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One Project at a Time: Juggling Less for Story Success

May 17, 2024

As a writer, you’re probably familiar with the allure of starting multiple projects at once. You’ve probably even done it. It’s difficult not to when the ideas flow and you’re eager to see where each one leads.

Some writers thrive off this method. Through trial and error, they find a way to balance multiple projects and still make progress on each of them. 

However, this can be dangerous for other writers. Particularly new writers, who can be easily tempted into abandoning their current project for the newest and shiniest ideas. In doing so, they forget where they left off in other projects and lose their sense of passion and productivity. The cycle eventually feeds a sense of discontentment and uncertainty in someone’s ability to write.

The result? A portfolio of unfinished stories. 

If you are struggling with this, you’re probably looking for solutions. Focusing on one project at a time can help. But first, let’s take a look at why.

Why stick to one story?

Think of writing like cleaning your room. It looks neat at first, but then you open the door to your closet and begin to take things out. At first it’s only a few items and some of them are boring. But then you find your old DS, toy cars, a LEGO set even. As you take out more and more items, you start forming piles, but instead of putting the piles away where they belong, you only add to them. By the time you stop to look at it all, you are overwhelmed by the number of piles and don’t know how to clean it up.

Your brain is your closet. Once you open up the door to ideas, more and more flow out. You begin to put these into files or notebooks. Soon enough though, you have a list of stories that you keep adding ideas to here or there, but none of them have any significant progress. They are disorganized. They are missing chunks of information and key elements. 

Going back to your room, if you focus on putting away the items in one pile at a time, you will begin to see the pile disappear. Then you can move on to the next. By now your progress is visible. Your energy and pace increase and you feel like you’re getting somewhere. You may even reward yourself.

In your writing, if you concentrate on one project at a time, you will similarly increase your productivity by

  1. Avoiding distraction: You no longer abandon a story for the newest idea.
  2. Maintaining train of thought: When you switch between stories, you disrupt your flow and lose your connection to the narrative. This puts the quality of your story at risk.
  3. Increasing productivity: Spreading your focus thin across many projects means you make little to no progress on any. Focusing on one leads to measurable progress, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.

It won’t be easy at first. Especially if you’re used to the cycle of unfinished projects. But there are some strategies you can use to help hone your attention.

Tips for focusing on one story

Find your why

Think about the story you want to focus on most right now. Why are you writing it? Why did you fall in love with it to begin with? Thinking about this can reignite the passion and commitment you have to it. 

To help yourself find your passion, plan exciting scenes:

  • Make a list of 5-10 scenes that you love. These are the ones that excite you the most; they keep you up at night with new ideas and you can’t wait to write them. 
  • Take your list and rearrange the scenes in the order they should appear in your story. 
  • Write a draft for each. 
  • Reflect: do you feel the old energy coming back? Do you feel like you have direction for your story? These scenes can help you think ahead to what comes next and stay motivated while writing the story in between them.

Think about why you aren’t finishing your story. Why did you leave one story for another?

  • Did it get too hard? Are you avoiding doing something difficult? 
  • Did you lose direction? Are you daydreaming too much, following whatever new idea comes to you?
  • Are you being a perfectionist, and the story doesn’t look like how it does in your head yet? 
  • Are you weighing yourself down by taking on too many project at once?

Recognizing why you abandoned a story can help you tackle that issue head on and start making progress again.

Outline

An effective outline acts as a guide as you write your story. Effectiveness is key, because what this looks like is different for every writer. Some can do with vague notes. Others need detailed descriptions per scene. (Hint: use the scenes you drafted when you were finding your why in your outline.)

No matter how you outline, make sure that you do outline in some manner. Knowing where your story is headed can help you stay on track, on schedule, and engaged in the writing process.

Write out of order

You’re the writer. You have infinite creative options here. What you’re creating here, right now, is not the book that readers will see on the shelves. That comes later. 

Behind the scenes, you can write scenes and chapters in whatever order you please. Start in the middle, jump to the end, go back to a scene after the beginning. Write what excites you first. Then bridge the gaps between. 

Doing this can help keep up your enthusiasm for a project, rather than losing motivation once you hit a scene you don’t know how to write or that hasn’t sparked your interest yet. Then you can brush out the remaining details in the revision stage. 

Tip: Every time you step away from writing, end on a hook. This can be a question or a cliffhanger. The purpose is to excite you – to keep your ideas rolling between writing sessions, and to spark your inspiration once you sit down to write again.

Keep a notebook

Once the creative ideas begin to flow, they tend to keep on going. This means that even when we want to focus on one project at a time, we may be getting ideas for alternative projects. That’s why notebooks are so important. Instead of tackling them right away or starting multiple projects at once, put them down on paper or a digital file for later. This way, you can keep your head clear for your work-in-progress without losing any good ideas for future projects. When you’re ready to take on something new or come across writer’s block, you can review your notebook for inspiration. 

If you’re a writer who is notorious for daydreaming while on a project, try to make daydreaming a reward. Don’t allow yourself to do so until you’ve reached a milestone in your writing process. Then daydream and write your ideas down until you can revisit them after the next milestone.

Immerse yourself in your story

If you’re someone who likes to watch a story come to life, then creating a sensory-rich environment around your story can deepen your connection with it. 

Spend time making a Spotify or YouTube playlist, Pinterest board, or graphics that remind you of your characters, plots, and world. You can even dress up as your characters or enlist others to act out a scene so you can visualize it better.

Draft as fast as you can

The goal of drafting should be to get your ideas down on paper quickly. This should be a stage of exploration and creativity, not perfectionism. This is where an effective outline comes in handing, acting as a map to give you direction. 

Don’t spend years on a draft. Nothing here is permanent, but it is forming a foundation for what will come during the revision and polishing stages. Taking too long to write a draft increases the risk of burnout, boredom due to lack of rewards in the process, and loss of passion for your project.

Be smart about taking breaks

If you find you need a break from your story, don’t stop being creative. Use a break from one project to work on another project. But don’t hop from drafting one to drafting another. Whatever the other project is, make sure it’s in a different stage of development from the one you’re working on. 

If you’re drafting your current WIP, spend your break editing or revising a different WIP. This allows you to keep your thoughts about each project separate. It doesn’t use the same creative muscles, letting your mind get proper rest in the area it needs.

Use lists and calendars

Organizing your writing schedule with lists and calendars can help you visualize the project’s timeline and ensure that you dedicate necessary time to your story. It also helps you assess progress so you can plan breaks or make an informed decision before switching to another project if you’re feeling the urge to move on to something else.

I already have multiple ideas. What do I do?

If you’re already juggling multiple ideas but want to focus on one, organize all of them into one place. Give each story idea a short description then rank them according to importance or interest level. This allows you to focus on some without feeling overwhelmed.

Take the top three ideas and play around with them:

  • Combine them with each other, or with some of the ideas that didn’t make top ranking. 
  • Turn some of them into subplots for another story.
  • Focus on the one that feels right to you

Focus means discipline

It isn’t always easy to stick to one story at a time. It takes hard work and self-discipline, but the payoff is high. By maintaining focus, motivation, and personal engagement with your story, you can get through the challenges of writing a novel. 

And remember: you haven’t abandoned your other ideas. Your current project is just the one that needs more of your attention for now. You’ll go back and focus on the others later.

Posted in Writing Tips
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