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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Are You On a Route Suited for Multiple Writing Projects?


Throughout your writing life, you will find yourself shifting between at least two of these three routes:

  1. You have no idea what your next writing project will be
  2. You have so many possible projects, you don’t know which to focus on
  3. You know exactly which one or more projects are your top priorities.

The route you’re on influences to best manage multiple writing projects.

Wishing You Were On a Different Route?

If you think, even unconsciously, writers should always be on Route 3, be assured that all three routes are normal, natural and enjoyable. Think of Routes 1 and 2 as entrance ramps to Route 3.

You do want to spend most of your time traveling Route 3, after all, the long-range goal is to complete writing projects. However, you don’t want to get stuck working on the same projects forever, and having too many projects at one time can delay finishing any. (Watch for more about managing multiple projects on Route 3 in an upcoming post.)

When you’re between projects, you’ll gravitate toward Route 1 or 2 depending on your temperament and life situation. You don’t want to get stuck on these routes either, but do allow yourself to enjoy the discovery process that will lead you to Route 3.

On Route 2, you don’t have multiple projects so much as multiple possibilities. (Watch for more about this in an upcoming post.)

On Route 1, you’re not concerned about managing multiple projects. You’re looking for enough possibilities to shift to Route 2, or even better, find one possibility that intrigues you so much, you shift directly to Route 3.

Lost or Wandering Route 1?

If not knowing what to work on makes you feel like you’re wandering alone in the wilderness, take comfort in Bilbo’s tribute to Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring:

“All that is gold does glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

Writing a book in a month or balancing several projects certainly glitter more than not knowing what you’re working on. Just remember, this lack of glamour does not diminish the creative gold you’re pursuing.

Wandering in uncertainty is not a sign that you’re lost; it’s essential to creative discovery. Route 1 is a winding road with plenty of side-tracks and roadside attractions. The road may branch without a clear sign which way to go. A promising side-track becomes a detour. That’s just fine. You’ll learn just as much if not more when you backtrack.

Strong Habits, Deep Roots

© Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

Many writers think they aren’t “really writing” while they’re on Route 1, which is part of the reason I focus on “Product Time” instead of “writing time.” Consistent Product Time – that is, showing up to put in time doing something that helps you figure out what you want to write about – is essential on Route 1. You can’t finish a project you haven’t identified yet.

Strong habits don’t wither in uncertainty. If you already have months or years of history with the habits of Product Time, Process and Self-care, you have the deep roots to sustain you on Route 1. If you don’t have that history yet, start building it today.

When Is More Important than What

When you’re building history with habits or traveling Route 1, what you do during Product Time matters less than consistently showing up.

Not knowing what project you’re working on is usually accompanied the belief that you don’t know what to do. There is nothing wrong with not knowing; not knowing always comes before knowing something new. Don’t get trapped thinking that if you don’t know what to do, you can’t do anything until you do know what to do. Inspiration is truly rare; don’t wait for it. Go do something related to your writing (see next section for suggestions); the worst that can happen is that you’ll know what you did today isn’t what you want to do tomorrow, which is more than you knew yesterday.

It’s okay to not know what you’re working on as long as you can see that you’re consistently showing up and working to find out. It’s definitely not okay when you don’t know when you last showed up to put in your time.

To effectively traverse Route 1, you need to:

  1. make Product Time commitments you know you can honor No Matter What! (commit to no more than 15 magic minutes a day)
  2. show up
  3. track both your commitment and what you actually do.

What the Whats Look Like on Route 1

Route 1 Product Time includes wide-ranging research. Your research tools include: braindumps, lists, freewrites, clustering, mind-mapping, reading, talking to people, going on field trips and doing anything that gives new information and perspective.

Your goal is not to develop expertise; your goal is skim the surface and sample enough to know if you’re interested in exploring deeper. As soon as you know the topic, person, place or thing doesn’t grab your attention, skip it and move on.

If the sampling draws you in, add the topic/person/place/thing to your list of possible writing projects. When your list is long enough to satisfy you, review it and move to Route 2 (where you’ll narrow the list).

Sampling one topic might fascinate you so much you forget to add it to the list of possible projects and instead, zip down the entrance ramp to Route 3 without realizing it. Great! Or you might recognize one or two projects you are intrigued by and can shift to Route 3 without traveling Route 2.

Where to Go Researching

An easy way to begin is spend one Product Time session freewriting about or listing 5 examples of any one of these:

  • things that fascinate you
  • issues you’re passionate about
  • people or situations that outrage you
  • questions you’ve long pondered (my question “Why don’t I write the way I want to?” led me to this blog, two books and a career teaching and coaching other writers)
  • things that grabbed your attention today
  • what you read now and what you read when you were a child or young adult
  • groups or affiliations you are part of or would like to be a part of
  • occupations or craft skills you’re intrigued by (this list is adapted from the Interest Inventory tool in Around the Writer’s Block – you’ll find more on pages 72-73).

In the next Product Time session, you can read about one of those things, talk with an experts about it, or go on a field trip to explore it.

Worry-free Route 1

Don’t worry about wasting time in Route 1; there’s no way to avoid it. Efficiency is impossible when you travel Route 1, but a diligent search will eventually be effective.

There is a wonderful freedom that comes when you accept that there is no guaranteed, predetermined fast track and allow yourself to enjoy meandering.

Don’t worry your idea is cliché; that’s the universal aspect of it. Every idea is cliché until you add the specific details that make it unique, which you’ll do on Route 3.

Don’t worry your idea is imperfect, awkward and incomplete. Of course it is; you aren’t finished with it. You won’t finish it until you get to Route 3.

No matter how inadequate the idea is now, if it interests you, keep it on your list of possibilities and keep moving until you’re ready to shift to Route 2 or 3 (see above).

Sources

Rosanne Bane, Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, 2012, Tarcher/Penguin/Random House, pg. 58-90.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 2012, Del Ray/Random House, p. 193.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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