There’s the slice of life about the grieving family, then there’s the one about the Victorian Egyptologist, then there’s the viking fantasy, then there’s the fairytale retelling, then there’s the alternate history about if the Ottoman Empire had taken over the world, then there’s the epic fantasy about a girl who discovers she can’t read minds when everyone else can, then there’s the war story about the two boys that escape the concentration camp, then there’s the steampunk one about an explorer and his cartographer companion, then there’s the one about the space dragons, then there’s the one about. . .
Does your head ever look like this inside? It’s crammed to bursting with a thousand and one story ideas, all vying to be written and refusing to pipe down and wait their turn. How does a writer deal with this situation? Does we ignore all but one idea or do we flit between bits of everything, working on it all at once?
Persuading a lifetime’s worth of novel inspiration to wait quietly is an incredible difficult task — it feels impossible at times. The obvious solution is not to make it wait but to skip between your various projects as the inspiration takes you. But is that a wise thing? Or should we write only one novel at a time?
ON MULTIPLE PROJECTS
Many writers work on more than one piece at a time. They find that it helps them to keep a fresh perspective on their work and not grow bored of it. However, their novels are rarely all at the same stage of writing. They may have a couple still in the planning and drafting stage, one which is a first draft, another sitting unread while they take a break from it, and one or two which are at various stages of being edited and beta read.
The benefit of doing this is that if you get stuck with one, you can move to another. If you don’t have the energy or focus to write, you can work on plotting or do some edits. This way, even when you’re struggling, you’re always doing something.
Working on multiple books at once can be helpful when writing a series, since it is always good to have consistency and continuity between books and changing one element could well affect the rest of the series.
On a note that non-writers may not understand, working on more than one novel at a time can also calm the clamouring of the characters in our minds. They all demand their stories to be told and none see why they should wait their turn and so in giving them each short bursts on a regular basis, it can keep your mind a little quieter.
There are no rules to how many projects you should work on at once. Plenty of people find themselves to be more productive if they are working on several projects and that’s no bad thing. As with so much of writing, you have to work out what works for you. Unfortunately, working on many projects at a time is not helpful for everyone.
ON SINGLE PROJECTS
The idea of only working on one thing might drive some people crazy. What if I run out of ideas? What if I get bored? What about all the other amazing ideas that I have? What if I forget all those other amazing ideas? What if I hit twenty-seven and completely lose my ability to write?
I worried that when I finished Aurelius I’d never have another idea again, that I only had one book in me (and not a very good one at that). Yet take a look at my WIPs page — and they’re only the ones worth mentioning. If you get into the habit of giving time to every idea and working on them all at once, you run the risk of never finishing anything. The books on my WIP page are either in editing (Aurelius) or shelved (everything else). I like to keep my first draft close to my chest.
If you have the kind of mind that can manage several projects at once, I salute you. But we’re all different. But one of the biggest risks in multi-novel writing is serial incompletion.
Perhaps that doesn’t make sense but let me explain. Because you flit from book to book as the inspiration (or boredom, take your pick) strikes you, your attention becomes so divided that things get abandoned or forgotten and you end up with a trail of unfinished manuscripts. As each new idea comes (and there are no end to them) they demand your attention so that you are juggling more and more balls and not really getting anywhere.
Granted, this is not true of everyone. There are fantastic minds out there who can manage these things. But this division of attention also runs the risk of lowering the overall quality of your work. I find that I do my best work when I give something my full attention, putting consistent energy into it over a longer period. Maybe it’s just that I work best uninterrupted. To move from story to story would be distracting as I end up rather immersed in what I’m writing at any given point.
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Do what works best for you. As annoying and repetitive as that advice may be becoming, so much of the writing process is a matter of finding out what works for you. If you find joy and increased productivity in spreading out your time and attention then do so and don’t feel guilty about it. If you are more like me and tend to focus best on one thing at a time but pour your heart and soul in it while you’re working on it, then do that and don’t feel pressured to have other works on the go.
Know thyself. Juggling WIPs can be either a distraction or a help depending on the person. Remember that choosing one over the other doesn’t mean you are more or less focused or more or less of a writer than someone who does things differently. Experiment until you find the balance between enjoyment and productivity. My only advice is that it’s best not to have more than one first draft on the go at the same time, try to keep the projects at different stages.
- Do you prefer to write more than one thing at a time?
- How do you keep all your ideas from overwhelming you?