I’ve seen quite a few articles about whether or not you should attempt to write more than one thing concurrently. Like all advice about writing there is no shortage of differing opinions on the subject.
I find it helpful to hear others opinions and how other people do things, but at its heart writing is a creative endeavour and each of us has their own method. I treat advice about writing like a buffet, i read it and give it a chance and then work out what works for me. I figure it’s the best way to go, forging your own path and all that. It appears to be working for me so far, but i am also not yet a published author let alone a successful one so i guess time will tell on that score.
Generally speaking the advice i have seen falls into two camps.
The first is that you shouldn’t write more than one thing at once, you take that single project and hammer at it ignoring all other ideas and distractions until it is done. With the sideline of stopping briefly to write down any ideas for working on later before continuing on.
The second is that it is possible to work on more than a single project at once. Most also strongly state that you need to be quite organised about it to do so and there are many variations on the theme and ideas of how exactly to organise yourself and ooh this handy piece of software.
I’ve found that i don’t subscribe to the first first camp, i do not have a single project that i work on to the exclusion of all others (I currently have four). This post is ostensibly about how i deal with having multiple writing projects going at the same time. Firstly i confess that i am not super organised in general. Creating routines and helpful habits is something that i have only come into fairly recently in my life. Partly this is because of the rest of my life. Writing is incredibly important to me, but i am also a single parent to three children and a person with PTSD (i hate the word sufferer, victim etc when applied to an illness because i am a fucking survivor and a warrior dammit! Attitude is very important when dealing with your own mind and words have incredible power.). These two things alone can cause much disruption around any plans that i might have to sit down and write, and do on a regular basis. These are not excuses, just factors and i do my best to work around them so that i can still manage to put regular amounts of time into my writing.
Back to the point of this post though. How i approach having multiple projects. The first thing is that i do have a main project, one that i consider the most important and put the most work into. Currently that is a manuscript for a novel that is at a best guess about 2/3 of the way through first drafting (sometimes in my head i refer to this as the the ‘Grand Work’, but then i feel like a wanker and stop). Everything else is considered in my mind to be a side project. I currently have three of those. The first is a novelette (? i think that’s what it is officially, it is a 9000 word story so too long to be called a short story comfortably) that is almost ready to be released into the wild. The second is an old hand written short story that i am transcribing and revising, The third is another novel, which consists at the moment of a few short pieces that i have written for it and a collection of mental notes and ideas. I’m quite terrible at writing down ideas for my stories, never seems to happen. I am however blessed with some special part of my cortex that doesn’t forget them – i am generally not great at remembering to do practical things and have an extensive system of lists and reminders for dealing with my everyday responsibilities – but story ideas and even whole passages that find themselves in my writing eventually can seemingly be stored in mind for all perpetuity.
My basic method really is that i cycle between the four of them. I usually try to work on them in the order that i have listed them above. I start with the main project and if i am getting nowhere with it, i put it down and move on to the next. A method so far that i find this means that no matter if i am stuck i will always end up getting some work done on at least one of them.
This is by no means a rigid system. it is only in the last 6-12 months that i have begun to put regular amounts of time into writing. Prior to that i went with the ‘when the muse strikes me’ kind of method. Which meant that i would write in short bursts with gaps of anywhere from days, weeks or even months before i would write again. it doesn’t take a lot of mathematical skill to work out that at that kind of rate it was going to take me a very long time to finish anything, if i ever did. As i have talked about in another post, i started my original novel back in my early twenties and wrote as much of it as i have because i was doing it regularly. It is this regular writing that i now try to make sure i continue. By regular, i do not mean everyday either. I do write most days, but i also have days where i do not write for one reason or another. I do find however that if it gets longer than a couple of days i start to feel compelled to write again, like i am losing a link to something.
In addition to my normal writing i also have this blog, that i am starting to add to more often these days, possibly a sign that my efforts toward getting myself into better writing habits is working. I do have a note file with ideas about things that i could use for blog posts, how many of those will ever see the light of day i do not know. Plus i am also involved in a fledgling tabletop role playing games publisher, for which i do writing as well. Which is of a quite different style to my normal fiction (talking about the difference between the two is one of those notes in my blog ideas file).
While this may not read like the most awesome and efficient way of doing things it is working for me so far, i am moving forward and making constant progress and have gotten a lot more written since i started doing this. When i first decided to put regular time into writing again i tried out the first camp theory and picked one thing and kept on it, which ended with me spending a lot of time staring at the screen willing something to appear. Which didn’t get a lot done really.
I’m doing better than i was before, so i call it a success for now.
I don’t think there’s any wrong way to do this, just like there’s no wrong way to do most everything when it comes to writing. It’s all about what works for you. If you’re not on a deadline, then there’s no problem with cycling through things, and in fact that can be a great way to keep yourself refreshed. Working on one thing at a time is good advice for people who struggle with distractions – who never finish anything, who constantly lose motivation and drop projects. For them, hammering it out til it’s done is important. It all depends on your own work style and goals.
Me, I like to focus on one big thing at a time, with breaks for short stories here and there. I’m currently on my 2nd novel, and there was a time about two-thirds into my 1st novel that I got the idea for the 2nd, and reeeeaaaallly wanted to work on it. So I did. 🙂 But I knew I wouldn’t be able to juggle the two indefinitely, so I wrote a big chunk of the beginning, and then, with the “new love” infatuation out of my system, I put it on hold til I finished the 1st book. Now it’s my only large-scale project, while the other things I write are little things. I don’t think I’d have the energy to juggle this WIP with another – it’s a very big, very complicated story, and while I do LOVE it, it does take a lot out of me. I’m even contemplating a sabbatical after this book before starting another. Get my wind back!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Totally agree, there’s no right or wrong way, just what works for you. My current method works for me at the moment, but when i have a deadline of some sort that may not co tinue to work as well for me. Will wait and see and adjust accordingly.
LikeLiked by 1 person
In my professional writing, I have juggled multiple projects. At one point, I turned in steps on five different projects on the same day. I do not recommend doing this, but in my business, it’s generally feast or famine, so you take the work when you can get it.
The hard part, of course, was time management and long hours (seven days a week, for a while) and sometimes it was difficult to shift gears, but here’s what was interesting. Because all the projects were fairly different from each other — live action and animation, TV and film, adult and children programming — it created a kind of mental muscle confusion (or a writer version of Crossfit, if you prefer) that wound up making ALL of my projects stronger.
Obviously, everybody’s process is different, but there can be a nimbleness that develops from working on diverse projects.
Just my two cents.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It seems to be working for me so far. But at this point i am also unpublished and my only deadlines are my own, so if i focus on one and fall behind on others it’s not exactly a big issue.
I do agree with your mental nimbleness thing though. Jumping between things seems to keep me fresher when i approach each project.