimes they're nothing more than a sentence or two scribbled down; sometimes they're fairly detailed rundowns. The most likely future candidate, a project that has been through a bunch of mutations and which accrued a LOT of notes, has more or less augured into a wall.
How this happened is downright weird. While mulling over the implications of the story, I realized that it would be possible to write another story — maybe even a better one — by taking those implications and standing them on their heads. So I coughed up a quick-and-dirty outline of that other story.
Paradoxes abounded. Story #1 had a very detailed roster of characters that I felt quite close to, but for some reason they didn't fit with the story I put them in. Story #2 had a far more propulsive STORY, but the characters were all pretty vile — I didn't want to force myself to write about people I didn't want to spend five minutes thinking about, let alone trying to trace the motives of.
End result: Instead of one stalled project, I now had two. Both sitting side by side on my desk, both in various states of disrepair. A little like trying to fix one broken car by buying another broken car and transplanting the parts, only to end up with ... two broken cars.
I've been in this particular brokedown elevator before, so I know better than to force myself. I have Steven Savage's book to read and submit feedback on first, and I have cleanup to perform on my own current book. But I'm always amazed at how at every level of expertise with this stuff, it's possible to have good ideas just obstinately refuse to come together, or run right through your fingers.
Someone else once mentioned to me that it seemed easier to be a writer when you weren't as conscious of what you were doing. I opined that it might seem that way, but it's largely an illusion. You don't know what not to do, so you try a lot of things, and you aren't always aware of how some of them fail. If it gets harder as you go on, it's only because you're trying that much more to raise your own stakes.