The Danger of a Single Writing Project

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Photo by Leigh-ann Renee on Unsplash

How many writing projects are you currently working on?

As creatives, we all experience burnout at some point. Whether we have simply taken on too much, set unrealistic expectations, or in my case become overwhelmed (more like obsessed) with a particular writing project, I’ve found that incorporating other writing projects (crazy as this sounds) has actually improved my overall writing process and project planning.

The Idea

I had the concept for what became my WIP during a writing course at New York University back in 2012. It was an image of two boys finding a crashed drone in a rainforest. Back then it was supposed to be a chapter book, but as I explored the idea I realized the plot was too complex for a chapter book and more appropriate for the middle grade crowd. The project stalled multiple times. I didn’t have a good grip on the characters and wrote myself into a dead end. Each. And. Every. Time.

I started over. Same concept, same main character but with new ideas and a few new characters. Back then, I was in a critique group and we met once a month in Midtown Manhattan. I gained valuable input and the story began to evolve.  Still, I struggled to really nail down the goals, motivation and conflict. It felt like a trip wire.

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

On Being a Perfectionist Writer

Meanwhile, I had other exciting ideas. It was tempting to take a break but I knew that if I did, the story would go cold, stale and I would probably never be motivated enough to get back to it. So I limited my engagement with my other ideas, settling for note taking,  draft outlines and filling in character templates. It was a distraction that worked. I came back to my WIP and kept going. One faux pax, or trap if you call it, was that I wanted my first draft to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible (another huge mistake). I tried to polish as I went along, obsessing over details and scenes that were eventually cut from the draft. A single project can be overwhelming when the pieces of the story don’t fit together as you want them to.

Still, I like to think that no words were wasted. Sometimes it’s only through writing that we understand the story. It’s by allowing ourselves to explore (with or without and outline) that we figure things out, and that new opportunities for conflict and tension are revealed. The process taught me a lot about writing and about myself too, and what it means to be persistent. It’s taken me a long time to break the myth of ‘drafting clean’ and a neverending loop of polishing. At the time I thought that this would make the revision stage easier (another lie), but in order to revise, you actually have to make it all the way to ‘The End’.  Holding back in order to tweak and polish, just pushed me further away from reaching the finish line.

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Starting Something New

My saving grace was having other projects in the pipeline. Whether you limit yourself to a few paragraphs or a page here or there, or create a project cycle where you establish a schedule for each project, having another writing project to turn to can be the emotional boost we need when on the not so great writing days. On the days we feel stagnant and useless as writers, tackling a different project might be the distraction needed to help you get back on track.

Full disclosure: I’ve limited myself to how far I will immerse myself in other projects. Whenever I take a break from my primary WIP, I do research for another one of my story ideas, or I work on the outline. Re-reading an outline after not thinking about it for weeks can trigger new ideas. Ocassionally, I’ll draft a scene or a chapter but I have held back on any deep dives into any new WIP.  Why? Deep down, I’m afraid of ending up with multiple WIP at the draft stage and nothing submission ready. I’ve written two YA contemporary books before but both were so bad that I never returned to edit them but the world stayed with me and I’m planning to rework them into a middle grade series (at some point).

Ways To Mix It Up

Outline something new. Turning your attention to a new writing project can get your inspiration juices flowing. That novel you’ve been thinking about? Create an outline. Immersion into a fresh world can put necessary space between projects. Maybe you’ll gain a fresh perspective and come back to your initial project ready to pound out new words.

Work on revisions. We all know that first drafts are bad. Taking of the writer hat and replacing it with the editor hat creates a different mindset. Revision is where the magic happens.

Beta-reading. Sometimes you just need a break. Reading someone else’s work removes you from your current predicament and you get to offer feedback to a grateful writer.

Draft a new blog post or essay. Creating new content is always a bonus. Writing about something you’re passionate about is liberating.

Thanks for reading!!

Happy Writing

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