Prioritizing Multiple Writing Projects

by Todd Rogers
(Sacramento, CA, USA)

Hello again, Glen!

I was watching the penultimate episode of "Sons Of Anarchy" tonight (cried the entire episode), and at some point I read that series creator Kurt Sutter (Kate Segal's husband) started writing SOAs replacement ("The Bastard Executioner" which Kate is also in) while still writing episodes for SOA.

I have several projects that are both created and in the idea stage (based on recently read material), and yet I always seem to have a problem with spacing the projects out so as to not contaminate one story with elements meant for another.

What do you suggest I do to prioritize my writing schedule?

Should I just focus on one story at a time or is there a way to juggle multiple projects without sacrificing quality?

Response: Hi Todd,

One of the biggest challenges everyone faces today is boundaries.

The Internet has essentially destroyed many of the boundaries we used to have between the different spheres of our life. For instance, in the old days you might have had a workplace (office, studio etc.), which was physically separate from your family space (home). And you might have also had a separate recreation space you shared with friends (such as a cottage, country club, local pub, church hall, etc.). Worktime was also separate from family or recreation time, in that you had set hours when you worked and didn't. You might schedule recreation time to not interfere with family mealtimes, etc.

Also, when you were working on one project, you had to bring out the tools and papers related to that project and file away anything related to other projects, again creating separation.

Today, thanks to the Internet, recreation and family activities easily invade work, and work easily invades family and recreation. You can have multiple projects open on your computer at the same time. While the net is a great tool in some ways, it is also the biggest time-wasting technology ever created. Games, social media, and newsfeeds offer endless distraction.

But I digress...

The key to accomplishing writing projects is to have firm boundaries. You have to know what periods of time are the most productive for you and create boundaries to protect them. You need to know both when a writing session starts and when it ends.

For instance, start by knowing whether you write best in stints of one hour, two hours, or four hours. (There was a highly successful copywriter who used to work in 33 minute stints, each one followed by a short break.)

You need to know if you work better writing one day a week or every day. Do you find it easier to write intensely (perhaps three stints a day) for a month, and then take a break? Or are you more productive writing one stint a day for a year? Sometimes you can discover this by experimentation, and sometimes it is simply dictated to you by the circumstances of your life.

When you know what works best for you, you can prioritize your projects. Sometimes it works to think of priority levels as the four burners on a stove.

Your big front burner will obviously hold the project that is your top priority at the moment. You may choose to devote
50-80% of the writing stints in your weekly schedule to that project.

However, you may also have a project that goes on your small front burner, such as an on-going blog or an outline for your next project. Or you may want to have some time just to play around with other ideas, because playing keeps your creative juices flowing. So you might schedule 15-30% of your stints to this secondary task.

On the big back burner, you may have some projects that aren't priorities but you want a little time to think about them or work on some ideas for them, so you allow 5-15% of your stints to revisit them.

Finally, you can't help getting new ideas at odd times of the day. So you make sure you have a notebook or a set of index cards to jot these down. Some people prefer to email notes to themselves or take memos on their phone. Your smallest back burner may be time you schedule to review these ideas. Some you may discard; others you need to file where they can easily be retrieved and perhaps developed later.

Obviously, you have to adjust the percentages to fit your priorities.

The Big Secret: make sure that each burner is clearly separate from the others in terms of both time and space. Don't try to work on two or more things in the same session. If possible, use separate desks, computers/devices, or workplaces for each. Some people like to put on a different hat or piece of clothing when they write. These are tricks to remind your brain that each writing project is a separate task that requires a different mindset.

Above all, don't let other parts of your life intrude on your writing time. If possible, disconnect from the Internet and turn off your phone.

You may not be able to completely separate the projects, because you are the common factor among them. As your thoughts, skills, and experience grow, these things will affect all your projects.

This is actually an advantage, because when you come back to a project after a time, you will have grown and some of the pesky problems you encountered last time will have clear solutions.

Nonetheless, when you sit down at the start of a writing session, remind yourself what your goals/ideas/plans are for the project yo will work on in that session -- as distinct from any other project you may be working on. Maybe you have a mission statement you can review -- such as a brief summary of the idea or the theme you want to express. Use this to focus your mind on the project at hand.

Another way to reconnect with the project is to read over what you wrote for it in the previous session.

When your stint is done, you may want to have another ritual to mark the ending. It could be something you say aloud to yourself. Something simple like, "Good job!" or "Writing Time is Over" will work. Or you might do something physical such as five jumping jacks. Maybe you set an alarm clock and let the buzz mark the end. Some people reach for food or tobacco, but that can have negative consequences.

Best of luck.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

search this site the web
search engine by freefind

Celebrating our 2nd year as one of the...

 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook

NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles

"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero