“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” John Steinbeck, interview with Robert van Gelder in April 1947 as quoted in John Steinbeck: A Biography (1994) by Jay Parini
This is the fifth piece in my Project… series (and the title chapter in my next book about writing). For anyone who hasn’t read the first two books in this series or the relevant posts on my blog, here’s a refresher for you:
*Project October is all about intensive writing.
*Project November is all about rewriting, polishing and finalising.
*Project December is all about publishing.
*Project January is all about starting all over again.
So what is Project June? For the purposes of this series, there had to be another Project… piece. I toyed with the idea of Project February, mostly because February comes after January. But I didn’t know what Project February was. I still don’t.
Eventually, I realised that the advice that I wanted to give and the month that went with it was all about the middle. I’d addressed the start, the sprint to the faux finish and the actual finish; the only thing left was the part in between.
Sometimes the in-between can be the most frustrating part. The excitement of the blank page at the very beginning is long gone. The satisfaction of having an entire first draft down on paper feels so far away. And if you’re right in the middle and writer’s block strikes, then what?
The thing I find about writer’s block is that it tends to be project specific. It’s not that you can’t write. It’s that you can’t write that particular topic or story that you want to write.
So Project June is about how a writer should always have more than one writing project on the go. That way, if you get sick of a project or if you get stuck on a project, you can keep working on another without losing precious writing time.
As I write this, I’m 90% finished a standalone novel, have written 30% of sequels to two books I’ve published and have 50% of Project June. I’m also in the development phase of one fiction and one non-fiction book. That’s six projects on the go all at the one time but all at different stages. So if I get stuck on one, I spend some time working on a different one until I get past the writer’s block or whatever it is that’s preventing progression.
The positives with Project June:
*Having too many ideas is better than having no ideas.
*You’ll always have something to work on.
*It relieves the guilt that some writers have when new ideas strike before old ideas are completed.
*Rather than having to abandon a project, you simply put it on hiatus. If it’s in the back of your mind that you’ll eventually go back to it, it can percolate quietly in the interim. And by the time the percolation becomes an intense boil, that’s when you know it’s time to pick it up again.
*Sometimes publishers and agents like the way you write but not a specific piece. With Project June, you’ll always have something else to give them. It might not be a finished piece but it shows them that you’re not just a one trick wonder.
*It’s the mark of a professional to be able to work on multiple projects at the same time.
The problems with Project June:
*You can’t just do it, you have to work your way up to it until you have multiple projects on the go and keep starting new ones as you finish old ones or even before you’re finished old ones.
*It can pull your attention in multiple directions, which can be annoying, particularly when all you want to do is write one story and your multiple projects are in the various stages of writing, editing, designing, publishing and marketing.
*It doesn’t help if you are working on a writing project with a specific deadline.
*You must be able to compartmentalise, that is to completely forget about all other projects for a little while.
*You must be able to remember which storylines go where. If you’re constantly having to refresh your memory on where you’re picking up the story from, you’re going to waste a lot of potential writing time. And you don’t want to get them mixed up. A lot of writers have a lot of similarities between subsequent books. You want it to be because they are deliberate themes, not because you couldn’t remember you’d already used that plot or that character in another book.
*You might be one of those people who just can’t do it (and that’s fair enough – it’s not for everyone).
Stephen King isn’t a fan of working on more than one writing project at a time. I think he must be one of those people who just can’t do it, although he says that he thinks it impacts the quality of the work. Maybe when you’re pumping out books at the rate with which he does, that’s the case. For the rest of us, it’s less of an issue. After all, there are no Project June rules about how quickly you have to turn over your multiple ideas. I suspect a lot of the things I subscribe to when it comes to writing would have to get tossed out if I wasn’t able to work at my own pace.
So have as many ideas as you like. As many as you can handle. As many as you need to minimise writing downtime. Whether that’s two or ten or even more is entirely up to you and your imagination. And how to manage them all? Well, that’s another blog post for another day…