Creative Projects: the more, the merrier?

Creative projects are like children: the more there are, the harder it is to keep track of them all.

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.

But is there anything harmful about entertaining multiple creative projects side-by-side?

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.

Here are some reasons why I have found simultaneous creative projects feasible and perhaps even beneficial.

1) The burden of an incomplete project has often stunted the development of other, younger ideas.

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.

2) Variety prevents burnout.

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.

The practice of nurturing multiple projects at once comes with some caveats—mainly that we risk losing focus and eventually losing interest in the original mission.

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?

4 Comments on “Creative Projects: the more, the merrier?

  1. Morning people ARE weird! Glad we’re on the same page.

    I’m a natural multi-tasker. However, as I develop (i.e. age), I find that sometimes we need to focus on one thing to increase our chances of success. Even in simple tasks – if I just take care of one thing and then move onto the next, it might actually take me less time than if I was to try and do them simultaneously.

    Right now (as per usual), I have competing priorities in my life and so I try to tackle them all. At the same time. What happens? I get burned out too quickly. Then, I delay something to try and regain my composure. But then I feel guilty. And the cycle continues.

    I like having two writing projects going on at the same time. However, for me, they have to be vastly different. A novel and a flash fiction. So, they’re not really competing with one another. Instead, they serve as breaks.

  2. P.S. Some people read multiple books at the same time. I like to focus on one and immerse myself. If I’m reading two, I get lost figuring out which is which. It seems like I hedge my bets and don’t enjoy them as much as I otherwise potentially would. If I do read two books at the same time (rarely), they are of completely different genres (fiction vs. non-fiction). That way, again, they’re not competing; they’re breaks from each other.

    • Yes, I definitely agree with you on reading! For some reason, I can’t slip in and out of reading two different fiction books at the same time. If I’m going to read more than one book at a time, they have to be very different genres.

      I have also long wondered about the efficacy of the education system, in which students are required to be simultaneously reading multiple books for multiple subjects– and not just reading, but deeply analyzing and writing about them. Could there be a benefit to requiring fewer courses at a time? Would that help students learn and retain more of the curriculum?
      I suspect it might.

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