Too Many Irons in the Fire

I could use this post to complain about how I’m just too busy in my personal and professional life, and maybe try to use that as some kind of excuse for failing to keep this blog as active as it was in the first few months. Or I could use it as an excuse for why I haven’t posted nearly as much fiction recently as I did earlier. But that’s not what i’m going to do. Excuses won’t get me or you or anyone anywhere.

What I do want to raise, though, is a discussion on how many writing projects to have going at any one time. For a few years now, I’ve had a running habit of when I get a spark, an interesting idea for a story of any kind, I try to lock it up in my mind until I have a chance to write it down somewhere. At some point it gets hammered into a master file I have on my computer with a synopsis of each of the brilliant ideas I’ve had over the years. Some have even been used.

One of the problems I have, though, is that when I do this I often get very excited about the fresh idea as I put it into the file. After all, I’ve taken some time to think about it and develop at least a good paragraph of description for what the story ought to be about. This leads to me wanting to sit down and start writing on that idea. “But wait!” I tell myself. “I need to be focused on this other project! It’s got too much life right now. And what about writing that short story you wanted to post on the blog? And there’s that musing you were thinking of. And… and… and…” Suddenly I find myself standing in the middle of a pile of various pieces of stories and what not, and nothing finished.

I see some definite problems with this. It tends to be an easy excuse not to push through the writer’s block when it comes. I’m working on one project, and suddenly hit a wall, so I jump to a different project and leave the other one to wallow. Also, I’m not finishing things nearly as often as I would have liked. And what about the grueling process of editing what I have finished drafting? And keeping focus on a story so I don’t get it confused with another, and keeping a sense of flow because my mind is on the one project. And… and… and…

Then again, there may be some benefit. If I hit a block on one story, being able to take a break but still accomplish some writing is a good thing, isn’t it? And having multiple projects progressing together may just mean that someday I’ll have a handful of completed projects going through the editing grinder (and if I had an editor other than myself, well, that would be really something!). And sometimes an idea that just doesn’t quite fit in one story might find itself right at home in another, but I wouldn’t have thought of using it that way if I hadn’t been working on the two concurrently.

So, what’s best? Perhaps that’s not something that can be answered. Perhaps this is something each writer needs to consider for him or herself. Perhaps I’m asking too many questions, or spending too much time writing this post when I could be working on a story. What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Too Many Irons in the Fire

  1. I’ve got a similar problem: I usually have scads of ideas and not much time to actually work on them. It’s either that or I sit down to type and draw up a blank. Feast or famine, that’s me.

    It’s probably good, as in all things, to strike a balance. I know some authors will work hard on a novel, but when they hit a section that just isn’t working, they’ll go and write a short story just to get the gears moving again. (Neil Gaiman talks about this in his short story collection “Smoke and Mirrors”.) Right now I’ve got a short story that’s just not moving. I went and did a flash fiction piece (which will appear next week) and now the short story is moving again, albeit slowly.

    Maybe the trick is working on something longer, and not letting something of similar length or intensity interfere?

  2. Or maybe it’s just letting the inspiration for the different pieces sweep you away while keeping your eye on the goal for each piece? Picture being in a boat on a river. You want to get to your destination, wherever that may be, but sometimes it’s better and easier to go with the current than to fight it because of deadlines.

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