It’s Thursday and I want to talk about a thing that I’ve mentioned once or twice, but that I haven’t really delved into in detail.
Sometimes you’re working on one story, and for whatever reason another story is jostling for space in your brainmeats. Getting distracted from one story to work on another can often result in a full stop on productivity on the first story, and that is no bueno.
What I discovered last year was that I had the capacity to work on multiple projects at the same time, but this is not a skill that many writers seem to possess, based on my purely anecdotal experience with other writers.
So how do you pull on multiple threads without losing track of any given thread?
I’m not even sure I have a good answer to that, but what I CAN tell you is that it is definitely possible.
Last year, for my thousand words a day thing, I often found myself needing a little creative push to get writing for the day. At first I felt like I just needed to take a break and simply not write on one of those days, but as anyone who paid attention to this blog last year knows, I never did that. I forced myself to get writing.
But some days, instead of pushing on the current novel, I’d take a step back and write a little short story, or play around with a novella, or do a writing game on a message board somewhere.
Those little adventures away from the big work-in-progress (WIP) turned out to be pivotal to keeping my goal of writing every single day in motion. Instead of taking a day off, I simply redirected my creative energy to something else.
The trick was in getting back to the big WIP. I couldn’t let it falter and just sit there while I worked on other things for the rest of the year. I worked on Gridfall for three solid weeks before suddenly needing a break, and I wrote a short story one day instead of working on Gridfall. I was extremely worried that if I did it, I was going to lose the thread of the novel and would have to move on to something else, or break the spell and fail the year before it had ever properly begun.
Except that didn’t happen. The day passed, I wrote the short story, and then the next day I sat back down to work on Gridfall again and it just kept on coming. So I made a point to take little fictional detours throughout the year. For about four of those months I took a break every single week to work on weekly stories. Writing multiple stories at the same time was a revelation in my process.
It proved that I could work on multiple projects without sacrificing any given project.
It’s a skill that I learned in my day job, disciplining my available work hours to get several different tasks done in a day, or a whole bunch of tasks over the span of a week. It takes the ability to focus your mind on a task for a certain amount of time, and then reconfigure your focus for another task.
It isn’t multi-tasking, which I still don’t believe is a thing people are properly capable of. I’m not actively working on two things at the same time; rather I’m treating things I’m working on like RAM in a computer. While I’m working on a project, my brain’s RAM is allocated to that task and no other. Other tasks are dormant. I know they’re there, but I’m not in need of them at that moment.
Then when the task is done, I change gears and that RAM shifts over to the next task.
I have learned how to compartmentalize projects via being a Project Manager in my day job, and having that skill at my disposal has made all the difference in my writing life.
And like any skill, one must practice it to become proficient. If you want to be an author, especially a self-published author who does all or most of the thousand and one tasks to get your stories in front of readers’ eyes, then you better learn how to compartmentalize those tasks and work on more than one project at a time.
Writing for a living is your business. You have to treat it like one and learn how to be an efficient content producer, because you only have so many hours in a day.
You can do it. I believe just about anybody can manage multiple projects once they turn their aspiration and hobby into a career, with all that “career” entails.
So try it out! Practice disengaging your mind from one story and latching onto another one, see how it works for you, and always remember to write the hell on.
That’s an interesting idea! I’ve always steered clear of pursuing other projects when working on a big one, but I think I’m going to give your strategy a try.
I hope it bears some fruit for you!
It’s certainly was something I worried about as I started experimenting with multiple stories at a time, but at this point, I feel comfortable working on two different projects over a long span of time with occasional jaunts into a third.
I’d finish any given project faster if I just focused in on it exclusively, but so long as I’m still producing and finishing projects, I don’t feel like I’m wasting the time.
Thank you! Your comment is very inspiring. It’s true, working on other projects isn’t a waste of time, just productive in a different way. I think that was the main issue for me, but now I’m thinking about it differently. I’m looking forward to trying it out!
Starting multiple stories is no problem for me…it’s the coming back to them that is the challenge. I probably wait too long in between and let the stories cool off too much. I’m going to give your advice some thought. Thanks!
Cheers, Gene! I fully recognize that this isn’t advice for everyone, but learning what doesn’t work for you is just as important as learning what does work, so it’s all to the good and growth of your skill set.
Let me know how it works out for you, okay?
Compartmentalizing is difficult for me. I have a difficult time returning to the primary task once distracted or switching horses in the middle of the stream as Gma Slick would say. But, I always seem to get something (many things) accomplished. Just not always the primary project.
Your persistence continues to amaze me.