How to Work on Multiple Projects

Every time I update on my goals and people see how much I actually want to get done in a month, there’s at least one person who says that he/she doesn’t understand how I can work on so many projects at one time.

So I thought some of you might find it interesting if I explain.

At one stage, I used to work on only one project at a time, but even then, never quite. If I was working on one project and another idea came up, I’d postpone that idea until I finished the rough draft of my main project. In other words, I’ve pretty much worked on at least two ideas since half way through Doorways. (In case you missed it, Doorways was split into two halves for a publishing deal and I generally refer to either half by their individual titles.)

I’ve never worked on only one project from conception to final edits. I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way. Usually I’d take a few weeks off from one project before starting to edit it. In that time, about a month or so in, I’d start another project. Only rarely, though, would I work on another project while drafting another.

NaNoWriMo 2012 made me reconsider this. That year, I’d written an entire rough draft in two weeks, but it came short of 50k words. And because I hadn’t had time to think about something else to write and had only two weeks left, I had to give up.

Then in 2013, I started to think of how much writing time I actually lose because of the time I take before starting that second project. Worse still, I’m prone to writer’s block while drafting and in those times, I’d take weeks without writing anything while my mind figured out whatever was keeping me from continuing a story.

When November came, I decided to work on three projects: One main project and two others that I can skip to in case I wrote myself into a corner with one. It worked a dream. In fact, I think I almost hit 60k words in that time, and finished the rough drafts by the end of December.

Then came my five year goal, and I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone by running writing and editing projects concurrently. That, as it turned out, works even better for me.
How do I do it?

I always work on different genres to separate the stories in my mind. 
E.G. I have an epic fantasy, an urban fantasy, a contemporary romance, and a dystopian pipelined for rough drafts. For edits, I have the first two books in the same epic fantasy series as the one I’m drafting, a historical romance and a mythology retelling. Very little chance of confusion for me because everything looks and feels different from everything else.

Everything has a priority list.
I’ll pick one rough draft, one rewrite and one edit at a time and then I don’t work on anything else unless it’s done or I get stuck.

In case of getting stuck, I’ll pick something else to work on until I get unstuck. 
It usually happens without much conscious thought from my side.

I never shelve anything indefinitely.
If something doesn’t work and I can’t figure out why, I might move it down the priority list, but I never remove something from it. This prevents me from having a ton of unfinished projects in my wake.

Speaking of which, I write down any shiny new ideas I might have and add it to the priority list.
And then I go right back to what I’m actually busy with.

I use spreadsheets to keep track of how many words I’ve written, rewritten and/or edited in a day, month and year by project.
I also have a spreadsheet calendar where I outline each of the goals I set for the month, so that I can see if I’ve been neglecting anything when I shouldn’t.

On any given day, I pick what I want to focus on.
Sometimes, it’s to edit, or to write a chapter, or to rewrite. I never move onto another project unless I’ve finished that task (or get stuck).

I wouldn’t be able to work on the projects the way that I do unless I had that priority list and a way to track my progress. Without them I probably would just end up going back to working on one or two projects at a time.

Now you know my secret.

Do you work on multiple projects? If so, how do you go about it? 

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12 thoughts on “How to Work on Multiple Projects

  1. I do the same as you with projects that don't work. I have a couple that I plan to revisit soon, now that I have a bit more experience. Part of me thinks that the more different things I work on, the more I'll be creative — a bit like exercising a muscle really.

  2. I do envy you and send you a “virtual” pat on the back. The best I can do is to think about my next project while I'm writing something. I also try and follow the “sub one, write one” advice, except this time I'm a little behind with that one. But I do think it's important to know that once you've written a book, you've got something to carry on with. Good post!

  3. It's GREAT you're able to focus on multiple projects, and switch back and forth, because once you get accepted for publication, that seems to be the norm! I've had to adjust and get used to book hopping, and found it easier than I thought to switch gears. 🙂

  4. Wow! This was extremely helpful. Thank you! I only work on one project at a time but, for reasons you stated at the beginning, it does feel inefficient. I always tell myself I need to immerse myself in a single project, but I wonder if I should try your technique after all — especially when I get stuck on one book but still want to be writing something.

  5. This looks like a really helpful post for writers and I'm sure most people can adapt your tips to other things (like craft projects, etc.)

    I like to have lots of things on the go around the house and I reached the point where I would make a list for myself of all the fun things I wanted to do and all the not-so fun things that needed doing, and then allowed myself one fun thing for each not-fun thing. So if I tidied my bedside table, then I could do some knitting; if I did a load of laundry, I could work on my blog for a bit, etc.

    Having little rewards helps motivate me. 😉

    Cait @ Click's Clan

  6. OOh I'm still in awe of you being able to work like that. I agree with you about never shelving anything, just moving it out of sight for a while. Those words can always be used, in one form or another.

  7. How do you manage to find time for each of your projects? How much time do you spend on each every day?

    I have to write one book and edit another at the same time, but I've never worked on writing two books concurrently before. It's something I've been considering lately.

  8. Blogoratti, it's definitely useful. 🙂

    Terry, some people just aren't wired for it.

    Shelly, I just feel like it helps me to have multiple projects ready to work on. It means I rarely feel like I don't know what to write.

    Celine, you're right. Creativity is a lot like flexing muscles. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

    Susan, that is the best thing about my method for me. When I finished my first book, I hit this huge slump because I didn't know what to do from there. Nowadays, I just go straight into the next thing.

    Carol, getting published certainly made me look at the way I work differently. It's amazing how many things we can do, but don't because we've convinced ourselves otherwise.

    Caryn, I always say you should try everything once. Maybe it won't work for you. Or maybe it's just what you need to further your writing. 🙂

    Patsy, I do that too. It helps me to avoid feeling like I'm doing work.

    Cait, that's a great way to get things done.

    Annalisa, that's so true. All the words we write have value, even if we end up not publishing them.

    J.H. These days, I try to only work on one project on a given day. If I finish the task set for that project, I can choose to move onto another project or not. But otherwise, I just keep writing/editing or whatever until I've reached a short term goal I've set for the project I'm working on.

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