Writers: Work on Multiple Projects

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I have this habit…

Anytime I’m supposed to be doing something, no matter what it is, at some point I get tired of doing it and end up doing something else instead.

If I spend too long working on an intense work project, at some point I will open up a word document and write fiction instead.

If I spend too long writing fiction, at some point I will get up and start cleaning instead.

If I spend too long cleaning, at some point I will stop and start online shopping instead.

And so on and so forth.

It’s the procrastinator in me, it’s the daydreamer in me, it’s the Libra in me–take your pick. I have a wandering mind and like to feel connected to the task at hand, so when I don’t, I move on.

That’s not to say I don’t finish what I started. It’s just to say that I start lots of things and so it may take me longer to finish what I started than the average person who just works on one thing at a time. And I’m okay with that, for the most part.

This habit of mine extends to fiction writing, but here, especially, I see it as a good thing, not a bad thing. I’ve written before about how important it is to take time between drafts to gain objectivity, and how working on the same thing endlessly leads to your creativity going stale. The key to writing (for me, at least) is to have multiple projects going at once.

So this past weekend,  I was struggling (and I mean struggling) to finish my current work in progress (The Play Story). I want to just finish this draft and get it over with, because I’m tired of this story. I’m tired of snarky teenagers and the language of contemporary YA and the present tense and the sexual tension and all of it. I’m just tired.

I didn’t finish it. Everything I wrote came out stale and cliché and just so so wrong, that at one point I just closed out of the Word doc and said to myself, “Enough.”

And then I opened up the document of my first-ever manuscript, a YA mystery (the Chateau Story), which I’ve rewritten dozens of times and still needs a ton of work. I was having some thoughts about it as I struggled to finish The Play Story, and I wanted to get them down.

And to my surprise, I made some actual, real progress on that manuscript for the first time in over a year. I think I’ve finally nailed the voice, and the beginning, the two main problems with that one.

There are people who will tell you the opposite of this advice. There are people who will only work on one thing at a time until it’s done (Stephen King.) And that’s fine, if it works for them. Just like my method is fine if it works for me.

(I read somewhere that George R.R. Martin works like me; he works on a character’s storyline until it gets stale, then switches to someone else, and so on and so forth. Perhaps this is the reason why both George R.R. Martin and I are famous for taking a long time to get things done. I’m fine with that, by the way; I’m well aware that I’m in this for the long haul.)

So if you are like me and get stuck on what you’re working on; there’s nothing wrong with taking a break and working on something else. Nothing at all.

Just as long as at some point, you go back and actually finish what you started, because no one wants to read an almost-done book.

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