Multiple Projects: Feast or Famine?

I have a lot of ideas. I know for many wannabe writers out there, that would be the ultimate blessing. And when you desperately want to write but can’t think of anything, falling into that blank page frustration, that white abyss–it’s endless and it’s painful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But having too many ideas can be a kind of curse too–not a worse one, in my opinion (so I’ll take it!), but not always such a blessing.

The reason I struggle with it is that when you have a lot of ideas, you don’t have that one central idea that defines your creativity. Authors talk about the story that spoke to them, about a single idea hitting them like a lightning bolt and off they go. When you’re getting hit with new ideas all the time, you don’t have that one guiding light. You have to choose.

And with any choice comes doubt.

All those ideas waiting in the wings, even if you tell yourself that they will wait until you’re done with the project at hand, they still undermine whatever you’ve chosen. Every pro is matched with a con that is matched with a pro in another idea; and it’s all too tempting to abandon the story at hand for the perfect and vague and infinitely greener idea on the other side. Artists who can commit and focus can remind themselves that all the other brilliant ideas will wait. But an artist who is wobbling and doubting and spiraling? Other ideas just give them somewhere to go–only to spiral out again almost immediately.

So my tentative answer for the moment is to work on multiple projects at once. That way, I can compensate for one project’s weaknesses with another’s strengths, and I can achieve contradictory desires without having to choose one as my “main” or “primary” project now. It also alleviates the pressure from any single idea having to be the entirety of my creative effort; I can just remind myself of my other projects and how they’re working.

The key is to have projects that are doing different things. They don’t have to be radically different; you should still stay true to what you ultimately want to write, so if you have a certain genre or style, stick with it in all your projects. But try to balance different desires in each project. Differentiate the protagonists. Vary the relationships. Explore different worlds. Whatever you want out of your writing, from both an artistic and a professional perspective, look at things that will not or cannot coexist in a single entity and use multiple projects to go after them simultaneously. [Keep an eye out for things that can’t coexist as separate entities–like using the exact same character for two radically different stories–as a creative exercise, great, perfect, do it; but as a professional strategy, it’s questionable.]

I can’t promise that I’ll actually finish all the projects, or that I’ll keep them on pace to finish together. I think it would be madness to try. The biggest danger with this strategy is that you’ll keep adding more and more projects and never advance with any of them, so try to set a limit on how many you’ll attempt. And try to focus on making forward progress on all of them. If one takes off with inspiration, follow it; when it falters, return to the others until you get back into the flow.

This may be the best or the worst strategy I’ve ever attempted. Let’s see where it leads…

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About J. Sevick

Just write.
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2 Responses to Multiple Projects: Feast or Famine?

  1. Sue Klein says:

    Finishing projects is difficult but so rewarding! I think you need to pick one idea, don’t over think the choice, jump in, stick to it until complete, and let us read it! Then learn from that and move on.

    • J. Sevick says:

      The more I work, the more I agree that choosing one project and taking the leap is the better way to go. It requires patience, for me, but I’m working on it!

      Thanks for the comment!

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