Switch Hitting Your Writing
Does that headline sound vaguely sexual or is it just me? If so, sorry for misleading you because this post is about switching up your writing projects. (Though a client for whom I am doing some writing just emailed and said we need to get some sex in our title, so maybe its a good thing.)
I recently read Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins, and as is so often the case when I read something I like, I went in search of more information about him. Here it is: he lives in the unlikely city of Spokane, Washington (if you've been there, you know why its unlikely a major writer would live there), he had a daughter when he was 19 and subsequently went to work at a newspaper to support her, his first book was a non-fiction title on the incident at Ruby Ridge, and he's written a ton of novels and short stories since.
Beyond all that, what interested me was the tidbit I found in this interview, in which Walter says, "My only trick is to switch to some other project when one gets stuck.
And they always get stuck."
Truer words about writing have never been spoken: you're going to get stuck at some point. It may not be big stuck, and most likely it won't be writer's block, you'll just get stuck. Like, unsure what you want to write next, uncertain what comes next in the novel, unsure what your secondary character's name is. Something. And I love the idea that when this happens, you can switch off to a different project. Because, better to be writing on something, then nothing at all.
I've been working on short stories recently, as well as a novel, and I see this happening somewhat naturally. I reach a point in a story where I'm sort of mentally done with it for the moment, and without really thinking about it, I find myself opening the file for that other story I've been thinking of. I get stuck on the novel, and I'm inevitably drawn to one of the stories. It feels natural and right, and like I said–as long as I'm working on something, I'm happy.
Honestly, I'm not sure how easy this would be if I was working on all bigger projects. But for me it works great one big project at a time and several shorter pieces. I'm not sure I could handle the mental space it takes to keep more than one big project going at a time.
Along these same lines I was working on what I call prep work (thus called because hopefully you do it before you start writing it, though in truth it happens at every point of the writing) for the novel–character development, lining out the plot, imagining settings–and I found myself switch hitting. When I got stuck on the outlining, I switched over to writing about the characters, and that in turn led me to ideas about the story. So I was working back and forth.
And that, I think, is the beauty of this approach–it is like cross fertilization of the mind. The idea you have for the character of your story suddenly reminds you of the plot of your novel. And so on and so forth. At least that's how it works for me.
Do you work on multiple projects at a time or stick to just one?
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**Photo from the Library of Congress, in the public domain. (I kinda like her outfit.)