Monday, March 22, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Multitasking Writing Projects

I always work on more than one writing project at a time.  I may spend months working on one novel, then turn to another novel and work on that for a month, then turn to a short story for a week, and then head back to the first novel.  Some days I'll work on three different projects before lunch, although that's rare.  This multitasking approach has some pros and cons, as you imagine.  But after doing some looking around on the web in various forums and such, I see that most people do have multiple projects going at once.

Some of the Cons of Multitasking are ...
  • You can lose track of where you are in a story.  This means having to take very good notes, reference those notes, and do a lot of re-reading of your material to get back into the groove of where you are.  I naturally do a lot of re-reading of my work, so this approach works.  However, I do lose time reading my writing when I probably should be making more writing, instead.
  • You have another way to ignore or procrastinate a nagging writing issue.  After all, if you have a new and exciting short story humming away, you don't have to force yourself to work through the ending of that complex novel.  Well, not right now, anyway.  Having another project to go to makes that kind of procrastination more likely.
  • Making multiple, specific project deadlines can be trickier.  If you have one project going, then that is what you work on, and the deadlines surrounding it are what you work towards.  With multiple projects, you have to track multiple deadlines, and can find yourself against the wall finishing a piece that you put on the back burner for too long.
Some of the Pros of Multitasking are ...
  • When you get stuck, there is always something else to work on.  Sometimes it isn't a matter of procrastination, it really is more like being stuck or blocked completely.  Instead of getting frustrated, you can move to another project and keep the words flowing.  That kind of break might be all that is necessary to get the first project unstuck and flowing again.
  • You can write when motivation and mood are high, so writing is more fun.  For me, anyway, I always move to the project that is calling my name at that moment.  If a great scene or passage of dialogue comes to me, I don't fight the urge to write it, even if it is in a project I know is not a high priority.  Some people feel they do their best work when they are the most excited about it.  (Note that others feel they do their best work when they are low, struggling with each word, and therefore being very thorough.)
  • You can get more work into circulation at one time.  If you can handle several projects at once, you can be working towards multiple contests, special issues, and general submissions simultaneously.  In today's publishing world, this is almost a necessity, since the time between when you start to write a book and when you see it in print is often years. 
My inspiration for this post came from the fact that I've started a new novel.  I noted a call for a specific kind of submission, and realized I had an idea percolating that would be a good match.  And I was probably looking for a reason to continue to put off writing the ending to my speculative fantasy novel (note procrastination problem, above).  Taking on another project right now is probably not wise for another reason - that I intend to try writing a poem a day in April.  Poetry uses a different part of my brain than story writing, and so I experience a sort of jarring effect when I move from one to the other.  This can either be a source of inspiration, or of frustration, and I can't predict which one it will be ahead of time.  These projects are on top of two short stories in the editing phase, and my mental backlog of science fiction novels, only one of which is completely written.

And of course there is the blog ...


Image Credit: / CC BY 2.0


Amy said...

The main reason I've found for having multiple projects is to keep my creativity flowing--to keep my brain feeling "fresh," as it were. I think you're right when you say switching projects for a while when you feel stuck can actually help free your writing for the original project.

JA Grier (ee/em/eir) said...

Amy - Exactly. Sometimes you simply can't dictate where the muse will lead, and you don't want to miss something good. You just have to follow.