Writing Multiple Projects: Pros and Cons

Craft, Discipline, Organization, Uncategorized, Work-In-Progress / Friday, January 26th, 2018

by Joanna Maciejewska

Mikhail Bulgakov burned the first draft of Master and Margarita, a book that long after death would make him famous. He wrote it for two years, and then in 1930 committed it to the flame. A year later, he restarted the novel and worked on the second draft for the next six years. For the next years, he worked on another four versions and even right before his death in 1940 the novel still had unfinished bits. Even though he had some other works published earlier (along with plays and short stories), he’s ultimately remembered by that one novel.

Writing Multiple Projects

Nowadays, in our fast-paced world hungry of information and novelty, seldom writers have the comfort of working on a book for 10 years if they want to have a career rather than just considering writing a hobby. Yet, many writers are so enchanted their first story, they never get around to the second book, forever working on their first manuscript and dreaming of being published… one day.

Working on multiple projects at once may be a solution, but it doesn’t come without its own disadvantages. Before you make a decision whether such process is for you, have a look at pros and cons of writing multiple projects.

Pro: Keeping the excitement

A new project is always more exciting than the old one. Sometimes, after months of revisions, the idea of burning the manuscript starts looking very, very appealing. Switching to another project, whether it’s going to be taking a break or rewarding yourself for the work done on the first text, can help to calm down the arsonist within you.

Con: You need more discipline to finish projects

It’s so tempting to abandon a project just because the new shiny idea is just around the corner, so writing multiple projects requires that extra bit of discipline to say, “no, I’m not starting the 58th new novel until I finish at least two already in the works.”

Pro: Easier to let go

As much as we love our ideas, some of them just don’t want to work. Whether it’s a gaping plot hole or weak character’s motivation, or anything else, sometimes you have shelve a project. But it’s hard to let go something you’ve been working on for months if not years. Another project that has already seen some progress is a good distraction and provides comfort, helping to part with the one that isn’t working.

Con: It takes much longer to finish anything

Focusing on one novel gets things done, while writing multiple project slows down the process. In the long run it means more works finished, but at the same time it feels like you’ve been working on everything forever and for a day longer.

Pro: Clear plans for the future

Finishing a project might come with feeling lost. The characters you almost lived together with are gone, their story concluded. You may find yourself lost, with too much time on your hand and not enough solid ideas to jump right into the next novel. Working on multiple projects means that even if you decided to focus on one for its last stretch, you know exactly “what’s next”. It gives you the sense of continuity and long-term plans.

Con: Requires good memory and organizational skills

My flatmate once asked me how can I read two books at the time, write two, play a video game, and leisurely watch a movie, being able to follow all the storylines, never getting lost, and jumping between them with ease. All I could do was to shrug: I just could, this is how my mind works. But it isn’t for everybody. The sense of total chaos or being overwhelmed can easily creep up on the unsuspecting writer.

Will it help?

There’s no single recipe for writing process that would work for all the writers. To some, the advantages of writing multiple projects will outweigh the disadvantages. For other writers, the cons will dim any benefits that could come from that.
Which kind of a writer are you? If you usually focus on one novel, would you try writing multiple projects? Why? And if you already work on many things at the time – did I miss any pros or cons?

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

2 Replies to “Writing Multiple Projects: Pros and Cons”

  1. A really cogent, targeted article laying out the pros and cons of working on multiple projects – which I simply cannot do. I need to be immersed in a project before I can access the subtext and find the hidden connections. Which makes me sound like I’m writing something particularly deep – I’m not. But I do find that the stuff going on implicitly surfaces afterwards when I’m editing… I just wish I could multitask, but I’m the ultimate monotasker.

  2. Another great post, Joanna. 🙂 I typically work on only one novel at a time, but I also write poetry, which is a very different form of writing. So there’s no worry over whether I’ll confuse myself between those projects, since their styles and topics are not the same. But I do struggle with keeping some kind of balance between them. My “strategy” is that every time I hit a 1,000-word milestone on the novel, I take a night off from it to work on writing or revising poetry… But I don’t always stick to it. *lol*

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