Hump-Day Help: Writing Multiple Projects Simultaneously

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AKA: “Where am I today?”

But…first of all, I’m going to SQUEE a few times here so…be prepared.

SQUEE #1…ROD BELCHER IS IN THE HOUSE! A huge warm welcome to one of the nicest men I know, who happens to be a fantastically talented writer (who did a blurb for my Wild West short), RS Belcher! He has joined Magical Words and will be sharing “Quick Tip Tuesdays” with all mighty, David B. Coe. Which puts Mr. Belcher before me each time…which is a bit daunting but I’m going to just sit here and pretend like I’m not a wee bit intimidated………… O_O

*blink blink*

*stares at blank page*

Where was I, oh yes…Squeeeeeeeeees…..

Faith pic

Faith Hunter

SQEE #2…and this one is relevant to today’s post…I am getting published with an agent attached in an anthology based on the work of a New York Times Best Selling Author. She also happens to be a woman I adore, look up to, and love to pieces. 🙂

Faith Hunter, who’s new book Blood In Her Veins (short stories with Jane Yellowrock) came out yesterday, has another set of books called the Rogue Mage Series. And she has partnered up with Bella Rosa Books and Lore Seekers Press to bring a 2-book set of short stories about mages all over the world (including Thorn, her main protagonist in her books). See official press release in pic below.

Rogue Mage Anth Press Release Pic

Luckily, I have been asked to write one of these shorts!!!! SQUEE #3!!!!!!

*clears throat*

So this brings me to today’s post, which was also a request by another woman I adore (my editor, who is also a writer). For you see, I’ve known about the Rogue Mage Anthology for awhile now…like, I knew about the idea in September and by October I was free-writing concepts. AAAAND that has to do with today’s post how?, you say?

Well…as you know, I’ve also been working on another “small” endeavor, The Curse of Billy the Kid (Historical Fantasy) since that exact same time. So the question posed to me was, “How do you work multiple projects at the same time?” Which I interpret to, “Where am I today?” Am I hangin’ with the boys of the Wild West, wearin’ cowboy boots, vests, high-waisted pants, and ridin’ horses while shootin’ guns at my enemy? OR…am I an India-born, mage girl, in the year 2117 on a pirate ship in Malaysia trying to save my best friend from the clutches of an evil Watcher while saving the world from the Darkness, one girl at a time?

Very. Different. Concepts…Yes?

And here’s the kicker…they have the same deadline.

Yeah, baby! (you have to hear that as if said by Austin Powers for that to make sense)

Anyway…

So yeah, my final draft is due to the publisher by April 1st. My deadline to have the first draft (what I call the Historical Draft) of the BTK book done by April 1st. Oh, and guess when I fly off to New Mexico again! You got it, April 1st. Woooo!

Which begs the question: How is that going to bloody happen with my day job and my dog and my gym time and my need for sleep (which, at my age, is NOT overrated)?

Answer: Organization and Compartmentalization

Pirate Ship with Black SailsI don’t work them both at the same time. I don’t write Mettilwynd (yes, that is the current working title of the mage story) on the same day I write The Curse of Billy the Kid (let’s shorten that to TCBTK, because most shorten ‘Billy the Kid’ to BTK). In fact, I’ve been swapping per month. October I free-wrote Mettilwynd. In November (NaNoWriMo Month) I wrote TCBTK only. But at the top of December I signed my contract for the mage anthology and though I planned to work on TCBTK through the holidays, my mage protagonist was WAY too loud now that she had the official “It is on!” flag waved in her face (and you know pirates and flags……just sayin’).

So out of the blue, I jumped to Mettilwynd and I finished it just as we stepped into the new year. Did I go back and edit? Nope! Did I read it? NOPE! I saved it in multiple places and stepped away, heading back into the head of BTK and jumpin’ on horse vs. a ship.

Coronado

Avery Clark and Gerry Lehane in “Coronado”

The reason is you need to step away to be objective. I’m a wordy girl…we all know that. I’m a novelist, not a short story person, so my first draft of Mettilwynd is just over 12,000 words. It’s supposed to be no more than 8,000. That’s 4,000 words I have to cut. I need to kill my darlings in a BIG way and there is no way I can do that if I just finished it. I need to go fall in love with Billy Bonney and Dick Brewer (not that I fell out of love, but you know what I mean, I have to go feel connected to something other than Katara and her ship for a bit). If I am too tied to Katara and her story, I can’t cut the way I need to.

 

I learned this from Dennis Lehane on Thanksgiving in 2005 (I was the Stage Manager for his first play, Coronado, which was here in NYC and opened on Dec. 3rd. Because of that…the cast, crew, Dennis, and his girlfriend at the time spent the holiday together since we were in tech the day before and after). I’m going to paraphrase what he said to me that day as we stood on the porch of the building having a cigarette (I quit a year later, fyi) I told him I was working on a book (which, btw, is what ended up two books: Windfire & Living Dead Girl) and that I got stuck around the middle and had written the end and now was going back. He said he did that all the time and I felt so much better. But then he said,

Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane

“When you finish, it is a real accomplishment. Do something nice yourself to celebrate. Then put the book in the drawer and forget about it for a few months. Then go back and edit it. When you’ve done a full edit, put it back in the drawer and forget about it for another few months. Then go back again. You need time and distance to be objective.”

Think of it like time away from a significant other who broke up with you. Perspective on that relationship improves with the time spent apart to the point where seeing them doesn’t hurt the same, and eventually you don’t hurt at all (hopefully). Space and time to create that perspective is VERY important, both with lost love and with writing. Also, if you fall for someone new, that helps you separate from the lost love even more.

So that’s what I do all the time. I put one project down and I pick up another. For me it’s not just about time, it’s about focus and being too in love with the work/words to cut them. Space is needed, but when I don’t have months to set something aside, I add in working on something else to help create that distance. I fall in love with a new project and new characters. That way, when I set it down to go back to the other, I’m not as tied to every little thing in the other work. I can kill my darlings easier, faster, and I see things clearer by going away and living in another world. Plus, it’s nice to go back to writing kick ass women in my usual genre for a bit. It helps me go back fresh to the Wild West.

As of Monday I will go back to Mettilwynd. I was going to go back to her on the 1st of February, but I’m not at a good stopping point for TCBTK and it will nag at me too loudly, making it hard to focus. So I have until Sunday night to get that cleaned up. Then it goes in the metaphorical drawer until I finish the next draft of Mettilwynd. Then that will be set aside for a week or two, where I’ll head back to 1878 New Mexico. When that time is up, I’ll head back to pirates and mages and magic, oh my! That is, until it is done (aiming for March 20th). Then I again will set it aside for one week.

On the 27th and 28th I do a reading/cleaning to catch small (or large) errors I didn’t see before and send it off to the publisher on the 29th. On the 30th I’ll dive back into TCBTK and then fly off to New Mexico on April 1st to walk the ground once again where my heroes tread…and get in the headspace to begin filling in the gaps of my story. For the historical draft is exactly what it sounds like. It holds mostly the historical things in order, I then go back and fill in the visual and human aspects around them all.

Will this concept of mine work for everyone? Nope! But I’ve found it works for me and a lot of other folks, so if you are having trouble balancing multiple projects, sit down and make a plan. Organize and compartmentalize the work. Treat it like a job (because it is one, never forget that) and find a schedule that works for you. This will have a really lovely side effect too. It’ll help you use your writing time more wisely and effectively. So it’s a win-win! Ya can’t say no to that! 🙂

That’s it for me this time around…until next time, write hard, bathe in imagination, and organize/compartmentalize your projects to not only give yourself the distance you need from them, but to use your writing time more effectively.

Tamsin 🙂

DSC_2928-EditBIO:

Originally from Michigan, Tamsin L. Silver is the creator/writer of two YA Urban Fantasy Series, Windfire and The Sabrina Grayson Novels, as well as the Web Series, Skye of the Damned. She graduated from Winthrop University with a BA in Theatre/Secondary Education and a minor in Creative Writing/Shakespeare. She has taught both middle school and high school theatre and run two successful theater companies, one of which in the place she currently lives: New York City. You can learn more about her and find links to all her things at www.tamsinsilver.com

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6 comments to Hump-Day Help: Writing Multiple Projects Simultaneously

  • Lady Ash

    I’ve been reading a lot of work by Kevin J. Anderson on productivity. He espouses the idea of having multiple projects in multiple stages at the same time. I admit to being a little intimidated by this. Do you ever find yourself mixing things up when you have more than one project on the stove at a time?

  • Hi! I don’t find I mix things up, actually. Now, if my stories were super similar could I? Maybe, but I think that when you really know your character(s) it makes that problem less likely. The thing that would trip me up a bit would be if I was writing one in first person and the other in 3rd person. I think I might find I carry one over to the next and have to be careful until I got into the swing of it again. I know this because if I’m writing a piece in 1st person and am reading something in 3rd person, I will start to write in 3rd person and have to stop myself. LOL! On my first big edit I’ll find sections of that and go, “Oh, look, this is where I must’ve been reading _________”. 🙂 Thankfully TCBTK and Mettilwynd are told in 1st person, past tense perspective so it was easier. To be honest, I would bet that Mettilwynd turned out that way because of TCBTK. Which is fine, it works really well for the piece and gave me a surprise ending I’d not thought of until I got there and was super excited.

    I like the idea of having multiple projects in different stages! Kevin is right! I should’ve made that point…well, now I have, I suppose. It makes going back and forth easier. The BTK book is in first draft while the short story is done and in need of edits (2nd, 3rd, & 4th drafts). That helps a good amount too. Editing and writing are different monsters to battle and use a wee bit different mindset, so that could help you too.

    Do you write in the same timeline, location, genre, style for most of your things? What do you mostly write?

  • Lady Ash

    @Tamsin

    I write a lot of Fantasy/Horror stuff, but I vary time, setting, and character a lot. Though I tend to focus on pretty kickass women. Right now I’m rewriting a YA paranormal with two others in the works. It is quite possible that I’m making this harder than it actually is. I usually don’t have much problem switching between writing and reading even when perspective is different. Right now I’m writing in 3rd limited with occasional 1st chapters to illustrate the difference in though process between a teenage girl and an immortal spirit.

  • LOVE this post topic, especially now. February is when I start panicking every year about balancing my fiction with my conference papers with my committee obligations. I think your advice is spot on. Using the projects to gain distance and objectivity sounds like a real strategy. I read something yesterday that said if you’re feeling burnt out, cut your project list to 2-3 projects because people can effectively juggle up to 3 projects at a time, but more than that and there’s no way you’ll finish any of them on time so you might as well decide now that #4 and #5 etc are going to have to wait so that the top three can actually be finished.

  • Thanks! Glad you liked this! Three is definitely the limit. I was doing three shows at the same time once and keeping track of all of them was almost impossible w/o writing it all down. I could keep track of when I had to be somewhere and for what show when it was two without writing it down, but by 3 I was having trouble. If someone is juggling 3 projects, the same principal works. As long as you schedule out when you work on which and give each one a chance to rest so you can come back to it fresh, they all should not only be done on time (if you’ve given yourself the right about of time for how fast you write things) but they should also be well done and you shouldn’t feel too stressed (you’ll feel stressed but not so much that the work suffers).

    I really should call this whole approach “The Ex-lover’s Version of a Solid How-To Plan when Writing Multiple Things at the Same Time”…….LOL! A bit too long though….. 🙂

  • Sounds like you have enough diversity to keep them straight, especially if you don’t have issues like me with switching perspectives. 🙂 I think that if you look at a calendar and the different pieces and when they are due (be that due to a publisher, your writers group, or your own personal date set to be done) and move from one to the other, given each enough time to work a cycle, you should be able to move seamlessly between them. If you find you get stuck, look at what specifically is tripping you up and then work with it to make that not such a pain in the behind. 🙂