jessicasteiner: (Bad Writing Day)
I've always been a great multitasker. I'm one of those people who is nearly always doing at least two things at once - answering email while watching a movie, listening to podcasts about some topic that interests me while driving to work, or chatting with a friend online while reading cases for a class.

It's one of those things that's both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because you seem to be getting so much done in a shorter period of time. But it's a curse because quite often you actually aren't - you're just taking the same amount of time or even longer to do both things, because you're constantly interrupting yourself.

It's a vice that I'm actually trying to break myself of to a certain extent. I'm trying to get out of the habit of pausing while writing to answer just one email and "give my brain a break". I'm also forcing myself to turn off the internet while I study so I can get it all out of the way quickly and get back to doing something more fun.

To be honest, it's been surprising to me just how quickly I can get things done if I don't multitask, because I've always been a great proponent of multitasking.

I also multitask while I write, and always have. Now, I don't mean the kind of multitasking that makes you die in Write or Die, where you interrupt your flow to reply to an email and such. That's bad multitasking. That's the kind of multitasking that, as I said before, I've already been actively trying to train myself out of doing.

The kind of multitasking I'm talking about now is working on more than one project at once. I've always felt that this is good multitasking! For example, while writing a novel, I might also be planning the next one. So one day I might be in a writing mood and put a good 2000 words into my draft, but the next day the well is a little drier so I put a few hours into research and working on my outline for the next novel. This seems great! By the time I get my draft done, I'm pretty close to starting my next novel, while I let the first one sit, and then maybe when I get the next one done I start editing the first one, and there's always work moving through all three stages.

I think to a certain extent, I have to do this. You have to have days off, to think about things and let things percolate. When a draft is finished, you have to let it sit a bit, get some distance, work on something else for a while, so you can edit it objectively.

But where I've been running into problems lately is that I have too much going on. It wasn't so bad early on, when I was writing a draft and planning the next novel, and that was really all I had to work on. I could flip back and forth between the two without letting either project drop too far from my consciousness.

However, adding editing into the mix is messing me up a bit.

My current situation is a great illustration. I'm heavily involved in editing The Sleeping Death. It's weighing on my consciousness nearly all the time and I spend a lot of time poking at it mentally, scribbling down notes, or just pondering different options. Occasionally I take some time off to prod at the planning for my next novel, whose working title is Tris.

The problem is, I'm 30,000 words into a new draft of a book called Dreaming, and I haven't worked on it since November! I started it for NaNoWriMo, and I'm still excited about it - this isn't a dead draft or anything. I have a full outline. I know where I'm going and it was going well before I was forced to put it aside for exams.

It's something I fully intend to work on, but since I was interrupted and pulled out of that world so long ago now, it's going to take me some time to review, refamiliarize myself, and get back into the writing groove with this novel. And I just don't feel like I have the mental space to do that when I'm so heavily involved in editing The Sleeping Death. Especially since I already have two completed manuscripts, editing and getting those ready to publish logically has higher priority than finishing a third one or starting a new draft.

Poking at the outline for Tris seems to be easier than working on my Dreaming draft. I can do a little research here and there, or fiddle with notes, without having to sit down and really immerse myself.

This is a pattern that, upon reflection, I've suffered from many times. I'll start a novel and it'll go great for the first while, but as the middle happens it gets slower going, and something that took me a month to get 30-50,000 words will take six months to get to 100,000 words, or longer. It happened with The Sleeping Death. It happened with Otherwhere. And now it's going to happen to Dreaming.

I think it's a matter of priorities, and staying committed. I'm fortunate that, unlike many first-time writers, I do have the staying power. I generally don't start to hate a novel or drop it and start something shiny and new. But when I let it sit for a while, it is harder to pick back up, and by the end of the whole process it's been so long since I started the beginning of the draft that there are inconsistencies, forgotten details, and my writing ability has improved.

What I feel I should have done when I finished my exams was put real effort into getting back into Dreaming, finished that off, and then committed not to start a new draft until I had completed the edits on The Sleeping Death. I need to start working on things one-thing-at-a-time, with only short (like one day) stints into other projects if I'm just really not in the mood or stuck. I need to commit to working on the priority project even if it's hard, and not let myself get distracted.

It's an experiment at this stage, but I'm hopeful that this will be something that will work better for me.

So how about you, do you work on many projects at once? If you do, how do you keep all the balls in the air? Do you have any tricks you use or do you just let them all fall as they may?

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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