Writers have the interesting – sometimes productive, sometimes just plain bad – habit of thinking of a lot of ideas that can be penned down and used for later. In other words, really, there are a million worlds running through a writer’s head, and they’re just dying to be written. It’s fun, of course, especially if you go through a rather productive brainstorming session when you’re looking for a new project to work on. It’s a blessing when you’re looking for those ideas. It’s a curse when you’re midway through a story idea and something else tries to grab your attention.
While it’s not necessarily wrong to juggle several writing projects at once, you’ll find that, at some point in the writing phase, juggling projects can be a pretty daunting task. It might manifest itself physically, putting dents in your writing habits or eating up too much of your time that you’re not actually sleeping well. Worse, it might manifest itself in the stories themselves – ideas transfer from one place to another and you’re just blending several ideas into different cocktails, perhaps very little of which might work effectively.
Following the idea of stepping away from a work that’s taxing you, we can look at things through the lens of the freshly rested writer. I’ll bring in a few interesting quotes:
Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
– Alexander Graham Bell
How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
– Dr. Seuss
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
– Albert Einstein
With those passages in mind, we can now return to the matter at hand: compelling yourself to juggle a ton of projects. We’ve already pointed out that this is taxing, but not just in the sense that the writer will burn out after a while. The focus will shift, and the purpose of what is being written will be lost at worst, get muddled at best. Neither scenario is something a writer wants to get to, although of course it’s inevitable. We’ve talked about taking time away from writing before, and while this time away is a healing process of sorts – rekindling your love for what is being written, or at least eliminating the seething hate you’ve somehow managed to develop towards your writing – it is also important to think of the time away as a period of reflection.
Apart from the usual questions – why am I writing? For whom am I writing? – the writer can also think about something that’s equally important: what am I supposed to be focusing on? This doesn’t just apply to a particular plot point, or character. This applies to your writing habit in general. Which project takes precedence? Why? Set out your priorities when it comes to projects, focus on the ones you think need work the most, or the ones you think you need to work on immediately.
To help yourself, you can list down your current preoccupations and interests. It might be science, it might be an adventure narrative, it might be a particular motif, and then look at which of the many projects you are handling and pick out which ones have these particular motifs you are currently interested in. If, meanwhile, you have several projects containing these motifs, you can narrow them down to more particular details, more particular threads of interest or preoccupation. Until, of course, you find that project which you feel you definitely have to work on right now. This will help give you a direction in mind, and of course will – hopefully – tighten your writing and your plot, characterization, setting, and all the other things that come with the project. Things will hopefully fall into place, leaving you with a better, more coherent narrative.
That is, of course, just one suggestion. Whatever way you opt to take in attempting to select projects that are important, keep in mind that you have to want to finish a project, or that it’s something that you’re willing to work on. Forcing yourself to work on something you’re not feeling at the moment will only blur your focus. Of course, it goes without saying that even outside of writing, attitude can affect the quality of your output. In other words, if you don’t feel like working on a particular subject, then don’t.
Instead, focus on what you want to do. It’s absolutely important that you know what you want to do, and that you know what you want or need to focus on, because this will help you channel your energy to the right places. You’ll avoid wasting time – yours, and others – and make you more efficient as a writer.
We’ll end with a quote from Bruce Lee, that is applicable not only to writing, but also to life.
If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
– Bruce Lee