Most writers I know are masters at procrastination. Even before Facebook and Twitter became giant time-sucks, there was always another article that needed to be read, other kinds of research, TV/movies we needed to keep up with because how could we write for the industry if we weren’t keeping an eye out on what Hollywood was producing? I justify all the Twitter time by telling myself that I’m just reading articles that I’d normally be reading in the newspaper or in a magazine anyway; it’s just a change of format. (I know I’m lying to myself. It’s okay.) Even with all that, I’ve been good about concentrating on a single project and seeing it through to “Fade Out” or “The End.” Of course there have been plenty of abandoned projects along the way – what writer doesn’t have those? – but basically I’ve been finishing something every year.
One thing I haven’t been able to do with any degree of success – though I’ve tried this many times – is finish more than one project at once. There have been several times when I was working on both a novel and a screenplay, or two screenplays, and even though they were in different forms – an outline and a first draft, perhaps – neither one would end up finished. I don’t know if it’s because both were inherently weak ideas that just couldn’t hold my attention, or that I was too distracted to give either the attention they deserve. In any case, they would all go to the graveyard of dead projects, and I’d start over with something new, something I vowed to give all my creative energy until it was actually finished, not abandoned.
A writing teacher I worked with a few years ago talked about “living your book,” and I think that’s the method that works best for me. Even when I’m not actually at my computer, I’m thinking about my protagonist, imagining what she’s having for lunch, the conversations she’s getting in, whether she’s ogling the college boys at the gym. It makes her feel more real and keeps me motivated when the last thing I want to do is sit back down at the computer. But when you’re working on more than one project at a time, that could be a prescription for schizophrenia.
But real writers – professional writers – don’t always have the luxury of working on a single project at a time. The best of the best are editing one book while outlining another and working on a screenplay based on their bestseller. Is their ability to juggle multiple projects one of the factors that led to their success, or were they forced to juggle as a result of it?
This week marks the start of yet another experiment in whether or not I can finish more than one project at a time. I’m 2/3rds of the way through the first draft of my second novel, and a producer I worked with casually last summer has asked me to rewrite his treatment. I’m also awaiting notes on my first novel, on which I’m working with a freelance editor, so I’ll start a rewrite of that soon (I do have book editors waiting on it.). And I recently took a job as an editor at a small publishing company, and I’m expecting a project from a writer sometime at the end of this week.
I jumped right into all that work by going to the gym this morning, then answering email, playing on Facebook and Twitter, and now writing this post. I’d been feeling stuck on the new novel, and even though I got some ideas for additional scenes, I’m afraid this is the one that’s going to get neglected – I’m usually better at meeting my obligations to other people than the ones I make to myself.
For those of you who juggle multiple writing projects, do you have any hints on how you’ve been successful at it? I’d much rather spend the afternoon reading your comments than doing any of that work!