Everyone has their own writing process. Some people write for hours at a stretch, some right in bursts. Some enter into a sort of fugue state, where all they can think about is the work at hand. Others flit from writing project to writing project. I’ve always been of the belief that there’s no one method that works for everyone, and that you have to really just find the one that works best for you and go with it, rather than try to fit yourself into some predetermined mold that might not work for you (and that might actually keep you from getting your work done).
Personally, I (KC, that is), like having several projects going on at once. I know that this might sound a bit counterintuitive to some, and there are some drawbacks to it. For me, however, I find it difficult to stay too focused on a single project for too long. I suppose that some might say that that’s something I should have checked out, but I prefer to think that it gives me an opportunity to always stay energized, to not get bored with any one project because there’s always another one to be working on. (Incidentally, I tend to follow the same practice with books. I’m often reading several at once, as just a cursory glimpse at my Goodreads account will tell you).
To use an agricultural metaphor that I once read about somewhere, it’s a bit like crop rotation. By switching between projects–often during the course of a couple of hours–I keep myself from getting tired of working on the same thing. In fact, it keeps me inspired, and it keeps me energized. If I find that I hit a creative road-block, then I know that I can just switch to something else until the block is cleared. So, for example, on any one day I might be working on: a piece (or pieces) of The Filliquian Chronicle, a short story in the same universe, a novelette that’s unrelated to all of that, as well as a blog post (or two). Let me tell you, it’s never dull around here.
Admittedly, however, this process does entail some rather notable drawbacks, foremost of which is the danger of being so scattered that I never finish anything. Indeed, once upon a time that was my greatest challenge as a writer, and my computers would be filled with discarded stories in which I’d lost interest as I moved onto something new. Part of that was a function of the fact that I was usually either in undergrad or working full-time, so really keeping focused on writing was really a challenge. It’s taken me quite a while to shake off those bad habits and to focus just as much on finishing at least one or two projects a month (it helps that I have Kellen to keep me on the straight and narrow, since he’s almost always waiting to get something from me).
Indeed, as I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve started to become more successful at seeing projects through to their conclusion. I suspect that some of this is due to the fact that I actually finished a dissertation. Just in case any of you aren’t familiar with what’s involved with writing one of those, it’s essentially writing a book-length scholarly discussion, which has to go through several rounds of revision before it’s ready to be defended. As a result, you’re very much encouraged to make steady and reliable progress (even though, it must be said, this usually works out better in theory than in practice). I can assure you, the feeling of accomplishment at completing a beast like that is enough to encourage you to see every project you start through to completion.
The key to this method of composition is, I think, building in a mechanism that keeps you accountable to someone other than yourself. When you’re simply writing in accordance with your own deadlines, it can be all too easy to start making excuses, to reassure yourself that you’re still on track, even if you don’t finish something. By having some external power, you can make sure that you meet important deadlines. I don’t know about all of you, but disappointing someone is always a great motivator for me to finish something.
So, while it might not for everyone, I find that having multiple projects going at once is a key part of my creativity. This might change at some point in the future but, as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!