Monday, May 2, 2011

The Perils of Working on Multiple Manuscripts

Some writers have no problem with it, and if you asked me a few months ago, I would've said that I never worked on more than one project at a time.

Then something happened.

Another idea.

This isn't an unusual occurrence, I assure you.  I have ideas all the time.  Some are great, and some are shit.  Some that I think are great turn out to be shit, and some I first think are shit turn out to be great.  Either way, I just wrote them down with the intention of breaking them after I finished whatever I was working on.

I was three-quarters through the novel when it came.

I'd been working on this book for a while, several months already, so my motivation had long since waned, but I kept pushing.  The finish line was in sight.

But I couldn't cross it.  Not with this great new idea staring me in the face.  So I told myself I'd take a break from the book, and fiddle with this new story, just until my mojo returned.

Then something happened.

Another idea.

Then another.

And another.

Pretty soon I had eight documents opened on my dock, and I wasn't getting  anything done.  Oh a few words here, a few words there.  I changed the opening of this and cut a few paragraphs of that.

I'd broken my own rule.  No dithering.

Now instead of running the marathon in a slow and steady gait, I find myself trying to sprint in fits and starts, not just in one marathon, but in many.

If I could write 5,000 words a day, or even 2,000 words consistently, this might not be a problem.  In fact, it would be a distinct advantage when it comes to getting more product out into the world, but I have not yet learned the great secret of hyperproductivity.  If I do, I will share it.  Oh, and if you have, please feel free to share it with the rest of us.


  1. I brought my words-per-hour up from 250 to 1k by blind folding myself while I worked, just for a week. It teaches you to just keep writing and not to stop and reread what you've already written. It turns off your internal editor.

  2. You write 1k words an hour?! I'm hella jealous if that's the case. As for blindfolding, it's an interesting idea, but you're obviously a better typist than I am. Deciphering what it is I wrote would take weeks and a team of scholars. But you're absolutely right about turning off the internal editor. I'm sure that's the key.

  3. I learned super typing skills from MMORPGs. :)
    But yeah, I average 1k now.

  4. Nice. Not me. I lost several months of my life and who knows how many possible manuscripts with stupid Farmville. I don't need anymore distractions... ooh, something shiny!

  5. I don't play anymore. I don't play Facebook flash games either. I've learned my lesson with that. I've also banned myself from using hulu. I'm the master time waster.

  6. Sometimes having multiple projects can keep the mind clear, though 8 documents may be too much to keep track of.

    I've never mastered hyper-productivity either. I do have 1000+ word hours, but I can't string many of these hours together, especially not over multiple days.

    But maybe hyper-productivity is something that can be built up to. You might eventually get there (especially if the driving ideas are strong).

  7. Yeah, I'm sure I've had many 1000+ word hours, but the trick is stringing them together and doing that every day. 4 X 1000 word hours each day for five days a week -- that's the goal. But I'd be happy to settle in at half that. Right now I have 1200 word days followed by 500 word days.

    If I set a goal for 2000 words, I find I have to aim well beyond that in order to hit it. Like shooting at a target into the wind. Actually, it's a pretty good analogy. Sometimes I feel like I'm writing against the wind, and if I don't adjust my sights, I'll fall well short.

    On those days, having multiple projects can feel like a blessing. When you get stuck, you can switch gears, write another genre, even under a different name, a different persona.

  8. When I start having trouble with a particular scene, I move to a different scene within the same work. Sometimes the next scene, sometimes I skip to the end. I let my mind pick for me. I close my eyes and let my mind skip through my whole book like a DVD on 5xFF. I stop when I find something that moves me.

    Sometimes if I really need to get a certain scene done, I open a document for each character present in the scene and then in each one I free write from inside their mind. What are they seeing and feeling? What are their perceptions? How do the other characters look to them. I switch between each document until I understand every aspect of the scene and then I just push through with the first draft.

  9. I agree. It can be a good technique to jump to other scene. That's how movies are shot. But there's also peril in that (for me anyway).

    Sometimes I'll get so stuck that I'll just grab a legal pad and write another scene longhand, one I've been looking forward to writing. The problem is, I sometimes fall in love with that one scene and get bogged down trying to bridge what I had before and what I've just written.

    From your second example, it sounds like you're very thorough. Admirable. Certainly another good tool for the Writer's Toolkit.