I receive newsletters from a certain popular author who teaches writing skills to other writers. She answers questions about writing from people in some of these newsletters. This is rather intermittent, I suppose because she doesn’t receive such questions with any frequency or regularity. Today, I got one of those emails, and at the top she states this:
This problem boils down to “I’m having trouble with my current Work In Progress (WIP) so I’m working on something else on the side.”
I know lots of writers who do this. Some work on outlining new projects while writing on one. Some write on other projects when another isn’t going. Still other writers work on editing a different project at the same time. Some do all three on various projects at once.
This knowledgeable author’s first response is: 1) Shiny Object Syndrome is the writer’s worst enemy. This, I have a method of dealing with. I’m pretty good at corralling my ideas and holding them off. Basically, when a new idea pops up, I tell it to get in line. If it doesn’t shut up, I do a little background work on it—worldbuild if necessary, do a character list, write out plot points, maybe outline a scene or two. Something. Then I tell the idea to get back in line, and, sometimes right away, other times after I’ve done more background work on it, it does listen.
Knowledgeable Author next says: 2) Stories work best when you give them your love. And I do this to the best of my ability, whenever I’m able to focus on a project to any extent. There’s just one problem I have with being able to do this consistently. My bipolar controls my creative mind. I’ve explained this before, how my writing desire and capability fluctuates, sometimes wildly. I can be quite happily working on one of my Chraesti projects one day, then the next day be sick of all those WIPs but overjoyed to work on something on Aphori. And, as I’ve explained before, if I try to force my creative mind to work on something, I end up pushing myself into depression as well. So I follow this rule to the best of my ability when I am able to write, but must ultimately go with the flow when it comes to what my creative mind provides me, even if it provides me nothing at all to work with.
3) Current Project gets your first words. This is Knowledgeable Author’s last emphasized statement, and I happen to agree wholeheartedly with it. This is how I operate when my creative mind wants to work on two different projects, particularly when I want to write fresh words on both. Main WIP gets the attention first, then I work on the other project. However, for me, if I get stuck on the main project, focusing on that sticking point to figure out a way past it only aggravates and depresses me, so I must focus on something else to give my subconscious a chance to chew on the problem. Because, the more I focus on that issue, and the more aggravated and depressed I get over it, the harder it is for me to figure out a solution. This does not mean I do not spend any time at all consciously considering the issue, it just means that I’m trusting my creative mind to provide the answer I need at some point. Allowing myself to be distracted with another project enables me to be patient with the vagaries dictated by my bipolar and the fact my creative mind may not have fully worked out a problem before I reached the point of plotting or writing it.
While I do agree in general with Knowledgeable Author’s advice, I think they’re not taking into account that all writers are different. Granted, for most writers, particularly beginning writers, it may be a case that moving on to another particular project when stuck on the first may create a bunch of incomplete and partial stories which are never returned to. But, by the same token, some writers need time away from one project—and a switch to something sometimes completely different from that WIP—in order to make progress on it. I don’t think I’d know so many writers who are working on multiple projects at once if Knowledgeable Author’s advice worked for everyone. Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned, no matter how much one wishes they would—that’s something I had a painful and difficult time learning, and I haven’t forgotten that lesson.