Crazy for Feeling So… Busy

A soft, spring sunrise this morning.

The birds are full of springtime, too – swooping about and singing. They’re terribly busy.

One of my writing friends made a comment not long ago that she feels like she’s losing to time. She’s revising and is afraid it’s taking too long. I can understand this. You spend months writing a novel, then months revising the novel, then months waiting for people to respond to said novel. Sometimes those responses send you back to revising for more months and you wait even more months for responses, which are usually “no, thank you.”

And it can feel like wasted time.

It’s like you’re forever working at a job, hoping to be paid one day. There’s a crushing sense of urgency, that if you just worked a little harder, a little faster, that maybe you could cut out, oh, a decade or so of the waiting.

Yesterday I posted a chapter from the family memoir I started writing, oh, a decade or so ago. Several people who’d been fans of my nonfiction work from way back jumped on it and asked when I planned to finish that book. This book, in fact, was the project I won my Ucross fellowship for, and spent my time there outlining. (If you get a chance to do a writer’s residency like this, it’s OMG wonderful. They make you feel like you’re curing cancer.)

See, my plan had been to break into genre fiction, have a nice income from that, and get to spend time on these harder-to-sell nonfiction projects.

Hey – the plan is totally working! It’s just, um, taking a decade or so longer than I planned.

So, a couple of people have suggested I work on more than one project at a time. Even contemplating this makes me feel a little crazy. It’s tempting. When I take a few deeps breaths, I can see the fantasy of it unfolding. How I would move forward the new new novel, The Middle Princess, finish one I’d set aside, expand a short story into a novella, write the family memoir, and and and…

Then I start to feel crazy again.

I think about how I could work it in. I could take my two hours of writing time in the mornings and split them – one hour each on two different things. I’ve thought about sitting down again at night and spending an hour on a different project than the morning one. Then I also start thinking about how I wanted to set aside more time to read every day, so if I’m going to restructure, I should do that, too. The only two things I don’t think deserve more time are the day job and online socializing.

*Ahem*

At least I’m smart enough now not to consider sleeping less. Which is absolutely how I created more time when I was in college.

My day job boss argues that there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. He says it’s just pretending to pay attention to something when you’re actually doing something else. But I suppose I’m talking more here about serial tasking. Like, some writers work on one project on alternate days, doing another in between. Or rotating three or four. Or just working until they get stuck on one, then switching.

I’m a monogamous kind of gal, really, but I can be convinced. How do you all do it?

8 Replies to “Crazy for Feeling So… Busy”

  1. I think writing is a war. Especially when pursuing publication. Because it takes years. Missteps. Lost time. Manuscripts that live in shoeboxes that will never see the light of day. One of my friends says that pursuing the holy grail of publication is a ten-year war. That's been true for me.

    Working on more than one project at a time can be invigorating. I tend to have ideas for more than one thing…but practice a kind of serial monogamy in compressed and obsessed time frames. Most of my energy gets focused on one front at a time. I throw everything I have behind the project for a few months. Sleepless nights. Up to my ears in research materials. Dreaming about nothing but the project. House a disaster. Fight that front until it's complete and that battle's won.

    And then…a couple of weeks of rest. Then on to the next battle.

    I win some battles. I lose others. But the key for me is keeping the momentum. My momentum tends to be fairly short-lived, so I push while it's present. When it's flown the building for a project, it's gone.

  2. I have to be in very different places on my different projects in order to fake multi-tasking – which is to say, I stop doing x in order to manage y. So I cannot draft two books at once. I have to dedicate brain space, very big brain space, to whatever is being drafted right now. This means any other project has to be able to breathe on it's own by this time OR is in a lifeless state and merely needs a puff of air to prove it will someday be able to live and breathe. (I can do a proof of concept on an idea while drafting or I can do revisions on a finished work while drafting.) But to actually try to juggle pouring out word count on two or three different Frankensteins? No. That way lies torchs, pitchforks and really pissed off villagers.

  3. I can mix fiction with non-fiction but as you say, splitting it across different set times. I do the one I'm least likely to complete in the morning and the one that is "easier" in the evening. But that only works with very different content and writing styles for me (so work on the urban fantasy book then shift to an article about flying).

  4. Hee, I totally agree with your boss re: multitasking.

    Since I don't have the time constraints of a contract, I write two to three stories at a time. One is always the dominant story, while the other two are the means to help me get over/through/around a creativity slump in the main story.

  5. I totally suck at multitasking, but serial tasking? That I can handle. I usually have more than one writing project going on, but only one of them is my primary focus. The other(s) I use to give my head a break.

  6. These are all such great comments! It sounds like only Laura/Alayna does it like I do, with the total immersion. I think I'll try the serial tasking/splitting approach. And try to duck those crazed villagers with pitchforks!

  7. I've worked on more than one project at a time in the past. At the moment, my brain is so full of other stuff I'm doing well to keep tracking the thread of one. Good luck with the serial tasking – I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

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