Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Okay, I'm ready to listen to your experiences, ideas, and advice. The topic? Multitasking.

I threw out the question yesterday in Twitter and got some helpful responses. I'm hungry for more, though, so I hope you're feeling chatty today!

Here's the scoop: I've decided to be brave (foolish? delusional?) and tackle two projects at once. They're equally important and I need to complete them both well both this year ends. Professional goals and all that.

One is a WIP. The other is a major revision of an existing work.

I can't afford to lose my momentum on the WIP. Especially in light of all the over-the-top squeeing that's been going on in my private "circle of readers" concerning the premise. And I can't afford to put off the major revision, either.

So. How do I do this without self-destructing?

My daily writing schedule is already written in stone. I can't exactly quit the rest of my life and write. And the daily writing is what propels my WIP. Revisions? Not so much. But I have to keep them going at a constant rate, too.

So I'll have to come up with extra hours and creative ways to get it all done without sacrificing essentials. Like sleep. And I'm confident I can do that.

What I'm not confident about is the actual mental switching required when you go back and forth between two projects. Let's face it--we sort of "live" in our stories while we're working on them. Each story has a different feel, a different place inside our skulls. And for me, it's easier to have one such place active at a time.

I need to learn how to effectively work on two incredibly different projects simultaneously. Other than the fact that they are both YA, there is nothing they have in common.

One's got a male protag, the other female. One's a dystopian, the other urban fantasy. One's set in a made-up landscape, the other in a very real location.

One's in the process of being born. The other is getting prepped for major surgery.

Can you help me?

*prepares to take notes*


  1. Been there, tried this. When working on two very different mss, especially having totally different voices/MC, I work on one a few days a week and the other on the remaining days (sequentially). I haven't yet found away to do them both at the same time. Like you said, you live in those stories. One of mine is heartrending, the other humorous. It's just too great a switch for my brain/emotions.

    Plus, if one project is a WIP, I need hours/days at a time to let it flow. Best wishes to you!

  2. Only tried this in my professional (tech writing life) and then it's an easy switch because I'm not emotionally involved. For a WIP, I guess if you just let the words flow and don't try to edit yourself as you go, you'll get more done. Give yourself a physical and mental break between the two. Make coffee or take a quick walk around the block. But, get up from your computer and mentally prepare for the other storyline before you tackle it. Or else, can you work in day chunks? That seems easier to dedicate the day (or week) to one project?

  3. This is a tough thing to do. I agree with you that getting into the right frame of mind for a story is so critical to writing it. Since you've got a few months to finish both, I'd say don't do both at exactly the same time. Focus on one until the current steam runs out (which it almost always does). When you hit that block, switch to the other, and go back and forth.

    Even if you spend two or three weeks at a time on one before giving the other your focus again, you can still give your attention to both. At least...that's the way I do it ;-)

  4. I just landed in a similar boat.

    What I've done is to set up two different writing times for each project: one in the morning and one at night. Effectively, I divided the total writing time but put everything else in my life as a spacer between the projects.

  5. Earlier this year three ideas occurred at the same time. Hate it when that happens. I wrote on all three and finally ended up choosing one to write on and let the other ideas stew in the primordial chaos of my subconscious mind.

    When it comes to editing, I can multitask with the best of them. If I'm in the fevered state of a rough draft . . . I can only do the rough, and find, for me, that's the best thing to do.

    So, if I were you, which I'm not, but if I were . . . and if the WiP is in rough draft stage . . . I'd focus solely on the WiP and set a meetable goal: 50,000 - 60,000 words in 45 days. Then, I'd move on to the revisions. Again, this is what would work for me.

    If it wasn't a WiP, I could edit three different projects without a problem because the feverish obsessive state normally doesn't happen in the revision process.

    Best of luck.


  6. Writing and revising require two very different sets of mind. You'll probably be surprised how "easy" it will be to switch between projects, as long as you're not yet at the stage of typing in. I'd suggest you write your WIP for 2/3s of your regular writing time.

    The rest of the time, you revise (reading and writing in the margins what you need to change) th printed manuscript. Allow a month for the type-in and final edit (so schedule your WIP to be finished by mid November).

    Taking your eyes from the PC should trigger "revision-mode" without problems. After all, youo don't have trouble switching from cleaning the kitchen to watching TV in real life, do you?

    Good luck, it's great fun doing a WIP and a revision at the same time.

  7. I've seen some excellent ideas here. :)

    In addition, I'd like to point out a thought for change of mindset.

    You've got to get your mind in the right place - so whether you have different sessions for working on one or the other, I suggest you have a little ritual to get your mindset.

    It might be a playlist of music,or looking through a gallery of images, it might be a little household chore or 15min exercise routine. Heck, you might work in two different places. Take a few minutes, and get your head into the proper mindset for your story with some sort of mental trigger.

  8. Cloning yourself might be the answer. But since that solution may not be practical,(lovely thought) I have a question.

    Is the revision for an agent? Is there a time factor?

    I would work on the revision and jot down ideas for the WIP as they occur. Keep a notepad, sticky notes, chewing gum wrapper close to fill with your creativity and stay with the oldest of your babies.

  9. I've just had to get used to multi-tasking with practice. One of the things I've worked on is just getting faster at writing in general, and also trying to make my first drafts more like final drafts so I can avoid rewrites.
    All I can say is hang in there and just eek out time. Even if it seems like 20 minutes isn't enough to get anything "real" done, it really does add up.

  10. I am also fighting the urge to ignore the edit and work only on the bright new idea. Here's what works best for me. I write on the new material early in the morning - because I'm a morning-alert bird. Then as the afternoon drags on and I'd rather be painting, reading, sleeping or anything but editing, I get out of the house and off to a noisy place where no one will notice if I talk to myself as I revise/edit. If I'm away from the house, I can get that task done faster. See, that's the clue. Fresh writing is a charge, a challenge. Editing is a task--after all I have to change what I had hoped was 'perfectly' written.

    That's what works for me.Different environs for different writing.

  11. If I don't have a WIP, I lose energy and tend to disengage from my revisions. So, I divide my writing time and spend the first 1/3 of it on revisions. When I complete those, then I reward myself with the other 2/3 of my writing time on the new project that I'm totally excited about. That leaves me with the entire rest of the day/night to "live in" my WIP, jotting down notes as the ideas come. The revisions is the discipline part of writing. Also, before I close up shop on the revisions for the day, I make a plan for the next day's revisions, so I know where to pick up.

    It works for me. Hope it helps you.

  12. I'm so glad I ran into this post! I'm going to be revising and working on a WIP simultaneously once my agent is done making notes on my novel.
    I think Huntress's idea may be best for my scenario, but I liked many others as well.
    Good luck, Ms. A!

  13. Thanks for opening up this thread. I've been hit with a similar problem.

  14. I just finished a round of edits for my editor while trying to keep up steam on my WIP. I printed off a copy of the MS that needed editing and literally carried it around with me wherever I went (I printed 4 pages on a single sheet and double-sided it, so it was a little over 40 sheets thick).

    Any time I had a moment, I glanced down and worked through the MS, and I was surprised at how much I could get done in even just 5 minutes this way. It also meant my precious writing time in the evening was still devoted to my WIP.

  15. The amazing Kathleen Duey addressed this at a conference I went to in January. She said to give yourself as many cues as you can when you need to switch wips. Change where you write (if you can), change drinks, change lighting, change scents (candles, incense, whatever), change music. Keep these things, whichever you pick, very very consistent, and you will train yourself to be in the mood/mind you need for each.

    I have been doing this with just music, and it is extremely effective for me. Hope it helps you! :)

  16. What works for me is to work on my WIPS on my days off from work. I have bigger blocks of writing time which allow me to get immersed in my world. I have 3 days off so on two, I work on my fiction WIP and on the other, I work on my nonfiction WIP.

    On work days when I have smaller blocks of time, I do revisions or research. It's easy to work on a paragraph, get up and fix dinner, go back and forth every few minutes to fix a sentence here, stir a pot there. The brain power doesn't have to be as focused.

    Changing the mindset from fiction to nonfiction was difficult at first because they're two totally different styles of writing, but after doing it for about a month, the brain adapted and it's never been a problem since.

    My advice would be to listen to the Nike people. Just do it. Don't worry about the hows and whys. It only produces stress. Choose a schedule you think will work for you and do it. If you have to make changes along the way, then change. You'll find that eventually you'll fall into a routine that works for you and after a while, switching thinking modes will be a walk in the park!

  17. I am usually working on more than one work at a time - it only seems to work if they are in different stages.

    Here's how I try to make it work (it doesn't always, but we're writers we know things don't always work, right?)

    First, you already have the suggestion of using music. You can create a playlist, or even a theme song you play when you start working on each book. I find this resets my internal stage and let's the new players come into scene.

    Then, take a little break between ending work A and beginning work B. This can be as quick as making a cup of tea, or taking a walk around the block. I find it helps to disconnect my mind and clear it for the next work.

    Finally, if it gets too hard to switch, then work on one book today and the other tomorrow. Having the whole day break between is sometimes the only way to make it work.

    Good luck

  18. I always work on multiple projects at the same time. I tend to get stuck often, and find that working on something else usually un-sticks me. So my advice would be, work on one projects, throw yourself into it with everything you have until you hit a wall. The switch to the other and do the same until you a hit a wall on that one. Then go back to number 1.

    X K8

  19. So, you have the daily writing time for your WIP, and that's set, right? So you don't have to worry about that. You'll keep chugging along and finish your WIP on goal. What you need to do is find time for the revision. (unless you want to do a 1 week on WIP one week on revision thing with your writing time, but that would depend on if you think that's enough time to finish both projects).

    If it were me I'd possibly layer the revision over something else. Like, if you watch a Law and Order rerun with Mr. A every night before bed, you might be able to revise at the same time. But I like to work with the tv on in the background. That sort of principle though, marshall some time where you can do two things at once if there's nothing in your life you can give up.

    The other option is to cut into sleep. If I can't get my writing in during the day (stay at home mom, here, and my days are quite varied!) then I just stay up late to do it. (or, for those strange creatures known as 'morning people' there's the get up early option).

    Good luck!

    PS Might I also suggest you can take the pressure off. Finish the WIP, then do the revision, regardless of timeline. It's the benefit of being unpubbed. I'd always prioritize the WIP, because you're growing as a writer and the next project is most likely the stronger one.

  20. Do you listen to music when writing? Because sometimes having different playlists for each story can help switching between.
    I wish I could help more, but this hasn't ever really been my problem - I love working on different stories at different times. Otherwise my creativity gets burned out from focusing on one project - kind of like eating the same food 24/7.
    Best of luck though, I really hope you get the balance figured out!

  21. I'm trying to do the same thing!

    I decided that I probably won't get both done by the end of the year, but that my best bet for doing it is to pretend that only one matters at a time.

    I'm starting with the new work, which I plan to write as if it's the only thing that matters until I run out of steam.

    Then I plan to use the approaching deadline to trick myself. I'll say "Yikes! I'll never get this done by the end of the year, I guess I'd better hustle on this rewrite so I'll get SOMETHING done."

    And then when I run out of steam on that, I'll reverse it.

    We'll see if it works.

  22. I wish I remembered where I read that multitasking is something the brain is poor at doing. It appears that doing multiple things at once requires the brain to stop for a fraction of a second between functions causing dead space in thinking. This is especially important when driving.

    I focus on one thing at a time. I get more done when I focus. Multitasking and I separated ways years ago.

  23. eh gads. when you figure it out - do tell.