If there’s one thing I find difficult, it’s focusing on one project for a prolonged amount of time. Not to say that it’s impossible, or that having the drive to complete a single project—and only that project—isn’t admirable, but there’s one little enemy that seems to be the bane of any writer’s existence. It goes by two words, and I’m sure you’ve encountered it before in personal projects or academic school work.
Ah, yes. The blockade in the water that keeps the dam from overflowing. I’ve found it especially challenging to work on a single project when my motivation bounces back and forth to finish it in one fell swoop. Much like my writing style, my mind is all over the place: always working, always thinking, always making connections. I’m like a spiderweb of ideas and inspiration. One minute my thread’s strong and taut and in another the same thread could be a little loose, indicating a current loss of interest until my spider can return to that thread to spin a new idea over it to strengthen it.
This is one of the reasons why I have many short stories that I’m working on in addition to one longer novel. My motivation train can run short sometimes, especially if I’m stuck on how to write a single scene. As a perfectionist, if I can’t write a scene exactly how I envision it being, it drives me crazy.
Which is why I turned to the scatterbrained approach.
Most of the time, writers like to stick to one project path and will not deviate from that path until they’ve finished what they’ve poured sweat, blood, and tears into. In all honesty, I admire writers of this type—the determination to stay at one project until its completely finished despite the frustration that may arise. Henry Miller is one example of this type of writer, who recommends not straying from the current project the writer is working on. “Forget the books you want to write,” he says. “Think only of the book you are writing.” It’s understandable why he makes such advice; it can be overwhelming to have so many unfinished projects in development.
However, for me, I don’t like to stop my ideas even when I’m working on a larger project. It feels almost as if I’m stunting myself. I’ve found that working on multiple projects at once, on the other hand, can allow me to write new scenes that give me inspiration for pieces of work I may be stuck on.
I’ve had an ongoing novel I’ve been working on since 2012; in the process of writing that, I’ve worked on multiple short stories (some finished & published online, some unfinished), anecdotes, micro-fics, and plot skeletons. Plot skeletons are what I like to call the bare-bones of a story—the general gist, the themes you’d like to appear, the few scenes you may want to add into your story later, the character ideas, the conflict. All of that can be done in a list of a few bullet points or otherwise.
I find taking this approach often helps me battle against writer’s block and allows me the freedom to experiment with separate ideas. It’s a lot easier to write when the idea is strong as opposed to writing when you’ve lost your steam—even though, in some projects, you just have to chug through them. Taking creative writing classes, and knowing you have a due date to complete your story by, often forces you to keep that idea train chugging. Who knows, something I may be writing in one short story could be applied to another.
Taking a break from larger projects to begin new ones also allows me to experiment with something that every writer wants to achieve one day: style. When you focus on one project, you often have to match the style that you’ve begun with; an abrupt change would undoubtedly be jarring for the reader to experience. By starting a new project, I find that I can play around with certain stylistic choices that I could apply elsewhere. Writers are always finding ways to define their styles—to come up with choices that become recognizable as theirs.
One of the disadvantages to taking the scatterbrained approach, however, is that a lot of my projects don’t exactly get finished! …Or finished in a timely fashion, actually. This blog is a great example, as it had been sitting in my drafts for quite some time until I managed to finish other blog posts that I was working on. And even as I place my focus on finishing this blog, I’m already thinking about future blog posts that I may want to write.
Because I work on so many projects at once and flit from one to the next, I often have projects lying about that I haven’t touched in days, months, or maybe even years. Thinking back on them, I can see why some writers discourage the scatterbrained approach—you often have a hard time sticking with a single piece and completing it. Yet when you complete at least those one or two projects after a while, the result is so satisfying.
So all in all, my point is, we all have our different approaches to projects and how we complete them—mine just happens to be adding more projects and giving myself plenty of drafts to return to if the inspiration hits me once again. This type of approach is certainly not for everyone, but I do think it could be something new to try if you’re ever stuck with a piece or two! If you’ve thought of a new idea, don’t be afraid to jot it down. Who knows, it could take you somewhere entirely new.