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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.

Prioritize Multiple Writing Projects to Make Progress, Not Waste Time


Sometimes it’s obvious that you have waaaay too many choices:

But sometimes it’s tricky…

Route 1, 2 or 3? It’s Not Always Obvious

In a previous post, we identified three roads writers travel throughout our careers:

  • Route 1: Not having a clue what the next writing project will be
  • Route 2: Having so many possible projects you don’t which to focus on
  • Route 3: Knowing which one or more projects are your priorities

Seems simple enough. But it’s possible to get caught up in the routine of Route 1 and not realize it’s time to exit onto Route 2.

It’s even more likely to think we’re on Route 3 when we’re actually on Route 2, spinning our wheels or trying to keep track of too many tennis balls.

The previous post discussed how to use Product Time while traveling Route 1 to explore and identify possible next projects until you have enough possibilities to move to Route 2, where your next step is to evaluate those possibilities.

If your work on Route 1 revealed a single project topic that intrigues you beyond all other possibilities, you can skip Route 2. Before you do, though, I suggest you evaluate that project and the other possibilities you identified. If you’re not ready for Route 3, you’ll see it. And if you are ready, the results will keep you motivated on the long road of Route 3.

If you think you’ve been traveling on Route 3, I encourage you to evaluate your projects now just to make sure. Thinking you’re on Route 3 when you’re actually on Route 2 is a major detour and often unconscious resistance to evaluating and eliminating choices.

Why You Have to Evaluate and Reduce Choices

It is possible to explore 20 possibilities when you’re on Route 2, but you can’t drive 20 possibilities on the entrance ramp to Route 3. It’s impossible to give 20 projects sufficient time, attention and creative energy to make simultaneous progress on all of them. Writers who think they have 17 top priorities have no priorities at all.

To transfer from Route 2 to Route 3, you need to evaluate the possibilities and select a reasonable number to work on and pay attention to on Route 3. “Reasonable” varies among writers (more in the upcoming post). Two major and two minor projects are my maximum.

Why You Hate Reducing Choices

Many of us have personality types that value possibilities for their own sake. We want to keep our options open as long as we can and actively resist limiting or eliminating possibilities. More information might come in that would change the picture. As long as we have options, we can’t make the “wrong” choice. Our response to uncertainty is to postpone it.

Of course, as long as we have options, we can’t progress and complete the “right” choice either. Postponing uncertainty means we never really get past it.

Stanley Kunitz’s observation, “The poem in the head is always perfect. Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language,” warns us this tendency will challenge us at every stage of writing from selecting a project to finalizing a sentence.

The good news is that moving through your resistance at this level prepares you for moving through it in other stages.

How to Select Choices: Identify Your Criteria

© CanStockPhoto / Artursz

To make it easier, let’s take a step back to identify the criteria you’ll use to evaluate possibilities. What do you want and need from your writing? Recognition, intrinsic gratification, money, awards, best-selling status, knowing you make a difference, fans, followers?

List your criteria; you can have as many or as few as you like. You might want a day or two to freewrite, ponder and discuss this before finalizing your list.

My current list keeps me motivated as I traverse the obstacles on Route 3. For example, I remind myself that I’m willing to face a challenge because I want the intellectual engagement, spiritual insight or other benefits that will come from moving through it.

Rosanne’s Criteria

  • Project will engage me intellectually
  • Project will engage me emotionally; I deeply care about these people/this issue
  • Project will explore “big” questions I’m curious about (e.g. “Who counts as family?”)
  • Project will give me insight to my own personal and spiritual growth
  • Project is related to my previous writing
  • Project will help me find agent and publisher for my novel
  • (for minor projects) Project can be completed within one month

How to Select Choices: Build a Spreadsheet

Build either a spreadsheet or a table to list your criteria vertically and your possible projects horizontally. For a simpler (non-math) method and other insight, read Todd Rogers four-burner stove metaphor at “Prioritizing Multiple Writing Projects”.

Score each project for each criterion on a scale of 1 to 10. If the significance of your criteria vary widely, you can weight each criterion by multiplying the least important criteria by 1, the next most important criteria by 2, the next most important criteria by 3, and so on.

Criteria A: Blog post on multiple projects B: Query letter to Writer’s Digest C: Novel Essential Path query D: Novel Freedom Path develop
Project will engage me intellectually

Weight x3

7

 

21

7

 

21

10

 

30

10

 

30

Project can be completed within a month

Weight x1

10

 

10

8

 

8

1

 

1

0

 

0

Total the weighted scores for each project; the highest scores are your top priorities.

If the weighted scores are tied or within a few points, you’ll know why you feel so conflicted. If you really can’t decide, put the names of all projects in a hat and pick a “reasonable” number.

What’s reasonable? We’ll explore that in the next post. Until then, resign yourself to the fact that you make more progress, complete more writing projects and ultimately be more satisfied if you force yourself to limit the number of projects one way or another.

 

Sources

David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear, 1993, Image Continuum, p. 17.

Todd Rogers, “Prioritizing Multiple Writing Projects” https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/prioritizing-multiple-writing-projects.html

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