multita–oooh, shiny!

This weekend, Patricia C. Wrede posted to her blog about multitasking manuscripts. It’s an excellent discussion on how writers should figure out for themselves whether or not to work on more than one project at a time. She describes chronic multiple-project people as falling into three distinct categories. This one rang a bell for me:

The second kind of writer who comes to me with this question is the one who is spinning off ideas faster than she/he can keep up with. They want to work on eight projects at once because they’re afraid they’ll lose a brilliant idea if they don’t write it down immediately. They’re all about the “Oooo, shiney!”

Did somebody say shiny?

Now, by her definition of “works,” I’m not doing so well. I do finish things, but I also start more than I finish, by a long shot. My plan for this year involved finishing a cozy mystery, an urban fantasy, a middle-grade science-fiction book, and possibly a fun contemporary fantasy that the only time I ever look at it is when I’m on vacation. So of that, what have I done? Nothing.

Instead, I added the Mayan book for Moongypsy Press to my works in progress and started trying to wrap up a paranormal romance that I wrote a few years back for NaNoWriMo. (Neither one is finished yet.) I also added a sequel to the paranormal romance, another paranormal romance, another set of middle-grade books, and something completely different to my “to-do” pile, although I’m not writing on any of them yet.

That means that with over half the year gone, I haven’t finished one major project yet.

Patricia Wrede finished up her blog post by saying,

And trust your instincts; if you know in your heart that you aren’t being as productive as you’d like, but you keep working the same old way because it’s more fun, then admit it to yourself. You don’t have to do anything about it if you really don’t want to. Honestly, nobody’s making you do any of this.

So, to be honest: I mostly like what I do. I love having all these different projects and ideas, and I can’t imagine being tied down to one at a time. However, I need to finish more. And when I write and make progress and finish things, I feel better about my writing and about myself.

I’m going to finish my most active projects — the Mayan book and Daniel’s e-book. I may spend a month this fall on short story completion, aiming to get one done per week — that’s one that I’ve already started, not new ones. For NaNo this year, rather than do something new, I may add 25-30k to two different projects to move them onto the “done” pile.

What about new things? For this year — the next six months, anyway — I’m making a new rule. I can’t start writing on a new project until I’ve cleared two off the back burner. It’s a carrot — I get things done, I can play with new ideas.

I’m not giving up multitasking. I’m just trying to make sure my behavior matches with my goals.

In what ways have you had to re-examine your behavior to see if it was in line with what you were trying to do?

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  1. That sounds like the approach you’ve followed in the past when you were turning out lots of stories.

    • It might be the same approach. There’s something to be said about finding something that works — and sticking with it. Let’s see how that goes this time around.

  2. Your rule sounds like a good plan.

    I multitask, but not by much. For the past year or two I’ve had 1-2 novels and 1-2 short stories going at any time. I do have to restrain myself from pursuing new ideas–right now I’m revising one novel and planning a second because the second is really really shiny and I can’t keep away. 🙂

    But I wonder if I’m distracted by shiny ideas because I’m a slow writer and I know it would take me a long time to get to them, or am I a slow writer because my mind is constantly flitting from project to project?

    • That doesn’t sound like very intense multitasking — and honestly, I think most people can manage projects at different stages: planning, writing, editing. I just tend to give the first short shrift and all but skip the last, so everything winds up in the writing stage at the same time. *laugh*

      Maybe you’re distracted by shiny ideas because you’re a writer? I don’t think speed has anything to do with it, honestly! 😉

  3. I thought of you when I read the article. Glad it’s helped you focus on your goals again!

    • Thanks — especially for pointing to the article in the first place.

      Yes, we do always seem to wind up discussing one vs. more than one, don’t we?

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