Some writers think that they have to remain focused on one thing, and one thing only, their current, novel, short story, poem, or whatever. The current project is everything. “It’s all that matters.”, “It’s the only way you’ll ever be able to make a living from this and be able to quit your day job with those annoying people.”… and all of those other little reasons. But I have to say that those people are wrong. Yes, it does get one piece done faster than otherwise, and it does make sense to commit a goal to one piece, but let me say, it’s not as great as it sounds.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of focusing on one project:
There are probably more pros and cons to this subject. These are the ones that I personally have for the topic. If you have your own list of pros and cons please feel free to share them.
First let’s address the Pros… everybody likes to hear what they’re doing right.
- The project gets done faster: When working on a single project with few to no distractions the time that would be devoted to the project is devoted in a concentrated dose rather than being spread out over a longer period with one or more different projects being focused on between each session spent on the main project. This allows the project, theoretically, to be finished much faster.
- You don’t start mixing the details of stories: It is a common complaint from people who try to focus on too many projects at once that the projects all start to blur together. Suddenly characters from a medieval fantasy are showing up in a Star Trek style Sci-fi novel. References to one story are being made in another where they have no business whatsoever. By working on only one project at a time this can be reduced, if not eliminated. Without so many projects dividing your attention it is much easier to focus on and remember what is happening in your story.
- Setting and Keeping Goals becomes easier: I’m sure we’ve all been in school… well most of us… I don’t judge! Occasionally we all get a big course load or a teacher who assigns a million different projects all at once. We’ve experienced the pain and struggle of trying to meet all of these goals at once. With only one project it becomes much easier to set a single goal or multiple small goals that when combined make a larger goal, small elements of the big picture.
These are some pretty heavy pros. Working on one project appears to relieve stress does it not? Based on my own experience Let me say that yes it can, but more often than not the following cons arise:
- Boredom: Ever have to sit through a wedding as a kid? Difficult right? Hell I’m having trouble sitting here and working on this article… I think I started it about a month before I got to write this part. Anyway… Everyone has some form of mild ADD. It’s human nature to find focusing on one thing difficult. Even back before we were intelligent and were still hunting with rocks and living in caves we were never focused on just one thing, even when hunting there was always some part of us that would be paying attention to everything going on around us, or else man would have gone extinct due to saber toothed cats long before we reached the age where I can share my opinions with all of you on this blog instantaneously. When focusing on only one project boredom can become an issue. You start to feel restless, you don’t want to do this anymore, and you want to do something else. So what do you do? Naturally you set the project aside… and that’s where it starts. When do you pick it up again? A few hours? Days? Months? Maybe even years? Every time you think about picking the project up again you’ll remember the boredom, maybe only subconsciously, but it will be enough that you don’t pick up the project again. Instead you will let it sit and wait and rot because you don’t want that boredom to happen again. This kind of thing leads to never ever finishing a project. Yes, I know it sounds extreme, but it’s true. This is what boredom does to us, to writers and to people in general.
- Ideas get dropped: When focusing on a single project some people decide that doing this means that nothing else can be done, not even stopping to write down an idea they have that just won’t fit this story. They do this because they fear distraction. This fear of distraction means that ideas, good ideas get dropped and lost, ideas a writer may never have again.
- Writing becomes a chore: This kind of goes along with boredom. When one is forced to work on something, even if it is self-imposed, that task becomes a chore. After a while you start to dread going back to that task because you’ve been doing it so long, it is no longer fun or interesting. Now it is just something that you’ve told yourself you have to do. When writing becomes a chore, it is no longer worth doing.
- Rushing and Bleeding: Sometimes, if you don’t want to drop an idea you do something else, you rush your main project so that you can get to these new and interesting ideas and so you don’t lose them. What happens here is that the current project drops in quality. Details are skimmed over, character become less believable. There is no real growth, just a sense of rushed feelings and even incompleteness. It can also happen that this idea that you are rushing to starts to bleed into the story you are currently working. This can sometimes be good in that the idea really helps the story along, makes it stronger, but it can also hurt the story if it turns it in a completely different direction than seems natural, or worse turns the story a complete 180 so that the story no longer progresses but either comes to a halt or digresses into what it was originally rather than what it needs to become, and not in a full circle sense that most readers seem to love.
In other words it pretty much depends on who you are but most people are not okay with this method. Frankly it drives them insane. So how about we take a look at the opposite side of this argument?
- Less Bleeding: With the multiple project method there is less bleeding of the ideas you want to suppress into the project you are working on. Because you are getting your ideas out and on paper, even developing them a little bit, they are not forcing themselves places where they don’t belong.
- Less Boredom: By scheduling yourself to work on multiple projects you can rotate them or work on the one that is most interesting at the moment. This way you are less tempted to set something aside and never look at it again, instead if you are bored with a project you can set it aside and work on something else, something that isn’t boring you. In fact if you put the project aside before you become bored with it you will even be excited to pick it up again and there will still be ideas waiting in your subconscious, developing themselves in the back of your mind so that when you go back to your project there is new material to work with.
- NOT A CHORE: It’s always good when something refrains from becoming a chore, especially when it’s something you love to do. As long as writing isn’t a chore, as long as it makes you happy it is worth doing. If you have lost that magic… I hope you can find it again.
- No dropping: If you are open and willing to work on multiple projects at a time fewer ideas are likely to get dropped and any that do, probably weren’t something you would like in the long run anyway.
- Mixed stories: While there is less bleeding of stories with this method there is the occasional mixing of stories, a character might appear in a story they have no business appearing in, though it is usually just a slip of names, you have to be pretty tired to actually have that character there. There is also the occasional problem when working on multiple projects taking place indifferent time periods, dialogue and small setting detail may end up in the wrong story, but these are easy to fix, unlike bleeding which usually requires a complete rewrite of a section or story. Though sometimes I personally thing the grand unification theory got started for some authors.
- Trouble with keeping goals: When working on multiple projects it’s harder to set goals for them all, especially when they are time sensitive goals. Sometime people try to set multiple goals, all for the same time frame, doing this and trying to balance a life outside of writing is a bad idea, it is as likely to drive you insane as working on only one project is. Therefore this can be avoided by proper time management and self-assessment.
- It takes more time to finish any single project: When working on more than one thing at a time it is inevitable that it will also take longer to finish any one of the projects with others interfering rather than if you work on a single project. But there are some Pros to this Con. Even though it is taking you longer to get a single project finished at the same time you are finishing or getting close to finishing a few other projects with it. By doing this you have more projects to… submit to agents/publishers, self-publish, or to share with your friends, depending on the ultimate goal of each project.
As you can see each method has its own hills and pitfalls. Frankly, in my opinion at least, you can’t do anything without running into pros and cons like this. Some people would look at me and say that this is like choosing the lesser of two evils, or they would tell me I’m stupid and that focusing on one project is the only way to go. I, therefore, have a solution: Breaks!
What do I mean BREAKS!?!?!?!?!?
Everything you have ever been told in your life has probably conditioned you that taking breaks while writing is a bad thing because you will just never pick it up again. I’m here to tell you that that idea is wrong. There are so many benefits to taking breaks. They can help you get through while working on a single project or while working on multiple projects.
Benefits of breaks:
- Rest: By allowing your brain a chance to rest and recuperate you are allowing time for ideas to “marinate” and develop in the back of your mind without being messed with too much.
- Refuel: by taking a break from writing you are also building up creative energy that is just sitting there like a shook up soda bottle, waiting to be opened so it can explode everywhere.
- Sanity!: Taking a break from work of any kind has been proven to lower the risk of mental breakdowns due to stress. If ever you begin to feel stressed by your writing STOP! Take a deep breath and go walk the dog or bathe the cat, whatever relaxes you just do it. Writing should never be stressful, instead it should relieve stress.
- Time for a life: By taking breaks you have time to take part in what the rest of the world likes to call life. I know, we’re writers because we’re introverts. But I have news for you, you can’t keep writing about people if you have no experience with people. Beside you night meet someone, get married and have kids, or adopt… or whatever people are doing these days. You can have a dog, take them for a walk, just don’t become some pasty pale person living in mom’s basement waiting for a book deal. PLEASE!
In conclusion: It’s your choice whether or not to take my advice on multiple vs. single projects. Either way breaks can help you, but you don’t have to listen to me on that either, it’s your choice.
I hope this article helps!