Juggling Multiple Writing Projects #WritingTips #DraftYourNovel

Coronavirus has thrown the entirety of the publishing world into confusion. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read lately trying to work out whether you should submit, whether agents are reading, whether editors are acquiring, what kind of reading landscape will exist when we come through the worst of the pandemic, etc.

One thing you can always do–no matter the state of publishing–is write. Easier said than done, of course, these last few weeks. We’ve been homeschooling, cooking, and let’s face it: worrying about our financial situations and the health of our families.

One thing I’ve done during home isolation is juggle multiple projects. In the past, that really got me into trouble. Mostly because “juggling” amounted to starting projects and abandoning them in the middle. This time around, I’ve been more successful with it.

A big part of that success is that I’m not pushing to meet a quick deadline. That’s really one of the most important aspects–or so I’ve found. You really can’t be concerned with finishing a project quickly if you would like to try juggling.

BUT: It’s been great for me lately. Here’s why:

Juggling Projects Allows for More Think Time

Basically, right now, I’m writing four different books. (Sounds nuts, I know.) I’ll admit that it requires a ton of outlining and planning–I draft a few chapters of one book, then outline or brainstorm the possibilities for the next few chapters before bouncing to another project (whichever project is calling to me at the moment). But I never forget about the first project. It’s always there, in the back of my mind. The extra think time gives me room to come up with additional possibilities for structure, events, conflicts, etc.

Ideas Become More Important than Sentences

This goes back to the whole quick deadline thing. When you’re on deadline, it’s all about meeting insane word counts. You don’t really have the time to brainstorm for a week and a half when you need to knock out 50K in a month.

With the juggling method, though, I feel like I’m far more concerned with the ideas. Like I said, I outline like crazy. When I come back to a project, I review my outlines. I may think they’re weak. I may decide I need to brainstorm all over again. I may do nothing but re-outline and brainstorm, then bounce to another book.

Don’t underestimate how important that is: As a reader, I feel concepts stick with me, and make a bigger impact, than pretty turns of phrases. Whether or not I enjoy a book is primarily about an author’s ideas, most times. And this strategy can really help with idea generation.

Juggling Creates a Sense of Play

This is the big one. I’m not alone in saying joy is essential for good writing. When I sit down to write, I go toward whichever project my heart wants to work on. I might switch projects mid-day, and I might stick with one for a week before bouncing. Because I’m writing the project I’m most excited about, I always feel like I’m playing rather than working.

I can’t tell you really how much fun this juggling is–of course, the true test will be in the finished products!

More to come…

WRITING WHEN YOUR HEAD’S NOT IN IT

Holy moly, it’s been a long time since I blogged. More than a month! This, in all honesty, is the reason why:

Gus

I had to take Gus in for his neuter. I know, I know: it’s something the vast majority of pet owners do. It’s surgery, but it’s routine. Only, Gus’s wasn’t so much. He had a testicle that didn’t descend, so I really had no idea how it would go. On occasion, if the missing testicle is in the abdomen, it can require some exploratory surgery. (!)

Of course, Little Miss Type A spent more than a month Googling random testicle facts and watching cryptorchid neuters on YouTube. Long story short, the vet did an incredible job, the testicle was easily located, and we wound up with only one incision. Gus has completely recovered, healed beautifully, and is fully back to his zoomie-running, escape artist, silly, rambunctious puppy routine.

Whew.

Once it was all over, I began to feel like I’d finally gotten my brain back.

It really is amazing how worry can hijack your own thoughts–in a way that you don’t even fully realize at the time. It’s not the only emotion that taints a writing session, either. Frustration can. Disappointment. Even uncertainty. I’m a big, BIG believer that tapping into joy is key for good writing. Now, looking back on the last few weeks, I can definitely see how worry was impacting my ability to tap into the joy and fun of writing. And how that was impacting the work.

It’s not the easiest thing to tackle, though, is it? Far easier to carve a few minutes out of the day to get some writing done. You can’t exactly just stop being worried, turn it off so you can work.

All I can say for now is that it’s definitely something I want to pay more attention to, keep track of. Kind of an early 2020 resolution…

CARVING OUT TIME TO WRITE, TO DRAW

I’ve always been a big proponent of making time, especially where my writing is concerned. I mean, if I were to sit around waiting for the perfect time to write–a time completely free from distractions–I’d maybe write three or four days a year. Any adult life is just fraught with responsibilities and obligations. And those responsibilities are not necessarily burdensome! We have responsibilities to friends and families and pets and side-jobs we love. We want to do right by the people in our lives…

aaand we also have lawns to mow and laundry to do and dinner to cook.

Okay, so some of those daily obligations are burdensome.

Regardless, I’ve learned to write in early mornings and late at night. I’ve brainstormed in back seats. I’ve thumbed new chapters into my phone while waiting in line at the DMV. I’ve dictated while driving. I keep little mini spiral notebooks in my purse. I have an old Alphasmart NEO that can keep me going during power outages (it’s Missouri–there are plenty of power outages, let me tell you).

I write every day, no matter what’s going on–doctor’s appointments or author visits or traveling or even mundane daily chores like grocery shopping. No matter what else has to be done, I get some writing done too. Some days, it’s eight hours of writing. Some days, it’s twenty minutes. But some sort of progress gets made.

I learned a long time ago that it’s the only way a book gets written. You just write. Even in the most imperfect of situations.

But what about ART???

This one’s far harder for me. I’ve been determined to carve out more time for it, but I fail at this one more often than not. I get started writing a new project, and suddenly, I realize days have gone by and between life, marketing, and writing, I haven’t even thought about plugging in my Wacom.

It’s no excuse, though. It can’t be. I know plenty of writers who are also artists.

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This is part of my Skyping corner. That blue picture of fairies? That’s a Carrie Jones. Proof that a writer can incorporate time for artwork in her day…

One thing I know for sure is that it does not work to wait until the end of the day and try to squeeze in some artwork. I’m tired. My brain doesn’t work anymore. All I want to do by the time I’m officially done with all writing-related work is read or (if I’m really fried) watch an hour of TV (I’ve just recently discovered Homeland).

But I’m going to take a page from my writing life. I’m going to put a sketchbook (or my drawing tablet) off to the side. During longer writing days, when I need to take a breather, I’m going to do a bit of sketching. There are so many things I want to work on: my line work, improving texture and use of shadow, etc., etc., etc. But those things will never improve if I don’t work on them. Ten or twenty minutes a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can really add up. My writing life is proof of that.

To try to keep myself honest, I also plan to post some of my work on IG. You can follow along here: instagram.com/hollyschindler

HOW MUCH DESCRIPTION IS TOO MUCH?

I never thought I’d say this, but almost all of it.

I used to be huge on description. Writing it and reading it. I was one of the weirdos who loved long juicy paragraphs filled with artistic depictions and metaphors and…

Well. You get the picture.

Lately, though, I’ve been questioning how much is enjoyable for readers. For the most part, I’d say readers want to know what the story is. “Tell me a good yarn,” a reader will say. “Don’t bog down the story.”

It seems to me, then, that description should further the story. That’s it. That’s really description’s job. It’s not to pretty up the pages. It’s to help drive and shape the plot.

Internal / Emotional Description

Oh, man, this is where I could just spend days as a writer. The internal world of the characters. How they feel at any given moment. What they’re thinking. Again, though, if description’s job is to further the story, the internal world should really be focused on lines of thought that show a character’s motivation. Explain why a character is behaving a certain way. Or about to behave in a certain way. Then those descriptions will inevitably lead to action.

Physical Description

New writers often get lost in this one: describing every character’s outfit. The shape of noses. The way their hair is cut. And really, it’s the type of description you need the least of. You really don’t need much in the way of physical description to bring a character to life. Ask yourself: What kinds of characteristics help paint a picture of who a character is?

For example, a character with a repeatedly-broken nose might be a hothead who winds up ruffling feathers throughout, in ways that create tension and, of course, lead to moments of intense action in the book.

Setting

Nothing sets the tone of a piece quite like setting. But settings also shape what kinds of events can take place. Certainly, small towns offer different types of gatherings and chances for characters to meet up (I just recently discovered the Gilmore Girls, so of course I’m thinking here of Stars Hollow). Sometimes, though, characters can be confined–locked into buildings, or quarantined. They can be in jury duty. Or jail. They might be on a long airplane flight. How is action different in these settings as compared to characters who are in bigger cities, or have freedom to move about?

Where you set your book can have a real impact on the action that can logically take place. When you describe your setting, especially at the opening of a book, think about the plot points you have planned or outlined. And think about what details the reader needs to know in order to be prepared for those events.

Tying description to the action will help keep you from providing too much information, too many long paragraphs that seem (to the reader) to amount to nothing of substance. In this way, instead of bogging your book down, description can actually add propulsion, giving your work a new page-turning element.

 

REVISION CAVE

I’ve been here the entirety of ’19. Actually, I’ve been here since before Christmas.

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I’m usually a pretty quick write. Usually. But I’ve actually been working on this particular book since late ’17. In fits and spurts, sure. And by this point, I’m really down to line edits. But still. 2017.

Actually, looking at my publishing plans for ’19, I’m going to be doing a ton of revision. Reworking half-done manuscripts written, similarly, in fits and spurts.

I feel like the past few years have been a real period of growth. I mean, anyone involved in a creative pursuit is constantly growing. You have to. But these past few years have involved more exponential growth, if that makes sense. To a great extent, that’s due to my work in the indie market. I’ll be posting more about the lessons learned throughout ’19.

But for now…

It’s back into that revision cave for me.

WORK IN PROGRESS

So many blog posts are all about what writers have already figured out. They’re tips and tricks that have been dug out through a (frequently long) period of trial and error.

This time around, I thought I might disclose something I’m working on–something I’m not even close to figuring out:

How to manage daily expectations.

I’m a big believer in setting goals. I know in my mind where I’d like to be with a current project by, say, the end of the week. And I know how many words I need to write or chapters I need to revise, etc. in order to meet those goals.

But when I fall short one day? I kind of beat myself up.

What keeps me from meeting certain goals is never stupid, either. It’s not like I’m binge-watching TV or playing solitaire. Usually, it’s because–well–life happens. As it inevitably does. I go to mow the lawn and the battery’s dead (which means I’m now making an extra shopping trip). It’s because my aging dog has an upset stomach. Or the roof is leaking. Or I’m figuring estimated taxes. Or my brother needs me to head on a buying trip for his business.

Or, or, or…

I mean, I know it’s not JUST about writing. Life has to be lived. And not just a chore-filled life, either. A life in which you eat ice cream and roll down the windows and laugh until your sides ache. A life in which you meet new people and talk to old friends. A life in which you get sunburned and maybe even scrape an elbow or two because you’re still, even now, trying new things.

But I can’t help it. I have a hard time NOT beating myself up for goals not met.

Any pointers anyone might have on the subject?