Thursday, April 21, 2016

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, April 21, 2016 4 comments
I have a confession to make. When it comes to my writing, I can be a bit ADD. Sometimes I can hunker down with one project and give it my all for months at a time, and sometimes a great tangential idea worms its way into my head and demands my attention.

Photo by JessicaGale at morguefile.com
Blogging seems to exacerbate this tendency in me. Some issue will come up in my drafting or revising or editing or marketing, I'll blog it and think Hey, this would be a great nonfiction chapter or start of a whole new book. I have five such book ideas on my hard drive at the moment. Five. I keep adding to them in fits and starts.

Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal was once one of these great ideas that I knew would take a lot of steady work to complete (BTW, have you seen the new cover design?). But I did complete it. What worked for that project was how very structured it was. Composing it required identifying key emotions, developing observation exercises for each, and seeking evocative quotes to open each section. Having the structure made it easier to ping-pong among these tasks as mood and energy directed and still progress.

A big takeaway from that project, which took about six weeks to complete, from concept to launch, was to begin fun, end challenging. Overcoming initial inertia is the most difficult part of writing, so dive in with what's easy, fun, or grabbing your imagination. Then, switch to the parts that are challenging: hard, un-fun, and not grabbing your imagination. Because you can, to use a cycling metaphor, "draft off" of that earlier effort like it's another cyclist breaking through the wind resistance for you so you can keep up your speed with less expenditure of energy.

Journaling is a super helpful tool for juggling projects, too. Last summer, when I had the added issues of kid at home from school and an elderly parent needing a lot of help, I kept a couple of running lists. One was of goals I'd set for myself, some with deadlines, some without. The other was where I simply reported what I'd done that day in moving toward each goal, and talked to myself about where I was blocked, where I needed to do more research, where I had doubts or worried about a particular project or section of it.

If you tend to be an internal processor like me, journaling like this can be a powerful self-help tool. It requires you to begin articulating problems instead of just holding them in your head where they drain your energy (see The Need for Emotional Processing for more on this concept). Talking yourself through an issue can take you farther toward finding a solution. Continuing to circle back to those stuck places and brainstorming will, with time, get you unstuck.

Keeping running lists and journaling becomes a kind of reward system, too. You can look back at the items crossed off (I am a fan of using strikethough in Word document lists) and see progress. That sense of accomplishment will give you a hit of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, research says.

Do you tend to juggle multiple projects? What helps you steadily make progress?

4 comments:

  1. The juggling itself helps me. I like to work on one project until I reach a natural obstacle or need for a break, and then on another until the first one calls me again. It keeps any one project from getting too stale. Of course, whenever I have a contractual deadline, I throw everything into meeting that, but otherwise I'm naturally a juggler.

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    1. Great point! There is a lot to be said for variety in one's writing routine to keep things fresh.

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  2. I'm a huge project juggler, but it helps me make progress every day on "something" even if that "something" isn't my main project. When I get stuck in a rut, it helps to switch gears and keep writing. Journaling definitely helps, and using a calendar. Plus, I have a word count and project diary in the back of my journal for simply adding up how many words I've worked on each project each day. My non-fiction work is definitely more structured and easier to pick up when I'm having a less than creative day.

    Great post, Laurel!

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    1. I'm impressed by the fruit of your approach--you also submit short pieces all over the place, which is another element to juggle.

      Watching word counts add up is a great motivator. Awesome tip!

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