At what point does a project take on a life of its own?
Or, to phrase it another way, when do you know that a project has enough momentum that you will see it to completion?
For me the tipping point is chapter 10.
At chapter 10 the story and characters have developed enough to take on a life of their own. I’m no longer struggling to figure out what happens next or how a character will react. Enough threads are in the weave that the pattern is taking shape and things are happening. So a lot of that initial push and energy is easing up.
Another way to look at it is with world building, developing character arcs, creating a theme and outline, and hashing out those first early chapters, I’ve been working on a book about a month by the time I hit chapter 10.
A month of effort and I know the book is a keeper. I’ll finish it. And I also have enough focus and energy to layer on a side project. Like editing!
Oddly enough I’ve discovered that I’m more productive the more I take on. There is a limit, of course. And finding it has come with a lot of trial and error.
But maybe the question is why layer projects? Why not concentrate of just one thing at a time?
It is more than productivity that keeps me juggling several things at once. And I do actually complete more things faster by working on them simultaneously. As long as I don’t get too stressed or go insane…
When it comes to writing, the biggest benefit to multiple projects is improved plotting and increased creativity (better books).
Who do I mean by improved plotting?
Right now I’m editing book 1 of my newest epic fantasy series Games of Fire, while writing book 2 . I thought I knew all the plot lines in book 1 when I started in writing book 2. But there is nothing like going over a book so many times you can recite passages that makes you notice opportunities and craft plot lines for the next book!
Realizations have included major plot twists that I’m not sure if I ever would have considered, or at least not discovered so quickly, if I wasn’t tearing out the guts of book 1. Having both books going at once has changed the whole direction of book 2, refining it to something I am very excited about. It will be so much more powerful on more levels (main plot, subplots leading to final book, etc) because I edited book 1 while working on it.
Some ideas have been on a much smaller scale. Such as nuances to tie up a character arc for someone who doesn’t need it in the big picture, but will make a lovely circle for a careful reader, or someone re-reading the book. And it will give a different perspective of a main character. It isn’t pivotal, but it helps give depth to the world and a character.
Changes have gone both ways. Sometimes I like my misinterpretations written in the early days of book 2 before I started editing book 1. So, I changed book 1, adding tension and deepening plot lines that I thought were there but not to the level needed to continue the flow in book 2. This isn’t something I could have done if I was still writing one book at a time, editing it, then publishing, then writing the next book.
Creativity is not limited to one endeavor
Having multiple projects actually reduces burnout.
It sounds surprising, and it does take testing to find personal limits. And those limits change with other commitments! But humans love variation, be it visual, auditory, taste, or even work load.
Have you ever worked on a chapter over and over again, the writing sticking or the editing bogging down so that you just want it to be done? But it is so stuck and imperfect that you can’t finish it. Well how about switching to a completely different project to break your mental frustration?
I’ve jumped to a book in a different genre (fantasy magic to near future dystopian – my mind spun!!) to simply giving up on writing and going to edit (progress somewhere, victory for me!). There are many ways to break writer’s block: walks to music to chores. But the sweetest, to me, is still finishing a writing related project. Or creating a new cover or advertisement or landing page … something that has a concrete reason to exist and needed to be done. And one victory will make that stuck project get less sticky.
This carries through beyond just writing. When I’m problem solving plots, I’m actually at my best at my day job too, finding solutions far faster than in non-writing periods. Go figure, skill sets cross multi-platforms! The result is creativity sparks brainstorming which sparks problem solving which makes you more aware of everything so that you function at a higher level and faster pace. A project that might have been intimidating at one point becomes a fun challenge to tackle. Ever wonder how “high functioning” people get that way?
There are tricks to balancing multiple projects
I need to keep a main project that is my primary focus, and from there can layer in one or two others. And I keep weekly goals for all projects going, designating small milestones for the side projects. That way if I accomplish one, I can change my focus and keep everything moving. Maybe I’m not stuck on my main project, but my brain will actually work better if I switch to something else. I know that from experience even if my natural inclination is to keep plugging away. So, when I hit my weekly goal, I switch. If I finish everything, I reward myself, and keep going!
But I have to be careful not to take on too much. Having two at the moment is actually fairly light. I’ve edited, written one book, had a second started, read another, still went to work, and came home to make dinner at one point in my life (let’s not forgetting blogging too!).
That was a tad bit insane.
Right now I have enough other things going, plus I simply don’t want to feel THAT much pressure, so I’ve dialed it back. I enjoy writing as much as editing. Giving Games of Fire my primary focus feels so good right now. Though I have a stack of projects waiting in the wings for when the edits on book 1 are done (which will hopefully be next week!).
What is your method for staying productive?
Do you work on more than one project at once? Have you ever tried or are tempted to?