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Friday, April 3, 2015

How I Juggle Projects

Every time I update on my goals and people see how much I actually want to get done in a month, there’s at least one person who says that he/she doesn’t understand how I can work on so many projects at one time.

So I thought some of you might find it interesting if I explain.

At one stage, I used to work on only one project at a time, but even then, never quite. If I was working on one project and another idea came up, I’d postpone that idea until I finished the rough draft of my main project. In other words, I’ve pretty much worked on at least two ideas since half way through Doorways. (In case you missed it, Doorways was split into two halves for a publishing deal and I generally refer to either half by their individual titles.)

I’ve never worked on only one project from conception to final edits. I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way. Usually I’d take a few weeks off from one project before starting to edit it. In that time, about a month or so in, I’d start another project. Only rarely, though, would I work on another project while drafting another.

NaNoWriMo 2012 made me reconsider this. That year, I’d written an entire rough draft in two weeks, but it came short of 50k words. And because I hadn’t had time to think about something else to write and had only two weeks left, I had to give up.

Then in 2013, I started to think of how much writing time I actually lose because of the time I take before starting that second project. Worse still, I’m prone to writer’s block while drafting and in those times, I’d take weeks without writing anything while my mind figured out whatever was keeping me from continuing a story.

When November came, I decided to work on three projects: One main project and two others that I can skip to in case I wrote myself into a corner with one. It worked a dream. In fact, I think I almost hit 60k words in that time, and finished the rough drafts by the end of December.

Then came my five year goal, and I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by running writing and editing projects concurrently. That, as it turned out, works even better for me.

How do I do it?

1) I always work on different genres to separate the stories in my mind. E.G. I have an epic fantasy, an urban fantasy, a contemporary romance, and a dystopian pipelined for rough drafts. For edits, I have the first two books in the same epic fantasy series as the one I’m drafting, a historical romance and a mythology retelling. Very little chance of confusion for me because everything looks and feels different from everything else.

2) Everything has a priority list. I’ll pick one rough draft, one rewrite and one edit at a time and then I don’t work on anything else unless it’s done or I get stuck.

3) In case of getting stuck, I’ll pick something else to work on until I get unstuck. It usually happens without much conscious thought from my side.

4) I never shelve anything indefinitely. If something doesn’t work and I can’t figure out why, I might move it down the priority list, but I never remove something from it. This prevents me from having a ton of unfinished projects in my wake.

5) Speaking of which, I write down any shiny new ideas I might have and add it to the priority list. And then I go right back to what I’m actually busy with.

6) I use spreadsheets to keep track of how many words I’ve written, rewritten and/or edited in a day, month and year by project. I also have a spreadsheet calendar where I outline each of the goals I set for the month, so that I can see if I’ve been neglecting anything when I shouldn’t.

7) On any given day, I pick what I want to focus on. Sometimes, it’s to edit, or to write a chapter, or to rewrite. I never move onto another project unless I’ve finished that task (or get stuck).

I wouldn’t be able to work on the projects the way that I do unless I had that priority list and a way to track my progress. Without them I probably would just end up going back to working on one or two projects at a time.

Now you know my secret.

Do you work on multiple projects? If so, how do you go about it?


Diana Wilder said...

Absolutely yes. I get ideas all the time, and I jot them down in notebooks and transcribe them. If I hid a rough spot in my main WIP it helps to step sideways and work on another. I keep a separate file for each(in the Cloud, on my laptop, in manual notebooks: whatever). It helps to keep me from burning out, and the work often seems to straighten out any issues I had with the unrelated story. An editor told me, years ago, "Always have more than one project in the works. Then you won't feel like a lost soul when you finish one." Having multiple projects definitely helps with that.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Amazing multi-tasker you! I'm with you on #5. I have not tried to write more than one genre because I love delving far and deep and with all my focus into one book at a time. I'm afraid I'd end up frazzled if I do it the way you do it--writing more than one genre at a time. Or book for that matter!

Elizabeth Mueller
AtoZ 2015
My Little Pony

Liz A. said...

I used to be a one project at a time person, in writing as well as knitting, until I found that when one is boring me or bothering me, the best way to get past that is to work on something else. So, I'll stick with one thing primarily, but I have other things I can go to if the need arises.

Anonymous said...

Currently, I'm reading several books at once, because I've received so many book review requests. Multi-tasking isn't easy, but I manage to juggle quite a few things too, and once you get the hang of it, it's not as difficult as it seems.

Trisha said...

I write in many genres too, but usually not at the same time. :)

Misha Gerrick said...

Diana, that lost soul feeling at the end of projects is one of the reasons why I tried this multitasking gig. :-)

Hi Elizabeth! Long time no see. ;-) Usually, I find that I go deeper and farther in rewrites, and those automatically take priority in my mind, so it doesn't mess with me too much.

Liz I work like that too. I find it's important to remember to have one primary project, otherwise it's easy to lose grip of everything.

M.J. the easiest thing to do is to add something one at a time and seeing how that goes. :-)

Trisha, maybe you should try it. ;-)