“Do you work on more than one project at a time. If so, how do you balance your writing time between the two? (Or three?)”
Years ago I worked in a bank. The woman who interviewed me before I was hired asked if I could juggle. The particular job I was going for required keeping several things going at the same time. It was the only position in the bank that had deadlines and also the only one where you could lose money, big money, if you dropped the ball. For ten years I juggled and never lost them a dime.
Now comes the job of writing, and if you want to be considered a professional writer, you must think of writing as a job.
Since I enjoy writing short stories and have had several published, I have forced myself write an entire anthology using the same main character from one of those published stories.
Even a blog is writing, and that is what I am…a writer.
Out of necessity, I often find myself working on more than one project at the same time.
First of all, I consider deadlines. The one with the closest date, gets worked on first. Meeting editor-set deadlines is very important for my credibility and for insuring future work. I will put off most other activities to meet a deadline.
I also set my own internal deadlines. For instance, I like to get theatre reviews out before the following weekend after I’ve seen the play. This helps publicity. It also makes theatre execs feel warm and fuzzy about me and eager to give me free tickets for future productions.
If there is no deadline – say I have some ideas of things I’d just like to write about sometime – then I’ll work on the one that interests me the most at the time. Sometimes I’ll do research and interviews on several before sitting down to actually write. These projects, however, have a tendency not to get done.
So I would say deadlines are the key for me.
Is it better to work on one project at a time or juggle multiple projects? That would depend on how you write, and why.
If you’ve got the focus as well as the creative chops to work on multiple projects simultaneously, congratulations. That will serve you well, especially if you decide to freelance or focus on writing short stories or articles. However, if flitting is your preferred method of procrastination – concentrating on anything but the challenging project which should have your full attention – then it becomes an obvious problem.
Focusing on a single project is the surest way to meet a deadline, a necessity once writers graduate from talented amateur to professional. That doesn’t hold true if you never complete the project, but instead obsess over minute details, or rewrite the same early chapters over and over and never get past page 20something.
That’s why I don’t find it helpful to ask writers how they work, because the “how” doesn’t matter as much as “they work”.
I can’t work on more than one fiction project at a time because I tend to live in my characters’ world for the duration of the project. What I DO like to do is switch back and forth between long- and short-form fiction, because the process of novel-writing is so long and the end so hard to envision. Once I finish a draft and set it aside to breathe, I get to work on a short story – where you at least get quick, if not instant, gratification.
I also do some freelance nonfiction writing and editing, and that’s fairly easy to incorporate into my writing without danger of it bleeding into the fiction work. Since nonfiction and editing are both far easier for me than fiction, the challenge is to put the fiction first and work on it before “goofing off” with the easier stuff. I try and write my fiction first thing in the morning, before breakfast (but not before coffee). I set a timer, try to write for an hour, and consider myself lucky if I get in 30-plus minutes before hunger gets the upper hand. Most days I finish out the hour before I move on to the easy stuff.
I usually have several projects going at once because I love to write in several formats. Some stories cry out to be written in script format, while others pop up as short story ideas.
I always have one mystery novel manuscript going at any time, and I fit the other projects into my schedule. Still, I try to focus completely on what I’m working on at the moment. For instance, if I decide to take a break from the novel, I’ll work on a short story until it’s done.
The most difficult part of writing fiction is that no one tells you what they want from you, and you usually have to create your own deadlines. It’s easy to get distracted, or, as Miriam points out, to use multiple projects as a way to procrastinate.
I think it’s important to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Scriptwriting is fun and sometimes lucrative, but it’s a completely different world from publishing. You have to decide if you have the time and energy to build up your “creds” in both worlds–to network, attend conferences, make contacts. I finally decided that I had to choose, and I set the scriptwriting aside. The short stories support my publishing goals, so I see them as a valuable investment, and I continue to write them.