Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 21, 2022

Managing Multiple Projects: Writer Magic or Mayhem?

By Kris Maze

Writers have opinions about how many manuscripts they should work on at a time, but are there benefits or drawbacks to having multiple projects in play? If you are a multitasker or a focused loyalist to finishing one writing task at a time, there are strengths to each method and pitfalls to avoid. Take a look at these reasons and see which type of writer you are in referring to how many projects make you a happy and productive writer.

The Mayhem of Writing on More Than One Manuscript

There are many ways that can detract from your writing productivity when you write many different things. Your attention can be split and draw focus away from more critical, detailed work. Perhaps you are writing on different genres or nonfiction, the tone and voice can suffer as you shift your writing from one style to another. There may be a difficult overload that bogs down the mind and you may feel distant from all of your projects, keeping you from finishing anything. Which of these mayhem causing writing pitfalls have you experienced?

Writing at Different Stages

Writing tasks come with their own levels of difficulty. One problem writers may have when working on multiple projects is to have a creative divide. If one starts the outline a concept of three different novels, the ideas can converge and get messy. Then when you flesh out these stories simultaneously could lead to heavy creative writing on three different stories. The stories may suffer from spreading your creative juices too thin.

Editing, outlining, writing a draft, and subsequent rewrites each take a different level of creative energy. One way to manage more than one writing project is to mix up the projects and write in different stages of each. Some writers will outline the next novel while rewriting the previous one in the series, for example. Editing a novel is different from getting the first draft on paper for most writers. Consider getting a pattern of writing in different stages on your projects to become more productive.

Task Switching Downfalls

Everyone has felt the rush of a productive day, perhaps it was making progress on your novel or just cleaning up a bunch of items on your to-do list, but there is science that suggests that multitasking is just a myth. The process of switching from one task to another takes a mental reset each time when start something new. Even if it is just a microsecond, the switch taxes the brain and the mental energy you have.

Acknowledging the risk of being less productive, it could be better to block of long chunks of time for various projects to avoid losing mental energy when we switch tasks. Here are some options for breaking up one’s writing time:

  • Some writers work on creative fiction in the mornings when their mind is most fresh.
  • Others work on more structured writing like blog posts or editing tasks in the afternoons or evenings.
  • Work on the complex story lines of your novel at night if that’s when you are most alert and create social media posts during the day.
  • Try writing short stories or a scene from your book at break times at work.

Finding a time that works for each writing project could keep writers from eroding their focus by switching between them too quickly.

I Never Finish Anything

One problem writers face is the possibility of getting into writers’ block. Having many projects can become overwhelming. It’s difficult to finish a project when you spend only a fraction of your time on it and share your mind-space with multiple manuscripts.

To avoid this, try blocking off time for each project. Use a calendar system that you prefer and keep a writing routine. This may be a time to check in with your muse and follow the project that is most interesting to you at the moment. Making visual progress can keep a writer motivated and productive.

If you are still not finishing projects, read articles like this one from Tiffany Yates-Martin on getting unstuck in writing.

Fixing Tone and Voice Issues

A potential issue an author could have when writing in various genres is mixing up the tone of a novel or the voice of a character. Switching between a dark noir to a rom-com may not be likely, but writing in both could carry over into some interesting blends. If you have an academic style in writing and you are trying to make a YA novel work, you may be hurting your writing style by doing both at the same time.

Consider separating these projects with something that brings you into that mindset before writing. Perhaps turn on some teeny-bopping music or watch TikTok for a few minutes before beginning the YA work. It can help reset your voice and writing style between these projects.

Can you relate to any of these writing situations? These common pitfalls can occur for various reasons, but it could be due to overextending oneself. If you are struggling with productivity, maybe taking a more focused approach could help you finish your next novel.

The Magic of Multiple Writing Projects

Writing on more than one story at a time can help a writer grow and make their career blossom. Whether it cultivates their creative juices, develops their skills in more than one style of writing, or simply builds stamina, keeping multiple writing projects in play can also benefit a writer.

Creative Outlets

Writers tend to find a genre that works for them and will write exclusively in that market for a majority of their career. It makes marketing sense. Readers know what to expect from an author and keep coming back to what they want. A savvy writer will give their readers what they want from their novels.

But it can lead to boring, dry writing if the writer doesn’t challenge their creativity and craft. One way writers can keep their writing fresh is to work on a different projects. This can keep the writing interesting. An author who is bored with their story or genre is most likely going to put readers into a snooze-zone.

Writing on various projects can also cross-pollinate ideas and add to depth to each of the storylines. New ideas on the characters and how the setting can play into the plot, for example, are possible outcomes for writing on various projects at once. The time between projects can also allow the mind to work out tricky spots in the dialogue or resolution of difficult parts in your book to write.

Builds a Routine, Stamina, and Productivity

Writing on multiple writing projects is tough without a routine. This is one motivator to keep a regular writing schedule. The time spent writing can be on any of the projects. Consider the stages you are at for each and build a routine that works with the difficulty of each writing stage.

Writers know what works for their process and should work with that knowledge. Build a writing schedule that will help you become more productive. Write more and write better with more projects. Or limit them to just one. Only you will know what works best for your writing life.

Builds a Writing Portfolio

Writers can build a work of writing that they can showcase their skills. Being able to provide writing in that show the depth of their writing chops is useful when looking for writing jobs.

Having several works ready can motivate a writer to send them out to magazines or contests. Putting your work into the world helps keep a writer productive.

The various types of writing can also challenge the writer to grow in their craft. They can learn how to put together a mystery or find the elements that work in mainstream fiction. Learning more about all genres can build your writing knowledge and influence your skills.

Honor the Elusive Muse

Sometimes you have to follow the muse.

Sometimes you have to yank that lady from bed and feed her coffee.

Sometimes if you have multiple projects going on, you can entice her to join you easier when you have options.

Final Thoughts on Multitasking with Writing Projects

My inspiration for this post was in part from my current writing situation. In the past I have been more structured to finish one project before spending too much time on another. But at times you have a project that lures you to work on it.

This is NaNoWriMo month and I decided to join at the last minute. I had a project in mind and a clear outline that structured well into a novel. It’s outside my usual teen horror and suspense genres that I enjoy writing in, but the story seems to work so well I had to pause to write it. Because the project was distracting me by not working on it, I listened when my muse grabbed my elbow and said, “write.”

And so I am. My plan to is to have a first draft NaNoWriMo style on paper this November. Because I have such a clear idea already formed the story is easy to write. The editing projects and readers (novels intended for classrooms) I was working on will have to wait a little longer, but my writing life is happier and more fulfilling.

Be flexible with your writing projects and find what works for you. Perhaps try a new approach if what you are doing isn’t productive for you right now. Keep your muse happy and let him or her play with the projects that interest you most. It may turn out to be your best work yet.

Are you a single-project-person or do you work on multiple manuscripts at once?  Why does that work for you?  Share a tip on how you keep many projects moving forward if that’s how you roll.

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About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and young adult writing at her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.

And occasionally, she knits.

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10 comments on “Managing Multiple Projects: Writer Magic or Mayhem?”

  1. For some reason this is unreadable, spread beyond the normal margins. The topic interests me and I'd like to read it but can only get so much out of it when I only see the middle.

    1. Hi Virginia,
      Yikes! I hate it when the formatting gremlins are loose. I also went on vacation to visit family and things fell apart a little.

      Thank you that you enjoy the topic - I hope you have a chance to read it soon. I'll check back for comments later.

      Wishing you well with your writing!

  2. I am currently working on the first draft of a historical novel and the first draft of an unrelated nonfiction regional book. (The locations of the books are not related either.) I find that I am spending most of my time writing the novel and writing small segments of the nonfiction book.

    1. HI Cygnet,
      Working on two projects may be just enough to keep it fresh and interesting. It sounds like you have your writing in a good pattern. The novel writing is a more creative task (at least I find it takes more of my energy than nonfiction) and it usually takes me a longer time to writer creatively as well.

      Best of luck on your projects!

  3. I have done it and I allotted different time periods for each. Especially important if they have close deadline dates.

    As far as being problematic, I've had problems with editors obviously doing multiple projects. Editor putting wrong character names in the tracking, mentioning something not in the story, etc...

    1. Ooooh, Denise, that sounds terrible. I realize editors have a lot on their plate, but it must be tough (and important) to keep the manuscripts straight.

      It once happened to me when I submitted a story to a contest. One had feedback with the suggestion about making a stronger connection between Paul and George, for example, and there were no characters by that name.
      I just chalked it up as lousy feedback and focused on the good stuff others provided.

      Thanks for the comment, Denise.

  4. I love this post, Kris, probably because I ALWAYS have multiple projects going. If I didn't, I would get stuck and then my mind would mess with me and I'd never get any writing done at all. (I know this from personal experience of course. ) So, thank you!!

  5. Love this post because you tackle all of the issues regarding multi-tasking writing. Right now, I'm working on five different long-term projects, not counting three blogs. Only two of the five are in the same place (plotting/outlining), so it's easy to jump around, allowing me to pursue new thoughts I wake up with regarding one of the five.

    It's interesting how a project needs to still percolate even when I think it's close to being done.

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