On Writing Multiple Projects at Once

nichijou shrine
TFW you plan on getting a lot of work done today.  Source: Nichijou.

I’m still not entirely sure how I pulled it off, but I pulled it off.  I managed to write In My Blue World (and start in on its revision) while writing the Apartment Complex story at the same time.  Each book hovers around 75k words, give or take a few thousand, and each book in its first draft completed form took around six or seven months.

If you’d asked me about ten years ago if I could write two full novels in a year that quickly, I probably would have answered ‘only in my dreams’.

So how did I do it, anyway?  Well, the short and boring version is this:  two daily sessions at 750Words (one during Day Job breaks and the other in the evening), five days a week.  Simple as that.  [This is not a paid commercial for that site, by the way — I just happen to love using it for my projects.]

Going into more detail, I’d say that it was a bit of a trick.  First of all, I had to make sure I had the drive and the willingness (and the time!) to dedicate to it, and that is a lot harder to achieve in reality.  I had to set up a concrete plan — the 2-entry/5-day I just mentioned — and I had to make sure I followed through.  Granted, working from home did help matters considerably, as I had immediate access to the site during my morning and afternoon breaks.  So did providing myself a concrete schedule that never wavered: the morning break at 9:30am and the afternoon break at 2:30pm, plus the evening writing sessions that start roughly around 7pm.  It’s the same reason I managed to write The Persistence of Memories so quickly.

Secondly, I had to ensure that I dedicated the same amount of energy and time to each project, and make sure they stayed separate.  In My Blue World was written during the evening, and the Apartment Complex story was written during the day.  This worked out well, as my mind was on one story during the afternoon, and I could momentarily forget about it and focus on the other one in the evening.  It helped that the two stories are not related in any way so there was no potential confusion!

And third, I treated every session as a way to write a complete and self-contained scene, or alternately, a segment of a much larger scene I’d already planned out that would take a few sessions to write.  I’d always think these out ahead of time, maybe one or two scenes ahead, so I knew which direction I should be headed.  (Knowing what to write and how to start it was another issue altogether, of course, but once I got into the groove it worked out!)   I didn’t worry too much about the scene feeling too short, or incomplete; all I needed to do is just get the basics down, and the rest I can fix in revision.

I hadn’t planned on writing both novels at the same time, but I had invested in both of them to some degree and didn’t want them to stagnate without ever being worked on.  As long as I kept both projects separate and consistent, I thought I could at least give it the old college try.  The fact that I actually did it still surprises me, to be honest!

Writing multiple projects in tandem does require a lot of patience and dedication, so I’m sure it’s not for everyone.  But it can be done.  A lot of writers do in fact work on multiple projects that are at various points of completion.  It’s good business sense to have something new going while your recently completed project is doing the submission rounds.  (There’s also the fact that some writers may also be working on some short-term freelance work as well.  There’s good grocery money in that.)  Now that I know I can do it, I’m more inclined to believe that I could make a habit out of it.

Planning Ahead

tenor
I’m usually not this bad, folks.

I know it’s only mid-June, but I’m already thinking two months ahead to August, specifically Worldcon weekend.  [Okay, I’m also thinking about our week-and-a-half vacation to London just before it, and about how I’ll be a walking zombie by the time the con is over, but that’s another blog entry altogether.]

At present, I can safely say that I’m nearing the climax to In My Blue World.  If I time this right, I should have this draft done by the end of June, leaving me the entirety of July to revise it and ready it for self-publication.  I may or may not have it ready in time for the con, but I’m not too worried about it.  If I’m successful, I may be able to snag a reading panel then to read from it.

I’ve done this for pretty much all my books so far…once I know I’m nearing the end of the first draft, that’s time for me to start working on the post-production things.  I’ll start playing around with book cover images.  I’ll start thinking about promotion items and platforms.  Working out the final release schedule.  Those sorts of fiddly things.

I work on those things very early on and in a piecemeal fashion so I’m not crushed under the weight of doing it all at once at the end.  It’s also so I can give myself time to make final decisions or if I should go in a different direction.  And also, these fiddly things are often quite enjoyable to me when they’re not breathing down my neck!

As a self-published writer, I find that I often have to plan out my post-production work in very much the same way I plan out my novels.  I need to think about the overall plot and how each scene and sequence fits together to form the whole.  Or in this case, plan out where I’m going to be when, and what needs to be done to make it all happen.  There’s a lot of multitasking going on, but if I spread it out a bit, I can handle it.

My plan is to do a reading at the con, and if I don’t have the book available, I’ll at least have postcards to give away with the book cover image.  I’d like to have the book out into the wild by September, at least in e-book form.  [I’m also thinking of other platforms for physical copies, but that’s another long term project and another post entirely.]

So yes…even though I’m wrapping up another novel, I’m just getting started on the post-production, which should keep me busy for a few months longer.

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And for those curious, here’s a very rough draft outtake for the cover of In My Blue World.  This is by no means the final cover, of course, but it’s along the lines of what I’m aiming for.

050418 shutterstock outtake 1

On Multi-Tasking

anime busy

One of the biggest changes to my writing schedule that I’d been looking forward to once I signed off on the trilogy was being able to multi-task.  I love working on a main project, but working on the same one for a long time (especially as long as that one) can definitely be detrimental.  I often find myself itching to work on something different now and again, and that certainly comes to the fore when I’m doing major revision work.

When I decided to write outtakes for Meet the Lidwells while working on the trilogy revision, it gave me a much-needed creative outlet to keep my Writer Brain going in a way that my blog entries and other outlets couldn’t.  If I hadn’t done that, it would have taken a lot longer for me to start a new project.  I’d have had to spend some time thinking about what to write, how to write it, and not really know if I have a viable story or a trunkable one until I’ve invested a lot of time on it.  Multi-tasking projects lets me cut out a lot of that possible wasted time.  The daily-words outtakes put the story idea to the test to see if I can graduate it to Main Project status.

This process worked so well for me that I’ve kept it going with the newer projects, and I’ll keep it going until it doesn’t work for me anymore.

Granted, it is a process that’s kind of tough to maintain if you’re juggling all this with a Day Job.  There are days when I’m amazed I can get anything done when the DJ kicks my ass.  The trick is to make it happen.  Find slow moments where you can write a few hundred quick words.  Use your work breaks and lunch if you can.  Worst case scenario, schedule out your writing days; one day for revision, another for new words, and so on.

It’s not a process you need to take if you don’t want to, but it works well if you have a lot of projects you’d like to work on, and you’d like a quick turnaround.  YMMV, of course!