I’ve never been the kind of writer who writes best with multiple projects cooking at once. Some of my friends are at their happiest and most productive when juggling at least two different stories simultaneously, but I prefer to work on only one book at a time. Once I get that book to the end of whatever stage it’s at, whether it’s drafting, big-picture revisions, or line edits, and I’m waiting on feedback, that’s when I feel the most comfortable diving into a brand-new work.
Here are a few reasons for my personal preference:
- If I’m writing two books in different age categories and/or genres, I find it easier to stay in one headspace rather than switching back and forth. The voice and feel of a dark YA fantasy, for example, are a lot different from those of a MG contemporary.
- If I’m writing two books in the same age category and/or genre, my concern is that I’ll get confused. Each fantasy world will have its own rules, laws, magic systems, and inspirations, and I don’t want the elements of one book world mixing with (or becoming too similar to) those of another.
- I thrive on to-do lists and checking things off as “Done.” Even in school, I never mixed subjects when studying or doing homework. I’ve conditioned myself to see one task through to completion before starting another.
Note that these reasons are all highly personal to me, and are the result of writing enough books over the years to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and how I work best. Some of you might have read through that list and thought, “She doesn’t like juggling projects for that reason, but that’s why I do like it!”
But no matter what your preference is, there’s no denying that at some point, you will most likely have to learn how to juggle.
You might have multiple deadlines if you write both for your day job and for your published books on the side. Or maybe you’re working on New Book while querying Old Book, and one agent rejects Old Book but asks to see New Book when you’re done, and then a second agent requests a revise-and-resubmit for Old Book. Or, while you’re editing a contracted book on deadline, you are lucky enough to land another book deal that gives you yet another set of deadlines.
Sometimes, the luxury of seeing one book through to completion just isn’t possible. If you like to focus on a single project at a time like me, here are some ways I have handled juggling in the past:
- Know which book to prioritize. Books for which you have signed a contract always take precedence. Deadlines given by your editor or agent are more pressing than deadlines you give yourself or your stubborn urge to work on something else (calling myself out here!). In the example I gave above, I would prioritize the revise-and-resubmit of Old Book over the completion of New Book because it’s a lot farther along in the process. If you have no specific deadlines, work on whichever book you feel most motivated about. Inspiration can wane, so ride that wave while it lasts!
- Block out time to work on each specific book. I’ve found it helpful to divide a week in a half and tell myself that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are for working on one book, and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are for the other. Sunday can be a catch-up day if I’m falling behind on one, or I use it to rest. Or, if I’m really pressed for time, I’ll work on one book from 8:00am-12:00pm on Monday, and after lunch, transition to working on the other starting at 1:00pm.
- Know what motivates you on a given day. Knowing yourself and your habits of productivity is important as a writer. I like doing copyedits and line edits, so I might do those in the morning to get myself warmed up and save drafting for the afternoon, since it’s often much harder for me. On the flip side, I might prefer to draft in the morning when I’m fresh and save the easier line edits for the afternoon. It all depends on my mood and level of productivity for that day.
- Keep separate notebooks and flip through each before working. If you’re like me and you have a notebook for each project, it’s handy to look through your notes, character arcs, outlines, etc. before diving into work. It helps keep you organized and get into the right world and mindset.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran a Twitter poll asking what topic I should write about for my next Publishing Crawl post, and “writing multiple projects” won by a landslide! I hope these tips help you out, and I would love to hear from other writers as to what they do when juggling books. Feel free to share your tips in the comments if you have any!