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Keeping count of the stories

January 13, 2011

I work on quite a few stories at the same time, and here I try to explain the “why” and the “what”.

A few years ago, I discovered that often writer’s blocks wouldn’t actually appear because I couldn’t write anything. I just needed a break from my current project. I needed distance for one reason or another, and very often I would return to the story after days or weeks or months and be able to write on without any difficulties.
As I constantly have stories queued up waiting to be written and characters impatiently tapping their feet (or having a drink, or taking a nap, or trying to attract attention, or not really caring at all depending on their personality) for me to get on with their stories, why not work on several projects at the same time?
The advantage: Fewer writer’s blocks and a lot more productivity.
The downside: Taking a longer to finish anything because there are so many stories in the works and sometimes not knowing which one to work on.

I know writers who only work on one project at the time, and writers who work on one novel and then write a short story now and then, and I think it’s a matter of preference – what works best for you personally. For me, this approach seems to be the best way to be able to write as much as I need/want.
Sometimes I focus wholly on one project (during NaNoWriMo for instance), and sometimes I literally work on a different story every other day. I have a few novels and a lot of short pieces of fiction (which are quicker to finish) that I work on. And I’ve found that much of my short fiction is spinoffs from the novels – minor characters get to be main characters, and this sometimes gives me a new perspective on the main story and helps me develop it. Short fiction is also a great way to test various genres or styles.

Now, everybody loves lists, right? Here’s one of what I am writing:

  • A trilogy that starts as a novel of development in the mid 19th century, then takes a supernatural turn when the protagonist gets an offer he doesn’t quite understand, crosses borders and oceans and records a few historical events, and finally returns to Europe. There’s a love story, a good deal of humour and discussions of sexual orientation/legislation and religion in it as well. Ambitious? Oh yes. It’ll take a while.
  • A novel about a photographer who has a fairly normal life until things start to get plain odd around him. The trouble is that he’s known to have a very vivid imagination. I’m tempted to put this in the “literary fiction” category.
  • An ongoing story which is at this point hundreds of pages long that will never be published as a book in its current form. I am considering splitting it up before it is “done” because the first part could stand alone. But I’m waiting because it’s related to some of my other stories, and I need to see where they go.
  • A story about a pretty normal teenager seen from his point of view and written in his vernacular (can we call him a present-day Holden Caulfield?) that surprised me when something happened to make a sequel possible – but the sequel would be extremely different, so it’s quite the challenge.
  • Lots of short fiction. I am member of a writing group and every week I get a writing prompt, so those pieces accumulate. Among the subjects have been one of the seven deadly sins, a quote from a book, two random photos, family, a story containing a technical description of a car, Christmas and Halloween. Much of it is related to characters from the projects listed above, or at least to the worlds in which their stories take place. I suspect some of it will eventually make the base for longer stories. It’s happened before.

Hmm … Yes, I think that was it.

What about you? Do you stick to one story at the time? Do you plan sequels to the ones you have written/are writing? Do you work on novels as well as short fiction simultaneously?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 2:19 pm

    I work on multiple projects as well. I’ve found that my productive limit is two to three projects at a time. Last year, I began working on a fantasy novel and a drama screenplay, but then ended up spending most of the year focused on learning how to write screenplays, which was a great deal of fun.

    This year, I’ll be working on three projects. My fantasy Novel from last year “Amachi”, the 2nd draft of my screenplay “Things People Do”, and I’m going to try my hand at a web-serial under that heading “Mythsire”, still debating which story I’m going to use for that. It’ll either be Horror or Sci Fi

    Last year, I switched projects every week, this year I’m going to see how switching out every month works.

    But, yeah, switching out definitely helps with writer burnout. Since I like to write many different types of stories, I make sure that each project is of a different genre just to keep my creativity on its toes, so to speak. So, as of right now, I’m working on a Drama, a fantasy, and either a horror or sci fi.


    • January 14, 2011 10:11 am

      I think it’s interesting that you switch projects so scheduled. I can’t really do that, because sometimes I feel the urge to work on one thing intensely for months, sometimes I need to put away a certain story for months, and sometimes I feel like typing up bits of two different stories in the same day (again with the exception of things like NaNoWriMo, which has to be consistent).
      I can definitely see the point of working with different genres as not to burn out. My stories are often linked, but they all have a different voice.
      Thank you for sharing!


      • January 14, 2011 5:50 pm

        The reason I switch out on a set schedule is because I know myself. If I don’t make myself switch, I’ll focus on one project too long and get tired of it, and at the same time fail to make progress on my other projects. I work better with schedules, lol.


  2. January 13, 2011 3:22 pm

    I’ve heard other writers do this, too: work on several projects at a time. It keeps them moving, always having something to write.

    Personally, I focus on one main project and have a few others on the sidelines. Currently, I’m going through five years of genealogy columns, picking the best 200 and creating a book from them. I still write the column, so one day a week is dedicated to that.

    I also have a trilogy in the works. I knew when I began I wanted to write a three-book series. It’s a fantasy I’ve been working on for more than twelve years, but seriously for only four. I’ve finished the second book. I’m halfway through editing it. When I complete the third book, I’ll look to publish them.

    These fantasy books have spawned several short stories. I like to call them character sketches, but they are complete stories in themselves. When I encounter a problem with a character or wish to know them better, I write a story about their ‘worst day ever’. This is their hang up in the novel, something they have to work through. These stories deepen the plot and enriches it.

    I’m also working on a novel set in the early 1800s Nova Scotia. There are several other ideas posted around my desk. If I wrote every day without another new idea for a book, I’d still have five years of writing without a break . . . or maybe ten. I’ve got quite an active imagination.

    Great post for those who haven’t already discovered the secret of working on more than one project.



    • January 14, 2011 10:16 am

      I’m comforted by the fact that your trilogy has been in the works for some years, because I can feel that it will be quite a while before I’m ready to publish mine. I’m currently on the second draft of the first part and simultaneously writing the second and the third part.
      Your “worst day ever” idea is brilliant! I like to write short fiction with my characters from longer stories as well, usually from writing prompts, just to get to know them better, and I think that particular idea is very useful.
      (On a slightly unrelated note – wow, genealogy! I have just begun looking into it and think it’s extremely fascinating.)
      Thank you for your comment!


      • January 18, 2011 4:25 pm

        That trilogy has been nagging at me since I was about 15, neck-deep in Dungeon & Dragons. That game saved me in many ways. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I know, I know, many bad things have been said about this game, but anything — and I do mean everything — can be bad if in the wrong hands.

        I began writing stories about the characters I played and by the time I was 18, I had a set of characters that could write their own story. I wrote two books about them just for practice. I was about 20 by then. Work took hold of my life and writing was set aside.

        The first winter I found myself home with a newborn, I was so bored out of my skull, wondering what I could do with myself when I stumbled onto those old stories. BANG! The gun — or should I say cannon — went off and I hit the ground running. I wrote the draft of a new story. And then I had another kid, and another. Well, as you know, kids eat up a lot of time, so before I knew it, a few years had passed.

        Then that magical day came: all three kids were in school. Now I write every day from 8 to 2 — the hours they’re in school.

        Yup, genealogy. Because I’ve always been intrigued with family trees, I seem to know the first and second, possibly the third, generations of all my characters. I can’t seem to get away from it.



      • January 18, 2011 8:00 pm

        I can’t seem to reply to your last reply, so I’ll do it like this.
        My writing actually started out in roleplaying as well (though it was e-mail based and not pen & paper), and I think there is a lot of good things to be said about games like that. If used creatively like you used D&D, I think a lot of things can be good if in the right hands. πŸ™‚
        I can’t imagine not writing for years. I’m glad I’ve never had to set it aside completely for very long. It must be great to be back, though!
        I’ve never made family trees for my human characters. But vampire family trees I have made. That’s … interesting.


  3. January 13, 2011 5:01 pm

    It appears I am in good company. It is so easy to think of oneself as lacking discipline rather than having an overabundant imagination.

    I work on several ideas at once–and constantly. My piles of “yellow-sticky” notes are legion, and really do deserve to be corelated and filed away some day.

    I have a multiple-volume work–a “life’s work”–that grows with painful slowness, a completed novel, most of a sequel, and the beginnings of a third volume in place (The “completed” one took top honnors in a field of 450 in first draft form), and no end to short stories and the occasional poem.

    In fact, the first hour of my day was the transcription of a dream about luxury liner cruise with an android companion, titled “Star”.

    I suspect that for many of us, Writer’s Block is more a case of “Writer’s Blah”. That is to say we either get bored with the current idea–or more likely, excited about a new one–and are therefore driven to new fields.

    In any event, I love writing, as complex and occasionally painful as it is, and am delighted–as always–to meet others who love and suffer the same affliction.


    • January 14, 2011 10:22 am

      One of my good friends once told me to write from “commitment” rather from “discipline”. The context was a bit different, but I think it’s useful to keep in mind.
      It sounds like you, too, just can’t help getting ideas. I’ll admit that sometimes I feel like telling my muses to keep it down because I won’t possibly have time, ever, to type up all the stories and ideas, but I don’t. I see it as a privilege and am happy to get all these ideas. It keeps med going on several levels. – Yes, writing can be complex and painful, but I love it too.
      Thank you for an insight into your projects!


  4. christicorbett permalink
    January 13, 2011 5:28 pm

    I’ve been a work on one project at a time type of writer. As in, full steam ahead, don’t allow the train to jump the tracks or make any stops to explore new ideas.

    Gets the job done in a decent amount of time, but can get a little boring.

    Plus, it allows writers block to wander across the tracks and stop all forward progress.

    I think maybe I’ll allow myself to wander through other projects while continuing to work on the first. Who knows what will happen? At the very least, it will be an interesting ride.

    Christi Corbett


    • January 14, 2011 1:25 pm

      I can imagine that you would be able to really focus and get some work done quickly like that. Sometimes I catch myself wishing I could just stick to one thing at the time.
      But you could try Diane’s suggestion above – writing one of your minor character’s worst day as a piece of short fiction and see where that takes you. Or a similar thing. I like to write prompts/challenges with characters who are already established in my stories.
      Good luck! I hope to hear how it works out for you if you decide to try.
      Thank you for your thoughts!


  5. January 13, 2011 5:34 pm

    I have a grand total of eight projects currently. I think. There may actually be quite a few more than that, and I’ve lost count. At least I am focusing on a particular one currently, because I feel an urgent need to get it done and submitted. I do think about the others, they haven’t become orphans…Yet.

    The reasons for having so many open projects revolve around my own peculiarity. I can simply sit down and start typing, and before I know what’s happening *poof* it’s the beginning of a story.

    I also have a rather vociferous muse who insists on occassionally waking me in the middle of the night with a story idea, that I must begin that very instant. I’m considering a taser to end those visits.

    Most of my current projects were begun by virtue of testing novel-writing software. You can’t test it properly without writing something. My flood takes over and before I know it, I have more projects.

    Writer’s block takes the form of feeling unable to write due to conditions around me. I’m very sensitive to distractions and haven’t yet figured out how to achieve a happy space in which to write. I never seem to get bored, or stuck, or any of the other complaints I hear from writers.

    I write both shorts and novels. I often don’t know when I begin writing which a story will be.

    I have only one story, a short, that turned out to have a very enjoyable main character. I couldn’t resist starting a side story with her, and I have envisioned doing an anthology revolving around her adventures.

    My fear is that my productivity will simply drown me. Hopefully this won’t be the case. I enjoy the beast even if it does take up so much of my time and energy.


    • January 15, 2011 11:17 am

      Thank you for your comment! It’s great to hear how others work.
      I have muses who wake me up in the night too. My solution is to write a few keywords on a notepad and tell them we’ll look at it tomorrow.
      Starting side stories is something I do as well. Sometimes it just turns out that a character has so much more potential, and it would be a shame not to use them for something else.
      Good luck with all your projects!


  6. January 13, 2011 8:31 pm

    Wonderful post and comments.

    Especially enjoyed seeing: “I know writers who only work on one project at the time, and writers who work on one novel and then write a short story now and then, and I think it’s a matter of preference – what works best for you personally.”

    Writers are artists who need to live by their own rules. Thanks, M.


    • January 15, 2011 11:22 am

      Thank you very much!
      There are things that are right and wrong such as how to spell a word. Some rules are to be followed, such as how to write a successful dialogue, but they can be broken if you are familiar with them and do it well. – But most of the pieces of advice and “rules” we pick up as writers are what others find helpful for themselves. We may agree and we may not. Wouldn’t be much of an art if we all had one manual that told us exactly how to do. πŸ˜‰


  7. January 13, 2011 9:02 pm

    I’ve found that working on more than one project at a time greatly increases my productivity.

    My third novel- the one I’m writing now- is a spin-off of my first novel. I’m also researching and writing an “artificial intelligence” article and planning an accompanying photo project.

    Weekly writing prompts, a trilogy, AND literary fiction? Looks like you are a writing machine. lol


    • January 15, 2011 12:23 pm

      Spinoffs are wonderful, aren’t they? Somehow most of my stories are linked in one way or another. Sometimes it’s so subtle that I’m probably the only one noticing the link, and sometimes it’s part of the point.
      Your article/photo project sounds exciting too! Good luck with it.
      Hehe, well, it probably sounds grander than it is. After all, it’s going a bit slowly. But I try.
      Thank you for the comment!


  8. January 14, 2011 7:21 am

    I have multiple notebooks on the go simultaneously- one for catching snippets of characters, one for testing out conepts, one for writing prompts, etc. I draw on bits of each to build projects, and never know how (or if) the different pieces will come together.


    • January 15, 2011 12:26 pm

      Ah, notebooks. I used to have one for each project. Then I started writing a lot while using public transport, and I didn’t always know which project I was going to work. Bringing several notebooks “just in case” was a bit much. But I really like the idea, and I’ll admit that I still have two notebooks dedicated entirely to a character each.
      It’s exciting to see how/if the pieces grow into a bigger whole, isn’t it?
      Thank you for the comment!


  9. jesswords10 permalink
    January 16, 2011 5:44 am

    You’ve made me a little more relaxed about leaving one of my characters trapped in an underworld. oops!

    I did need to step away for a bit and try some other writing just to keep me in the groove as I’m coming back to it after some years off. So I have short story, a few memoirs, bits of poetry, and I do consistently journal every day (at least the things I’m grateful for, which is a resolution of mine).

    I really like the variety in your last list of projects. All the prompts and places your ideas came from sounds energizing. Good luck with your work!


    • January 16, 2011 6:52 pm

      Isn’t it nice to be back and writing? πŸ™‚
      Writing a journal every day takes a lot of commitment! It sounds like you have a lot of writing, and very different projects too. – Good luck with them.
      Thank you for visiting and commenting!


  10. Maribeth permalink
    January 17, 2011 7:53 pm

    I keep with one major story and on the side write small things that get entered into contests, posted on my blog or scribbled across the pages of my journal.

    I won’t start another big project such as a mg or ya novel until one has been completed. I know myself well enough that if I went back and forth neither would get done.


    • January 18, 2011 5:01 pm

      I think that sounds like a really good plan. Submitting short fiction to contests and webzines is something I do, as well, and it’s very refreshing, I think.
      Sometimes I think that I never will finish some of my big projects (because it takes such a long time to get anything done), so I can relate to that.
      Thank you for your visit and comment!



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