What’s the hardest part of writing a novel in a month?
April is Camp NaNoWriMo – a variation on November’s “write a novel in a month” challenge. The month-long deadline presents many challenges: How will you make the time? Can you generate enough steam to do the work each day? Can you stick to the plan for a month?
For some writers, the biggest struggle happens before they start. In late March, a writer I know sent me the following question:
“I have two projects I am working on. It is actually stressing me knowing I might have to focus on just one. Any ideas?”
Facing the deadline, she had a hard time narrowing down her focus.
She’s not alone. I face a similar dilemma deciding which book idea to pursue, as publishing a book (for me) requires a singular focus bordering on the obsessive.
If your Muse sends you many ideas, selecting a single one to work on can be painful. It may feel like you’re giving up on the other ideas or shutting down creative impulses. Keeping your options open feels like a safe thing to do.
Who is more productive: the writer with ten works in progress or one published work? I vote for the published one.
Keeping your options open is one way to avoid the risk of commitment.
Maybe you love having multiple burners firing at once. If so, perhaps that’s how you should work much of the time. But to get something out into the world quickly and take advantage of the power of a deadline, you need to know when to narrow your focus.
This is true whether you’re working on short blog posts or multiple novels. Sometimes you have to choose one to move forward. You don’t actually abandon the others if you change your juggling technique.
The Art of Juggling
The Writer’s Process describes seven different phases of the writing process. Whether your personal process involves more or fewer steps, the act of getting written works into the world entails work beyond drafting, including research, outlining, incubation, and revision.
Having multiple projects in progress can make you more productive and creative:
- You can choose the project that fits your current mood and inspiration.
- Your brain may make connections across the different projects, cross-pollinating and feeding creative associations.
But here’s the key to successful juggling: Only have one project in the drafting phase at any time.
How a Single Focus Makes You Faster
Drafting is the most intense part of the work, involving the delicate collaboration of the Scribe and the Muse. It requires focused concentration, and you only have so much of that available in any given day. If you go back and forth between projects during that time, you’ll lose steam. Switching imposes costs.
This principle applies in the workplace as well. You may be involved in many projects. But in that rare, uninterrupted time you have for drafting each day, choose one thing to write rather than doing a few hundred words on each.
For a long-term project like writing a book, focusing your drafting attention has another benefit: you train your mind to work on that book even when you’re not actually writing.
Your subconscious processes will keep working on that idea as you go about your life. You’ll think about that work when you drive home, walk the dog, or doze off. That subconscious processing makes you more productive when next you sit down to draft.
The Power of Incubation
You don’t have to abandon those other projects. Simply tell yourself that they are in different phases: research, revision, or incubation.
Projects that are incubating are not forgotten. You can remind yourself of their existence, making them available to the Muse when you’re doing other things. Ponder them, gather ideas, and let them simmer. If ideas pop up, open a file and write them down.
Productive writers are always incubating fresh ideas.
When you’re done with the intense drafting,you’ll be primed to start working on another project.
Have a Writing Challenge of Your Own?
Have a writing challenge of your own? Send it to me by email, in the comments, or using the Contact form.
- Find insight on scheduling work and juggling different projects in The Writer’s Process.
- Watch the writing challenge videos.