Throughout the course of our artistic careers, we will evolve and grow into different habits, styles, and approaches to telling stories. Some of us are outliners, some of us are completely insane and dive right in without a second thought. Each book or story will follow its own path, just we will follow our own paths to creative success–whatever that may be.
One thing I’ve learned of my own storytelling style is that I work efficiently when I have several books in various stages under my belt all the same time. I like to be editing one, outlining another and in the writing process on a third, or something similar. It just works for me! That’s not to say it would work for everyone, but if you do find yourself in the midst of more than one long-term project at a time, here are a few tips and tricks for keeping all the books in the air.
Keep the Stories Organized
This is fundamental. It doesn’t matter what stage in each of your stories you may be at. Organization is what prevents continuity errors and long-delays, it keeps you on track no matter which project you pick up for the day and it allows you to successfully start up where you left off. Series or book bibles are very useful for keeping details straight. I also keep folders in my Google Drive with information I need to return to–as well as literal notebooks on my desk for later editing stages. It’s challenging enough to remember the smaller details for one book, but if you have several ongoing projects, don’t tax yourself. Write it down.
Keep the Logistics Organized
And when you zoom out–you want deadlines, due dates, editor notes and plot points on the big board. (For me, it actually is a big board. But notebooks, documents, and post-its work too!) If you work with a traditional publisher, you’ll have due dates. If you hire outside editors or formating artists, you’ll have more deadlines and responsibilities than you think. Write them down–remembering dates and deadlines takes up precious mental resources better spent on writing the story.
Break up Tasks
If I’m not pressed for time, I’ll print my manuscripts and edit them by hand. It’s a super daunting task and it can take ages, but it’s usually worth it. That said, two hundred pages of unedited manuscript is super intimidating and the sense that you’ll never finish it all–especially with everything else going on!–can actually prevent you from taking that next step. So break it up. I’ll edit in ten-page chunks because that’s just about all I can handle. Find those smaller pieces that make it possible.
Lean on Your Tribe
Your editor is there for a reason. Your BETA readers are there for a reason. Your critique partner, writing group, international internet friend you never met but you’ve been emailing back and forth about writing and books for more than a year is there.for.a.reason. Writing is supremely solitary most of the time, and when we’re knee deep in the bogs of editing or even first drafts, it can be challenging to remember what excited us about the story in the first place. Talk to your editor, outline with your friends–these are great resources for moving ahead on your project, no matter what else you’re working on.
When you have several projects taking place at once, there is bound to be prioritizing–in fact, it’s a great way to ensure the things get done that have to get done. But sometimes that means it takes more than a year to get your manuscript written (speaking from personal experience) while other stories get finished and polished and produced, and that can be very frustrating.
So find your accountability. Talk to your readers–give them specific dates and teasers so you can’t take too long to finish the project. Tell your critique partner you need someone to watch your back on one story. Talk to your editor about deadlines and due dates. That accountability is a huge part of why National Novel Writing Month is so useful, and it will push you to complete the back burner project along with everything else.
And yes, you will have to prioritize. If the story is due by the end of the week and your other manuscript is still in draft, then you have to finish what you have to finish. Don’t feel guilty about that. But also don’t let it prevent you from ever finishing anything that isn’t immediately due. It may feel a little school-teachery, but start the assignment early so you don’t have to race through it at the expense of everything else.
Last and certainly not least–allow yourself to put projects down. There are definitely points when you find you have too many balls in the air or life gets in the way. For instance, we moved nearly nine hundred miles this summer and I had to focus on logistics and finding freelance work before I could hit my writing goals–it’s part of life and that’s okay. If you like working on several projects, do so whenever possible, but also forgive yourself for being human.
Are you working on more than one project at a time? Share the best ideas for managing more than one manuscript below! ♦