How Many Projects Should Writers Focus on at a Time?

Photoxpress_2677927Lately I've been cursed blessed with an abundance of ideas.  I've got viable ideas for three mainstream novels and at least six ideas for novels to write in a new genre I'd like to experiment with a bit.

As a professional writer, I'm accustomed to juggling projects.  I'll often have an ongoing ghostwriting project (just finished up one), perhaps a shorter business project or two, coaching clients, students, and my blog, not to mention my own work on fiction.  This suits me well, as I'm a fickle type, who gets bored easily.  When I have a variety of projects to work on, I can go from one to other and keep my interest and engagement level up at all times.

However, most of what I've mentioned above is non-fiction. I can't recall ever working on more than one fiction project at a time.  Okay, wait a minute, when I was getting my MFA, I wrote a novel and also worked on several short stories.  So that technically counts.  But what about writing more than one novel at a time?  Is that even possible?  Seems to me the process of writing a novel is so absorbing, so all-encompassing that it might not be advisable.

I do know that in the past when I've had several ideas for novels at once, I've flitted back and forth until finally one idea became so consuming that I dove into it without looking back.  So my theory for the moment is to stay open, realize what a gift this is, and allow myself time to explore, with the idea that one idea will rise to the top and grab me without letting go.

So, do tell.  Do you work on more than one idea at a time?  How do you balance multiple projects?

PS.  In case you hadn't noticed, it's December.  And December means the holidays.  And the holidays mean I'm in a good mood.  So it might be worth your while to come back here next week.  Just saying.

Photo from Everystockphoto.

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12 Comments on "How Many Projects Should Writers Focus on at a Time?"

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J.D. Frost
Guest
12/03/2011 04:35
Writing two books at one time doesn’t work for me; the characters seem to meld together. I’ve had what seem to be great ideas come to me while I’m in the middle of writing something. I always write them down, but sometimes when I look back at my notes, I don’t have the same enthusiasm or my summary doesn’t make sense. I’ve decided I should devote more time to the notes I make. I should take a break and write a synopsis, at least of as much of the story as I know. If I can’t find interest in the… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/03/2011 06:43

Hi J.D., I agree that you should make your notes as full as possible, by writing down as much as you know. But I find writing synopses difficult. They are so dry and boring by nature, because the writer hasn’t spend any time dramatizing anything. I don’t know how agents get anything out of them. But then, the mind of the agent is a mystery to me.

Jessica Baverstock
Guest
12/04/2011 03:31
This is a great question. It’s been so interesting to see other people answer it. For my part, I get so involved in what I’m creating I can only do one fiction project at a time. But I can have multiple non-fiction projects going on at once. I think this is because of voice. Each fiction piece we do has its own unique voice – its narrator, theme and milieu (I love that word!) which is all consuming. To have two of those going on at the same time leads to confusion as elements bleed into one another. I think… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/04/2011 07:27

Hi Jessica, Your method of switching back and forth between projects as you finish each draft is brilliant. Keeps you fresh and allows the first project to settle in a bit before you go back to it, which is always a good idea. And I love the phrase, “the wonder of notes.” Thanks for chiming in.

Darci Cole
Guest
12/05/2011 05:46

I mostly agree with Jessica. I’m new to the writing game, but I already have five novel ideas for either fantasy or contemporary fiction. I basically work on whichever story pulls at me at the time. I do try to limit it to two at any given time, but if I have a brainwave of an idea for one of the other stories, I’ll definitely write it down. Great post Charlotte!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/05/2011 06:48

Hey Darci, Welcome to the world of writing. Once you enter it, you may be frustrated, anger, discouraged or elated–but you’ll never be bored. There’s always something new to learn about writing (and I’m pretty sure that even Stephen King would agree with me on that). I think you’re going to be a successful writer because you seem to have an open attitude and tons of ideas. Thanks for stopping by.

Sharon H. Smith
Guest
12/05/2011 12:57

I haven’t tried writing more than one book at a time. When ideas for other stories came up, I would jot them down and forget about them.

It’s hard for me to imagine being able to keep them completely separate. I have a feeling if I didn’t do that, the stories would end up having eery similarities.

But how exciting it must be to have so many projects wanting your attention! 🙂

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/05/2011 13:21

Sharon, It is exciting, especially because I went through what felt like a long dry spell. In truth, I know that it was all part of the creative cycle and my brain was composting, turning things over and making connections. Still, I much prefer the periods when things are happening and ideas are coming!

Cheryl Reifsnyder
Guest
12/06/2011 10:59

You described my writing experience precisely! I’m overflowing with ideas and tend to get distracted from one to another, but I’ve found that I can’t work on two fiction projects at the same time. One novel and a nonfiction project, yes, but my preferred method is to devote everything in me to one project at a time.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/06/2011 16:42

Hi Cheryl, Glad to find another kindred spirit. Most of us seem to agree that working on one project at a time is the preferred manner of proceeding. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out a way to concentrate on two projects at once.

Natalie Allan
Guest
Natalie Allan
12/19/2011 00:25

I have a one track mind. I can’t physically fit more than one large project in my brain at a time and give my best to both. Hence the novel I’m writing has taken the place of the novel I’m editing LOL! I can just about fit in my Creative Writing assignments for a university course I’m taking along the side of novelling, and fit in beta reads for friends too. Other than that, I’m a one-trick pony 😀

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
12/19/2011 07:00

Natalie, I think what happens for me is that I can go along working on two projects at once for a short while. And then one of them grabs me and takes hold and I get so excited about it that all I want to do is work on it, and the other falls away. Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things going on, writing-wise!

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