Friday, January 16, 2015

Write more than one story at a time? That's crazy!

“I don’t have time to do just one thing at a time!”

Have you ever heard this expression? It’s okay if you haven’t, as a casual perusal of the internet tells me that this particular declaration doesn’t seem to exist in too many places beyond the confines of my own head. Can that be right, though? I’m not buying it, if for no other reason than I’m just not that innovative when it comes to coining new phraseology.

In our fast-paced, non-stop, cat-eat-dog-because-dog-is-too-slow world, being able to focus on one task at any given time more often than not is a luxury. Now, unless you’re like one of those performers on Venice Beach who juggles running chainsaws while hopping on one foot and reciting Miley Cyrus lyrics as Shakespearean soliloquies*, you’re probably not actually doing more than one thing at any one time.

However, chances are that you’ve got your attention divided among multiple demands on your time and energy. You almost certainly have some kind of “To Do List,” which never seems to let you mark any one thing as being “Done” without first requiring you to add two or more items to accomplish.

As you read this, I have two novels I’m working on (one a solo effort; the other a collaboration with my longtime writing partner). Thankfully, they represent completely different genres, so the risk of me conflating the two is minimal, though it does make for the occasional interesting dream. I’m also working to finish the proposal/outline for another novel, and the typeset pages for the novel that will be published later this spring are now awaiting my attention.

Elsewhere around my writing plate, I have two short stories to write between now and mid-April, an essay, and another book project which came about over the holiday season. Proposals for two more novels that I’ll write later this year are also in the queue, and another one is lurking in the shadows, trying to sneak into the line when it thinks I’m not looking.

And even as I sit here thinking I’ve got a lot going on and I’m getting things done, I know other writers who maintain an “operational tempo” that makes me look like a slacker.

This isn’t me complaining, by the way. I’m loving every minute of this. Well, almost every minute.

When I left my “regular” day job back in the fall, my intention was to become a full-time writer. As I pondered this notion last summer while preparing for the transition, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to secure enough work to replace the salary I’d be losing. As I sit here, halfway through the first month of 2015, I’ve stopped worrying about that potential problem, at least for the moment. After so many years of pulling all-nighters and weekends to keep up with everything while working at my other job, I finally have so much more time (and energy!) to devote to my writing.

I’m still learning how to manage my schedule so that I can keep all of these wonderful balls in the air, but I’ve found a routine or rhythm that’s comfortable for me. I work on one project in the morning, and another in the afternoon. To borrow from Captain Barbosa, that’s more of a guideline than an actual rule and subject to change, of course, particularly if I’m on a roll while writing a scene and don’t want to stop.

I’m still a bit of a night owl and don’t typically go to bed before midnight, so things like reviewing edits or notes or writing pieces such as this blog post usually take place after dinner and after the kids have gone off to bed. I keep track of where I am with respect to each project, but I don’t sweat things like missing a day’s work on a given story, as I know I can move things around and make up for any lost time as necessary.

Yeah, there are a lot of moving parts to track, but I knew the job would be dangerous when I took it. Besides, I’m having more fun with this whole writing thing than I’ve had in years.

Are you a writer who works on more than one thing at a time, or do you prefer to focus all of your intentions on a single story until it’s “done?” If you do work on multiple projects, what are your tips and tricks for keeping the various trains on their tracks?

* = Description of Venice Beach performer changed to protect his identity. He actually was reciting Kelly Clarkson lyrics, but don’t tell anyone.


KeVin K. said...

I once hurt myself by trying to emulate Kevin J. Anderson's multitasking skills. (Though I really wasn't in traction for as long as I usually tell people.) However, I share his perplexity about how writers who do one thing at a time work.

As a freelance writer and editor I absolutely must have several irons in the fire at all times if I have any hope of keeping up my end of the family finances. The only two times I've ever worked exclusively on a single project were my first novel, because I had never written one before and a book rescue I'm contractually forbidden to discuss.

The keys, as you said, are to avoid working simultaneously on similar projects and to manage time well. My schedule looks nothing like yours because our families, projects, minds, and sodas* are different.

There's no one right way to work on multiple fronts, each writer must experiment until she finds the way that works best for her. But if the goal is to earn a living exclusively as a freelancer, it's a skill that must be mastered.

*= You drink Mountain Dew, I'm a Sun Drop guy.

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend to work on one project until I hit some kind of block in the road, then switch to another. So I do sometimes work on two different things pretty close together.

Liane Spicer said...

I used to focus on one project at a time, but right now I'm trying to work on two simultaneously. So far I'm finding that I'm not very good at juggling as the nonfiction is absorbing me to the extent that I haven't touched the novel since I wrote the outline two weeks ago.

So--while I have several projects in various stages of development, I can only truly focus on one at a time.

daytonward said...

I wouldn't be able to focus on multiple projects if they weren't each very different from one another. It also helps that for the two novels, I have outlines that map out (at least in broad strokes) each story. I don't know that I be able to do it if I was just "winging it" with the writing.

Sunny Frazier said...

Coming to the conversation late (hey, I've been SICK) but I've always been proud of myself for picking a project and seeing it through to the end. Except, this last book, it came back to bite me. No book should take 6 years to complete! I got tired of it, that's all, and I was lured away by blogging, teaching and doing acquisitions. All of which helped other aspects of my career. But the book was neglected.

Now I'm attempting to write two books at once. That's because I feel one book should come next in the series, but local fans want me to keep the setting in my area. Would it be so bad if they came out closer together?

It's an experiment, that's all. I do notice all my books were birthed very differently. I can't say I have a formula that works novel after novel.

J. R. Frontera said...

I always have multiple balls in the air. :P I work on the "Bait Fish and Reel" idea, which has become a monthly post on my blog. Every month I have a novel project to work on, a short story to work on, and poetry I attempt to push out at least once a month, if not once weekly (back in the day, at least). The idea is that I'm Baiting (writing/editing new stuff), Fishing (submitting finished stuff), and Reeling (theoretically selling, though that hasn't happened yet) all at the same time. Though all of these are also very different from each other, so I don't have difficulty confusing anything with something else. And it adds variety and interest, so if I get stuck on one project I can switch to another and still keep the writing progress moving! Still, sometimes it is most definitely exhausting ... especially when you add in a full time job, pets, a kid, a husband, and a house with 8 acres to upkeep ....