The Advantage of Multiple Projects
Right now, I’m working on two novels. One is in the first-draft, handwritten stage. The other is somewhere between that and a second, typed draft. I’ve also got three stories ready to submit for publication, a pair of one page flash fictions which need work but I still kind of like, a long story I just finished typing up, and at least two or three new stories bubbling over in my head, ready to pop out.
The crazy part isn’t that list, but the fact that it’s smaller currently than it’s been in months.
Keeping multiple projects in my “hopper,” in various stages of completion, has been the best thing to happen to my writing in years. I used to obsess about one project at a time, suppressing other stories because I felt like my concentration would waver and I’d wind up with a bunch of half-assed work. This led to so much frustration; if the writing went badly on my anointed project, there was no fallback, no other work to bring me satisfaction. I’d brood and brood on that single story, and if my brooding produced no new ideas, my writing would go fallow, my mood would go down the toilet, and I’d start questioning why I put out all that effort if it was just going to lead to a roadblock.
Let’s take that roadblock idea as a metaphor: what I was saying, then, is that I was driving a car on a long journey. For a while, everything was going fine, I was following my route just fine, and then damn if there’s not a bridge out, right where I need to go.
Under my old, singular way of writing, I would’ve stopped at that spot until the bridge was reconstructed, which when you write it out looks to be the dumbest idea ever. It implies there’s no other route, no detour, no other bridge I could cross by just getting outside my prescription. If I was on vacation, headed to say, California, I’d be stuck in some town on the edge of a river until it was time to turn around and head home, which is flat-out ridiculous.
Instead, I bounce between writing projects, not only seeking other bridges across the river, but actually other destinations. It’s like going on an open ended vacation where I know I’m going west, but what I see is determined by my choice of roads. Will I get there? Sure. Will it take longer? Perhaps, but since I’ve got lots of stories of various length in the hopper, the idea of time-per-project is not exactly a straight, measurable line. I may spend a week on a second draft, then three days polishing something else, and then work on a big section of my novel for a month or so. The key is to work to some kind of destination – a finished draft, all the changes/edits entered into the computer, a full, handwritten draft, etc. I take pride in the little victories, and if that makes the process anachronistic, so be it. It works for me, and the one universal constant we writers agree on is doing whatever it takes to get our stories out to our readers and fans. This clicks for me, and so here I am, juggling like Joyce Carol Oates, and loving every minute of it.