For artists, this often leads to a physical mess, where the materials for their various creative projects get all mixed up or scattered around the house. But for writers, the mess often remains inside. All of the ongoing projects might stay segregated in their respective notebooks, but the creative juices are all trapped inside the same brain.
Is this dangerous?
I ask this as someone who always has more than one idea at a time. When I was little, you could always find multiple notebooks at varying stages of “full,” wherein lay stories about everything from talking dogs to princesses. Fast forward a couple of decades, and you find me still brewing up simultaneous creative projects of vastly different genres. You may not find anything about talking dogs, but you will find plenty about talking socks. And princesses.
There is a degree to which everyone thrives in their own element. For some, handwriting fuels their creativity. For others, the convenient editing of a computer enables them to write better. Night owls usually write better at night. Morning people… well, they’re just weird.
Does hopping from one to another prevent the author from completely immersing in any one of them? Or does the variety enable the author to approach each project with fresh eyes every time?
While I cannot answer this question for all of you reading this, I can offer you my perspective.
Think of it as parenting. Say you have one child in middle school and another in preschool. If you spend all of your energy stressing out over the middle schooler’s drama, you are not going to be available to your preschooler, who is in a phase of critical development. But nor can you abandon the middle schooler to their own devices and focus entirely on the preschooler.
This analogy breaks down of course, because you can never actually place a child on the backburner to be picked up later. The child inevitably suffers. But some ideas and projects can be stowed safely in a folder until you have more time for them, and they might turn out no worse for wear. The danger is assuming that a tender, green idea will keep fresh while you spend months and years on more pressing projects.
There are times when I simply need to put my nose to the grindstone and power through an obstacle. Walking away in these moments is nothing short of laziness. But there are other times when a roadblock resists brute force, and I need to think my way around it. The trouble is that a writer’s rut can often blind him/her to the path around the obstacle.
This is when you need a break. For some, taking a break might mean spending the next week binge-watching a show or going for long, extended walks somewhere new. It might mean actually resurfacing in society (golly, we writers are good at that disappearing trick!). Or… for some… it might mean tinkering with a new idea that’s been brewing in the back of your mind.
Mind you, I say tinkering. The moment we transfer our primary attention to a new project, we run the risk of leaving the first one by the wayside altogether.
Depending on how your brain works, you might also run the risk of overlapping the two projects in a detrimental way. If you’re writing two vastly different stories, you don’t want your characters in one to start sounding like the characters in the other. Nor (as in my case) do you want the narration of your medieval Scandinavian novel to start rhyming or using alliteration like the children’s book you’re simultaneously working on!
Although the efficacy of multitasking is generally doubtful, I do think it’s possible to juggle a couple of creative projects without either of them suffering—depending on how you as a creator work…
As long as we don’t adopt the habit of abandoning half-finished projects for the allure of a new one!
How do you prefer to tackle projects? Do you require complete focus in order to finish a project, or are you able to handle more than one at a time?
What are some caveats or benefits that you see in taking on multiple projects at once?