Isn’t it funny how your average “lay person”, or non-writer is amazed at the way we can focus on one project for so long? But we’re up for it! We can go the long haul, and we do it well. What these “lay people” don’t understand is how obsessed passionate we are about our works. How could we not finish what we’ve started? We can’t leave John Doe hanging from one limb on Death Star 1. We have to see John through to the end. While that laser focus is incredibly helpful, I’ve discovered the beauty of splitting my focus of late, of working diligently on more than one project at a time. But how many is too many and is the juggling worth it?
2018 has seen me working on three projects: a co-novel to release next summer written with Hazel Gaynor set in 1956 Monaco and the south of France; my own WIP set in 1901 U.S. with a Big Concept that is still in progress; and a crazy, multi-collaborative novel written with five other authors set during the French Revolution, also set to release next year. Each of these projects has pushed me hard, and they’ve also been terrific fun. Still, there have been moments when my head was spinning, and I had to figure out how to make this juggling work for me. Are you crazy enough to go down this road, too?
THE CHALLENGES OF MULTIPLE PROJECTS
Jumps in history or world/location can be a real mind f*ck. Yeah, this can be a real problem. As I mentioned above, my current three projects are rather disparate in time and location. One is set in 1780s Paris, one in 1901 New York City, and the other in 1952 southern France. When I began the short collaborative piece (20,000 words), I discovered quickly that I could not be in old Paris and the twentieth century at the same time. The dialogue, the mannerisms, the societal norms were all so different that I found I was making too many errors. I finally made the tough decision to pause on my 20th century projects to finish the French Revolution before continuing forward.
Multiplicity: Has anyone seen that movie from the 90s where Michael Keaton’s body is replicated a bunch of times? Replication, or bleeding from one story to the next, can happen if you aren’t careful. It’s important to distinguish your protagonists from one another, both in the emotional tenor of the story and their voices, or you’re Project A will sound exactly like Project B. When I switch to Project B, I handle this issue by rereading the last two scenes that I wrote, as well as doing a quick warm-up exercise of journaling in the character’s voice for ten minutes. This helps me step back into the shoes and voice of the correct, unique protagonist.
Spending enough dedicated time on each: You have to be honest about what you can accomplish in the allotted time each project needs. I think we look at a calendar sometimes and over-estimate what’s possible, and then we feel backed into a corner and stress breaks down the creative fuel that’s so important to our writing. If you aren’t working under deadline, this is much easier. For the most part, I will work on Project A for two to three days at a time to stay “in the right head space”, and then switch to Project B. Though there is always a bit of reacquainting with the characters and the story that needs to happen, I find this method works best. Anymore than a few days away from any one manuscript and I feel disconnected from the story.
Did you notice how I used the word “challenges” in the heading above instead of something super negative like “cons” or “pitfalls”? That’s because in spite of the difficulties, I still believe juggling can be great for a writer’s skill set and mind set. We didn’t take up fiction writing because it was easy, after all.
THE POSITIVES OF MULTIPLE PROJECTS
Alleviating Manuscript Fatigue: For me, this is one of the most beneficial parts of working on more than one book or story at a time. I’ve found that I come back to each project with fresh eyes and a new attitude if I’ve let one rest for a few days while working on the other. It also gives my brain a chance to work through sticky plot and character issues that I may be having with Project A. The subconscious is an amazing thing.
Releasing the Pressure Gauge: Another beautiful thing about juggling, is that it forces me not to put too much pressure on a single manuscript. One idea isn’t the end-all be-all, and if Project A doesn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, it isn’t the end of the world. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create the best and most amazing thing EVER with each work, and while that’s certainly something to aim for, it leaves a lot of room for crushed hopes and despair when things don’t go as planned either in pitching the work, or readers buying it. Let’s face it. We suffer all kinds of angst when our audience doesn’t see the gold we believe we’ve created. If you know, in the back of your mind, that this is one project of many, that you’re striving to stretch and grow and do better next time and you have all of this excitement about Project B going on, it’s a huge relief. You’re freed from the burden of perfection, and it may even allow you to go deeper, to have more fun with your works.
Multiple Avenues for Co-Marketing: If you’re working on a collaborative project, there’s a terrific opportunity to market together. In other words, you can expand your audience significantly this way. You may also have the opportunity to give joint panels and book talks, which can be a lot of fun. I’ve found this aspect of collaborative work incredibly rewarding—and also wonderful for my craft.
As you can see, I’m a believer, but what about you? Have you found it too difficult, or a breath fresh air, to manage more than one project at a time?