Monday, June 20
Juggling Acts: Can You Work on Multiple Novels at Once?
It's not uncommon to hear people ask, "Is it okay to work on more than one project at a time?" Since I don't know a single writer who doesn't have multiple stories in the works, I'd have to say the answer to this question is a big Yes -- But...
Multiple stories can help free your creativity and give you something to work on while another idea is still brewing. It's a great way to jump start your muse if you're having trouble putting two sentences together. Early on, when you haven't yet figured out what makes a good story and what doesn't, bouncing between projects and seeing what works and what falls flat is an important learning experience. It's also a great way to find your voice and figure out what you like to write and what you're good at.
And now for the but...
Jumping around too much can lead to never finishing a project or developing the discipline needed to be a professional novelist. Every novel reaches a point where the shine is gone and we can't stand the thought of looking at it again. It's easy to move on to a fresh new story that still has that shine. I've no doubt everyone reading this has at least one partial novel that got set aside with the promise that you'd go back to it.
Sometimes moving on is the right choice, sometimes it's not. But how do you know?
If you find yourself dropping projects around the same time every time, you might be suffering from New Project Distraction. You get three chapters, 30,000 words, or whatever the length in and then find yourself bored. A few times is fine as you work out what story you want to work on, but if you find yourself doing this over and over, you might want to stick your butt in the chair and finish one just to prove to yourself that you can.
Possible Problem: If you stall fairly soon in a novel, there's a good chances it's a goal or motivation issue. You just don't know where the story goes because you don't know what the protagonist wants. You might also have a premise novel, where you have a cool idea, but no one has anything personal at stake to drive the story. Try the one sentence technique: My story is about [protagonist] who has a [problem] and needs to solve it before [stakes]. Pinpoint what the story is about and who is driving it and you'll probably see what you need to do to move forward.
You've reached a point where you really hate your novel and can't bear to look at it. You hate the writing, the story, the characters. You feel like you're wasting your time with this book and maybe even writing in general.
Possible Problem: The book might just suck. Or you've learned things that allowed you to see flaws you missed before. Your tastes might have even changed. When you really hate a book, taking a break can be a good idea to give your a more objective view. Time away gives you distance, and working on something new can help spur ideas for the old project. Sometimes projects do need to be abandoned. Don't worry about moving on if you feel you need to.
Yawn, I'm Bored
There's nothing wrong with the book, it just doesn't grab you anymore and you find yourself writing yawn-worthy scenes. Every word feels like work even though you still like the story. Moving on to a fresh new story is more exciting.
Possible Problem: This happens most often when we're doing a lot of revising and reading the book over and over. The story might be boring, but it might also be that you've read it so often nothing feels fresh. This is a good example where working on something new can jump start the creative juices and give you time to forget the story so when you go back, it feels fresh again.
Juggling projects isn't always a bad thing. I always had several going at once while I was trying to get published. However, when I have a contract and obligations to get books written, I find that it's nigh impossible for me to work on multiple projects at the same time. But technically, I guess I still work on multiple projects, because I'll be editing book one while writing book two and plotting out book three. It's just more focused.
If the writing is fun and you're learning and enjoying yourself, write however you want. You don't need to buckle down until you want to seriously pursue a publishing career. And even then, if you can work on several projects at once, there's nothing wrong with doing it. But if you're always moving onto the next project, that could indicate you're missing a skill or two needed to finish a book.
What novels have you set aside? Did you eventually move on or stick with it, and why?
More articles on process and first novels:
The Stages of a Writer
When You Can't Write What You Love to Read
How Do You Know if You're Writing is Getting Better?
Writing That First Novel