Multiple Projects at Once

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile0001652481771

I try hard not to work on more than one project at a time.  But sometimes, with several series, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects at once.

For me, the hardest part is writing two first drafts simultaneously. I think that’s because it takes a bit of time to move out from one story world and into another.  Right now I’m outlining two books for a Penguin editor, and working on the first drafts for two different books.  Ugh.

Things that I’ve discovered can help:

If possible, edit one and brainstorm another.  Or outline one and draft another.  For me, anyway, this helps because it feels like I’m working out different areas of my brain.  Or maybe I’m just deluding myself.

Outlines help.  I know…I was anti-outline once, too.  But they help keep storylines straight, especially with the sometimes complex storylines in mysteries. And they prevent mistakes where a character from one book makes a guest appearance at your other book. If you don’t like outlining, try just thinking through the very next day’s writing.

If you’re equally alert/creative in both the morning and the afternoon and have the flexibility, work on them six or more hours apart.

I’m trying a new genre now and am finding that writing two different genres is easier to keep straight than when working on the same genre (I guess this should be a no-brainer, but I was pleasantly surprised).

I’ve found that taking a few minutes before sitting at the computer to get my head back into that story’s world can make the transition easier into the other book.

This is going to sound really absentminded of me, but the more characters I’m dealing with (and with two or three books at once…we’re talking about a ton of characters to keep straight) the harder it is for me to remember even main characters’ names.  I might know everything about them and how they react to the world, but can’t cough up their name.  So…I lean heavily on cheat sheets.  Think basic.  A snippet from one of mine reads like a cast of characters in an old program.  Another reminds me of everyone’s motives and who is misdirecting me to whom. Another has a list of recurring series characters, settings, etc.  I keep the cheat sheets either printed out beside me or up in another window on the computer.

Take breaks. Get sleep.  Sleep deprivation doesn’t help prevent confusion, obviously.  Healthy eating and exercise helps with stress.  I’ve gotten better lately with both since stress levels were building up pretty high.

And then, of course, the books are edited to death later by both me and a professional editor(s) to make sure I haven’t screwed anything up.

The upside of writing like this is that I’m producing more, earning more, and engaging my readers by providing them with more content (and quality content. If it’s not hitting a certain level of quality, I’ll delay publication until it does).   The process is also something of a creative rush.

The downsides are evident.  :)

Have you worked on multiple projects at once?  What tips do you have?

Image: MorgueFile: dhester

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30 thoughts on “Multiple Projects at Once

  1. I can’t imagine juggling two manuscripts at once. I forget character names with just one.
    I did write a short story for an anthology right in the middle of working on my upcoming release. I found I could only focus on one or the other, so I alternated days that I’d work on them.

  2. Elizabeth – Multi-tasking projects can definitely be challenging. I really like your ideas for managing it! I especially like your idea of separating the projects as much as you can (i.e. not working on them at exactly the same time). I think it’s easier to collect your thoughts that way. Oh, and I’m excited you’re trying a new genre! Looking forward to reading your new work.

  3. I found working on two different genres made a big difference. I can easily flit between fiction and non-fiction. I think non-fiction is more left-brained and fiction more right-brained.

    1. Diane–I can definitely see how it would be much easier juggling non-fic and fic! I’m doing all right with the two different fiction genres, but that’s because they’re really different.

  4. I don’t know what’s happened to me, but I can’t multi-task anymore. I do think working in two different genres would be possible, but fiction–uh uh. Good luck, Elizabeth.

    1. Karen–I don’t think I could ever really multitask anything that required a lot of thought. I could vacuum and mentally plot, I could stir something on the stove and check emails…but that was about it!

  5. You’re absolutely right that DIFFERENT tasks on the different projects helps. I can write on one and edit on another (though not ‘big edit’–my major first edit of a project really needs to be my whole world for about a month, as that is when I need to get all the pieces in line). IFF I am writing drafts on two stories it helps a lot to (yes, different genres) but also to be in really different places. I’ve only successfully done this when I am trying to finish one and another is nagging me so badly that I sort of can’t help myself. Mostly though, I really only do two projects when one is a first draft and the other is hard copy edit that I do AWAY from the computer (other than entering changes)

    1. Hart–Good point about the nagging manuscripts! I think it’s helping that the second one I’m drafting is one that keeps popping into my head during the day. If I had to force the story out, it would be a lot tougher to make progress.

  6. I’ve worked on two genres this year, one being a new project in the Horror realm. Well, it’s kind of a really dark comedy. Anyway, like you wrote, it’s easy to do. And yes, getting proper sleep is very important. I used to sacrifice sleep to write but not any more. But I think that’s due to becoming a better and more efficient writer as time goes by.

  7. I was once a master of multi-project workdays.

    The past 6 weeks as I’ve worked with my illustrator on my children’s book I’ve discovered I just have no creative energy for my next Chandleresque cozy. It’s ready for rewrites and editor’s-note adjustments, but it’s just gonna have to wait until this is done.

    Back in the old days, working on different phases of different projects helped. I wouldn’t try to tackle two fresh projects at once, then or now.

    1. Joel–Collaborating with an illustrator would definitely take up a lot of creative energy (especially for me, since I don’t think like a designer).

      Multi-projects aren’t my favorite. Hoping once this is over that I’ll be working on only one project for a while.

  8. I’ve never managed to successfully work on two projects at once. I think you described the problem exactly: “For me, the hardest part is writing two first drafts simultaneously. I think that’s because it takes a bit of time to move out from one story world and into another. ” I love your suggestions. I might try again. Thank you.

  9. New genre? Exciting.

    I read more than one book at a time, so it’s easy for me to write two separate stories in the same span of time and keep them straight. Thanks for the cheat sheet idea, though. I always forget my characters names and real people, too.

    T

  10. I have been feeling the urge to work on a second book while also writing Book 2 of the Lady Raven series. It’s another YA, about a mother-daughter team fighting monsters. I’m hoping to use it to get back into traditional publishing, and it’s been so hard to keep putting it off.

    1. Paul–You could give it a go. That’s what I’ve had to do with one of mine…it kept going on the back burner so it ended up being pushed up until it could be worked on simultaneously with another book.

  11. Hi Elizabeth – I’d have to be super organised – I prefer to concentrate on one thing at a time … while keeping tabs on life in general .. but you’ve got it down to a fine art – mind you a few books under my belt and I’d probably be doing the same (I hope!) .. cheers Hilary

  12. I always do multiple projects at once. I also tend to read multiple books at once. (I guess I’m just a scattered sort of person.) My projects vary enough that it’s like writing in different genres, so I don’t have trouble keeping them straight.

    It isn’t something I recommend, though. It’s just something natural to me. If it isn’t natural to you, I imagine it could drive you nuts. It sounds like you have some good techniques.

    I can say this: If I have something I feel is on “deadline” (and I’m an indie, so I get to set my own) and I WANT to work on something else, I’ll set aside some time and goals for the first project, and then “reward” myself with the other when the goals are met.

    I think, even if it isn’t that one project isn’t a “reward” in itself, setting session goals on each project can give you satisfaction and make moving to the other feel like a reward. I think the setting of goals each session can also be like a ritual in which you send yourself into the world of the story.

    1. Camille–I like your idea of rewards. One problem I’ve seen with working on two projects at once is that I *can* end up almost resenting one book for taking me away from the other. And playing favorites is dangerous. Maybe I need a reward for meeting goals with the project I’m slightly less engaged in..aside from even the pleasure of working on the “favored” book.

  13. This year I decided to work on two projects at once, and now three! It helps me because whenever I get stuck on something in WIP1, instead of banging my head against the wall for hours or days trying to come up with a fix, I just go work on WIP2. When I run into a snag on WIP2, I switch back to WIP1 and miraculously find that the problem I had is easily solved. Stepping away always gives me perspective, but I don’t like to step away and not “do” anything, hence working on a different project. But that’s just me.

    Good luck on your multiple projects, Elizabeth!

  14. Multiple projects? Heck yeah!

    In 2014, I wrote 4 new novels. I substantially rewrote 2 others (meaning that I added at least 50,000 words to each). Edits and revisions on numerous others.

    I published 7 books (and since I got behind on my publishing schedule, that meant putting out a new book in 5 of the last 6 months of the year). That involves coordinating covers, beta readers, editing, creating trailers, formatting both e-book and paperback, promo and marketing, etc. Oh, and a boxed set…

    I tried to blog at least twice a week, although sometimes it was only once, but occasionally as many as four times.

    And of course, I ran various Kindle and Goodreads giveaways, published books coming off of KDP Select onto other platforms, got some professional photography, attended conferences and book signings, researched and updated categories and keywords… oh, and I am having two translations done.

    I have a spreadsheet so that I don’t lose track of deadlines, because when you have that many balls in the air, it is easy to lose track. I have checklists for each book so that I remember what has been done and what hasn’t. Months that I am writing a first draft, I try to make that a priority and not be doing something major with another book, but I have released another book mid-Camp-NaNo…

    I wish that I could spend all of my time on writing, but these tasks have to fit in around a full-time job, homeschooling, and various other roles…

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