Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Juggling Projects

Roni asks: How do you juggle several (radically) different projects at the same time? Like, your new book, plus a proposal, plus revisions--3 different projects!

I wish I had a magic answer here. Some sage advice. A nifty time-management schedule. All I have is my personal chaotic process. For what it’s worth, here it is.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the last few years is that I have to devote myself to one project at a time or it won’t get done on time. For a published author, making deadlines is imperative and if you’re writing two (or more) books a year, you’re going to have deadlines out the wazoo.

The only deadline I ever know for certain way ahead of time is the date I have to turn in a finished manuscript to my editor. The other deadlines—revisions, line edits, galleys—are always out there, but I rarely know far in advance when they’re coming and when they’re due back. I can’t mark these things on my calendar and budget my time and energy accordingly, and even if I could, I’d screw it up, because I’m a maniac.

When it comes to writing, I have to immerse myself in one set of characters, one story. Whether it’s research or free writing. Whether it’s the first draft, revisions, line edits or galleys. It’s corny, but in order to be at my creative best, I need to be in a focused zone.

Once I finish and turn in a story, I dive into the next one. This usually means writing in circles for a couple of months while I get to know my characters. The first three chapters are always fun because they come on a burst of inspiration. Then I have to really dig in and that’s where I falter and circle . . . and circle. This is also when I allow myself to get most distracted. I update my website and overhaul my blogs. I research promo opportunities. Don’t get me wrong. These are things that need to get done, so I’m not wasting my time. Just not making progress on my WIP.

Of course, it never fails, about the time I get in a groove with the WIP, the revisions for the previous book (we’ll call that Book 1) come. The deadline for the revisions of Book 1 are far more immediate than the deadline for the draft of Book 2, so I drop Book 2 like a hot potato to get in the zone with Book 1. I spend the allotted time making the requested changes and polishing Book 1 to a shine.

Once I turn in those revisions, it’s back to Book 2. Only now I’m not at one with the characters of Book 2. So I write in circles. I do character charts. I freewrite possibilities. Then I get a request for a synopsis or proposal for Book 3. I drop Book 2 and spend three weeks researching like a madwoman and pulling a story out of my butt. A story I’m really jazzed about by the time I turn in that proposal. Only I can’t write Book 3 now. I have to write Book 2. And now instead of having six months to write it I have four months. I start to dip my toes into those icy waters and the line edits come for Book 1.

Now you may be asking yourself, why doesn’t she commit four hours a day to Book 2 and a couple of hours to Book 1—making progress on both projects at once?

Because I’m a maniac and in order to be at my creative best, I need to be in a focused zone. Plus the deadline for the line edits of Book 1 are more immediate than the draft of book 2. So I drop 2 to focus on 1.

This song and dance goes around another time as the galleys come in on book 1. By the time I attend to those and turn back to Book 2, I’m stressed out of my gourd because now I only have THREE MONTHS to write the majority of the book. Which, by the way, is the point I’m at right now. Only I’m not quite as stressed this time around. Last night while working on ‘Book 2,’ something clicked. I saw future scenes. Heard future dialogue. I had an extreme moment of déjà vu. I’ve been here before. This is my process. I’ve got it now. I’m in the zone. And now, for the next few months at least, it’s Book 2, Book 2, Book 2.

That said, I have to admit I’ve been simmering on an idea for a series that’s at least another book after this away. But I have purposely refrained from fiddling with it. The time for that proposal will come—when I’m juggling Book 2 and Book 3. *g*

What about all of you? Are you able to work on multiple projects at once or are you at your creative best when you’re in a focused zone?


Tori Lennox said...

Right now I'm doing well to work on one project. But I've been notorious in the past for hopping around from one to another. And finishing none of them. :/

flchen1 said...

I think I'm slightly better with one thing at a time; otherwise I get overwhelmed pretty easily and then spin my wheels on all of them instead of making any progress... Interesting topic, Beth! Reminding me that I should go write something down on the ol' to-do list... ;)

Beth Ciotta said...

It's so tempting to hop from one project to another, Tori. I hear you. But in my opinion if you do that, it's also more difficult to genuinely connect with that story. And also, as you say, you often never finish what you started. Sticking with and finishing a project can bring tremendous personal satisfaction. Good luck!

Beth Ciotta said...

Sounds like we're cut from the same cloth, Fedora. Here's to focusing and making progress!

Olga said...

I like to work on several projects at the same time, but I think that concentrating on just one is more productive for me.

Roni said...

Thanks for answering my question Beth!
I have one friend who works on several projects at once; and others like you who do one at a time, which is what I've always done. But right now I think I'm going to at least try two projects and see how that works for me.