Working on multiple at one time is something I am very accustomed too. Having worked as a manager and business owner for many years, I am well aware of the difficulties involved in multitasking. However, until this month, I wasn’t aware of how hard it would be to do that with my writing. You see, before this month, I had only one work in progress at a time.
I think more of my problems come because I am typically not an outline writer. I don’t create and outline to work from, I just type. Well, that also makes the ideas stored in my mind a bit harder to track. There where a few things I was already doing that helped dramatically and there are some things I learned recently.
Being an writer, and doing it a lot, is like juggling chain saws on a unicycle while up on the tight-rope. If you don’t know what you are doing someone is bound to get hurt, and it will likely be you.
You may be planning to only work on one project at a time. That you will complete one manuscript and move on to the next. While, I don’t think you should do that, I can respect that. But, there are still some other things to consider. Lets look at what I juggle right now (and this is just writing related).
- Novel A
- Ideas for Novel B
- Ideas for Novel C
- Short Story A
- Ideas for Short Story B, C, D, E, F, and G
- Critiques and edits for Short Story A
- Copy editing for Children’s Book
- Keeping track of illustrator’s progress on Children’s Book
- Researching best publishers for Children’s Book
- Writer’s Group meetings
- Critiques and edits for the works of writers in my writing group
- Self Publishing research
- Weekly Blog Updates
- Webpage Management
- Twitter Updates (to promote myself)
- Facebook Page Updates (to promote myself)
- Self Promotion
- Planing to see if I can attend OSC’s Boot camp
- Submission tracking
- Short Story Market research
I am sure I have already forgotten a few things. But, that is a lot. Most of it has little to do with writing multiple projects at once. The funny thing is, it didn’t become overwhelming until I tried writing my short story while working on the Novel. The fact of the matter is that I refuse to trim back on any of this (and I still have personal obligations as well). Each of these things is enriching and rewarding to my craft and my future in the craft.
So, let me share with you what it is that I have learned.
Organization is absolutely key to surviving the onslaught of things I need to do.
Schedule. I use my Google calendar like crazy. It links with my android phone and my wife’s Google Calendar. Aside from the list above, it keeps track of my kids’ appointments, my wife’s appointments, my personal appointments, my volunteer appointments, and my writing appointments.
Story notes. I know I said that I don’t outline. But often while I am writing one scene an idea comes up for a future scene in the same work. So I have a file on my computer called “Story Notes” and on it I keep track of my daily word count, ideas for future scenes, characters (and their quirks), and much more. It helps me to refresh my memory when I open my novel, especially after working on another project.
Ideas notebook. Every good writer needs an ideas notebook of some type. Maybe its a file on your phone. Maybe it is a little notepad. Whatever it is, you need to be able to carry it with you everywhere. Ideas hit me at the weirdest times, from the middle of the night to the drive to the kids’ schools. This gives me the ability to write them down. Many of them don’t work out to a story right away, but recently two separate ideas merged when I was flipping through that notebook. That became Short Story A that I mentioned above.
Submission Tracking. If you are not tracking your submissions, you will be in big trouble. I currently have two short stories out at different markets, and one more that will be going out soon. The worst thing that could happen to those would be for me to forget about them or to even confuse them. You might forget you sent one to a market already and resubmit it to them (wasting your time and theirs) or you might skip a market thinking you already sent it there. I use Duotrope, it’s free and it works well.
Folders. Organize your computer’s writing folders in one spot. This keeps your works together while also making back up easier. I have one folder called “writings” (original I know). In that folder, I have a folder for novels, short stories, contracts, and the miscellaneous files. I can drag and drop the ‘writings’ folder onto my Passport hard drive for simple back up. Also, when I decide I want to write on a particular piece, I find it quickly.
Project Tracking. It might be a cork board in your office. It could be a program on your computer. But you need to keep track of what projects are where and when was the last time you worked on them. Set up three categories for your works in progress: Writing, Editing, and Submitting. Each project should be under one of those categories. And, keep a date attached to it. Otherwise, you may keep writing the newest thing while your other piece sits and collects virtual dust waiting for the edits.
Time management is important. You can’t expect to get everything done in every day. There are only so many hours in a day. I don’t plan out every hour of every day. Life with three little boys doesn’t work like that. Instead, I only plan for a few activities each day. If I can get more done then great.
Check the Calendar. Don’t tell yourself you will write for three hours today, when the Calendar says you have to be at the Doctor’s at noon, take the car in for an oil change at three, and you have a volunteer meeting at six. With everything else you have to do, three hours of writing is not practical on that day. But, perhaps you can fit in some smaller activities in between.
Know what fits. I can’t write for one hour. It’s just not how I work. I have to write out a whole chapter and once I get going, there will be no stopping me. So I know that I can’t sit down and write during the hour between when my two older kids get out of school. I’m setting myself up for failure if I do that. I do know, that I can read during that time. So, I often sit in the car and read.
The point is, the first step to failing at multiple projects is assigning the wrong projects for the wrong times. For example, my wife has the kids today. She handles getting them to school and home. That means I can focus on my writing today. You won’t see much from me on Facebook or Twitter. But, Wednesday through Friday you will see a lot more for me on the social networks because I can easily squeeze in a quick tweet or post while I am making lunch or entertaining the kids. Every day you should work on your craft, but that doesn’t mean that everyday you have to type in a manuscript. Take your weekly writing to-do list and plug it in around your life.
The best-laid plans of mice and men. Plan on forgetting something. Listen, you are human. I know that may come as a surprise to you, but you will forget something you wanted to do. Yesterday I forgot to write this blog post. Even with all the plans in the world, something will be forgotten. If it was a crucial line in your manuscript you can go back and add it. If it was to even write, there is always a chance to make up for it tomorrow. When I first pledged to write 1,000 words a day no matter what, I knew I would miss a day or two. So, I have revised that plan to be an average of 1,000 words a day. Much easier to manage.
Just know that you can’t do it all in one day, or even in a week.
Priorities. Get your priorities down now. And writing shouldn’t be number one. Your life should be first. Once you know what is important to you, you can better plan what needs to go where in your schedule. Writing is very important to me, but my family is always first. My own sanity is next. So on a busy day, I may not plan to write in the hour I have to myself. I may plan for a game or to zone out on the TV. I won’t be writing anytime my kids deserve my attention. I won’t be writing anytime the San Jose Sharks are playing.
Writing can’t be number one in out lives. Recognize that, and place it where it really falls. Then plan around that. Your priorities change daily depending on what else needs to be done that day. Once you get into a rhythm of your own priorities and schedule you will quickly realize there are certain days you won’t be writing in that manuscript but you may have time for reading, editing, promotions, and of course ideas come at their own times. But, you will also see when you can maximize the writing time you do have with minimal distractions and without letting it consume your life.
Know your own limits
If you can’t juggle two tennis balls on the ground, I don’t recommend the tight-rope stunt above. I know that I am just getting started in this multiple writing projects realm. So, even though I have an idea for the next novel, I won’t start writing it until this current one is at least into editing. I did put together a short story while I was writing this novel. It is still waiting for it’s first round of edits.
I knew that one novel at a time is my current limit. I also knew that I needed to push myself just a bit and try writing a short story while I was still working on another project. It’s okay to push those limits just a bit from time to time. But over doing it will result in burn-out and the possibility of dropping the craft all together. That is something to be avoided.
In the end, I can’t tell you what will work for you. You may not like my ideas, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction. If you organize yourself, manage your time, and know your own limits; you can juggle all that life has to offer and still get your writing done.
As always share your ideas in the comments section below. Let the readers know what works for you, and I am always willing to learn something new myself.