The Juggle is Real: Balancing Writing Projects – by Laura Ingermann

Some time ago, we encouraged you not to fall into the “story factory”-trap, churning out book after book in rapid succession until you’ve burned yourself out. Yet it’s also true that if the gaps between your book releases become too big, readers tend to move on, either because they’ve forgotten about you, become too frustrated to wait for your next book, or because the emotional connection to your story and your characters has gotten cold.

As a reader, I’ve experienced all three, so I know the danger is real.

So even if you’ve settled on a sane number of books that you can comfortably write without sacrificing quality – say, one book per year – the fact remains that if you add up the time you’ll need to conceive, draft, and revise that book (not to mention the whole pre-launch work that needs to be done to convert your final draft into an actual book), the total number of months will be greater than twelve.

Which means that if you want to publish one book every year (and some people want to up that number to two, or even three books, although I think that’s the limit if you don’t want to burn out), you’ll have to work on several projects simultaneously.

Now, there are gifted people to whom this comes naturally. They may not even be able to confine themselves to just one project. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

I’ve tried. Oh yes, I’ve tried. Invariably, one of my WIPs fell to the wayside, as I was drawn deeper and deeper into the (then) primary draft. From time to time, I’d pull out the step-child, driven by my guilty conscience, stare at what I had written so far… and then close the file and return to the main WIP, because things were heating up over there, and I just had to write out the big battle scene…

For a while, I just proclaimed myself to be a linear writer. I can’t jump ahead inside a draft, I have to write scene A before I can write scene B (or scene K), so why should the big picture look different?

That’s all well and fine until you get the crazy idea to become a professional author. Suddenly, you have to do things that are way outside your natural inclinations. So I had to find a way to make this work.

Now, as I said, there are different types of writers. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who not only finds it easy to jump between drafts, but who even needs it – whenever you get stalled in project one, you hop over to project two, write happily away until you hit a snag there, at which point you return to project one (waving at founding member Joy, who can juggle 5+ projects at once!). If that’s what you’re doing, I admire you, and also hate you a bit, and encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you’re struggling with this, like me, approaching this problem from a slightly different angle may work better.

See, the different phases of writing require completely different mindsets. Prewriting is different from drafting, is different from editing. I dimly remember my school days, when one teacher explained to us that we shouldn’t try to memorize French vocabulary immediately after memorizing Spanish, or trying to solve a physics problem right after completing maths homework. The subjects were just too similar, and would tend to get mixed up in our brain.

While writing isn’t the same as memorizing, I think that switching between different “work modes” is the solution for the writers among us who can’t switch between projects in the same work stage. I noticed, for example, that I can easily prewrite (plan, brainstorm, research) several projects simultaneously, but I can’t draft two projects at the same time. I haven’t been able to test this theory for the editing stage, because I only ever have one project ready for editing, but my theory is that both prewriting and rewriting aren’t as deeply immersive as drafting itself, at least not on that gut-wrenching, deeply emotional level where you start to live with your characters in that story world.

So, I propose you try something I call staggered writing – starting your next book once you’ve completed one writing phase of your current project. Begin Prewriting book B as soon as you start drafting book A; should you be done with planning and researching book B before the first draft of book A is done, start Prewriting for book C.

Once the first draft of book A is done, start drafting book B. This has the added benefit of forcing you to keep that cooling-off period for your A-draft, instead of trying to edit it right away, and the immersion in book B will also make you forget much about the plot of book A, which allows you to look at it with fresh eyes when it’s time to edit.

As for the editing phase, I found that it can be just as immersive as drafting when you really dig down and analyze your work, but on a more removed, intellectual level. You’ll need to experiment a bit with the combinations – maybe you can’t edit and draft simultaneously, but editing and prewriting in tandem works just fine.

In any case, I strongly recommend to separate your work sessions. I need to draft in the morning, when my mind is still fresh, but I can easily edit or prewrite in the evenings. Alternating days, or assigning workdays and weekends to different phases might also work (for example, drafting at the weekends, editing during the week after work), but can be tricky – whatever you do every day, even if it’s only for a short time in the evening, will slowly gain predominance, and before you realize it, will have crept into your weekend, too (because you’ll have settled into that work mode).

However you do combine your projects, it’ll always be a challenge to keep everything up and running. But as we all know, if it’s too easy, it won’t make a good story. And the most satisfying battles are the ones where the hero prevails against overwhelming odds.

So let’s slay that writing beast… no, the writing beasts.

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