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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.

Multiple Writing Projects: Avoiding Resistance Roadblocks on Route 3


After you’ve identified possible projects (Route 1), prioritized those projects and selected a reasonable number of projects (Route 2), you’re ready to cruise down Route 3, where the “real writing” happens, right?

If you saw the trick question there, good for you!

First of all, Routes 1 and 2 are just as much “real writing” as Route 3.

Second, while you do know what your priority projects are, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll know what to do in every Product Time session. One of the few certainties in writing is that uncertainty is always there, in your face or lurking in the background.

And third, there are significant roadblocks ahead whether you’re working on one project or several. Anticipating the roadblocks prepares you get through them with fewer delays and detours.

As you move writing projects along Route 3 to completion, be alert to possible resistance showing up in the form of:

  • Project-hopping
  • Qver-committing
  • Unintentional postponements.

Project-hopping: Strategy or Resistance?

One of the benefits of working on more than one project is the opportunity to make strategic shifts among the projects when you’re waiting for research to become available, need a response from someone, need to incubate, or when you feel dull and want something fresh to play around with.

Planning and scheduling what days to devote to each project (i.e. Project A on Mondays and Tuesdays, Project B on Thursdays and Fridays) is an excellent strategy. Occasionally, legitimate reasons to switch the schedule arise.

But when you just feel like deviating from the schedule on the spur of the moment for no real reason, you need to be wary. Even though it may seem perfectly sensible to let Project A sit for a day or two to focus on Project B, project-hopping is often a sign of hidden resistance.

Ask yourself if there is something you’re avoiding in the project you want to move away from – something unsettling, something that makes you squirm, maybe something that’s downright terrifying. The only way to know for sure is to look at your tracking logs to consider how project-hopping worked for you in the past.

NOTE: If you haven’t tracked your daily writing activity, you’ll have to rely on your journal or memory to consider the questions below. And start tracking today! (First post in a 5-part series on tracking) Managing multiple writing projects is impossible without some kind of tracking or project management tools.

  • How many days on average did you ignore A before returning from B and maybe C and D?
  • How long did it take to refocus your attention and creative thinking back to Project A?
  • Did A get lost in the shuffle?
  • Is there a typical stage or task when you start looking for a new project? (i.e. “I’d have to dig into some serious research on this, maybe I’ll shift projects” or “I need to nail down the structure (chapter outline or TOC) and I don’t know what that is yet, so maybe I’ll play around with this other thing”)
  • Do you get inspired to start a new project or to rejuvenate a project you worked on months ago just when you feel frustrated by unanswerable questions on the current project?

© Can Stock Photo / peshkova

Don’t worry if you’ve have a lot of ideas that fizzle out; be concerned if you have a collection of projects you took through the first couple of stages of the Creative Process, but never completed.

If you have a pattern of getting inspired with new projects only to abandon them for yet another new inspiration and have accumulated a significant collection of unfinished projects, you may be bailing when you need to endure frustration.

Multiple projects cannot spare you the frustration that is part of the creative process. Sometimes your Product Time on Route 3 is best spent wrestling with a challenge or question. In the moment, it’s tempting to “make progress” by skipping to another project, but the only way through some obstacles is to stay with the frustration.

You have to dig deep to find courage and commitment to refuse the temptation to get busy with something else. Without that courage to not blink in the face of frustration and the commitment to stick with the challenging project, you have multiple possibilities, not projects. You’re not on Route 3 at all; you’re on Route 2.

Overcommitting to Avoid Real Commitment

The previous post discussed how to assess your time, creative energy and focus to determine how many writing projects are reasonable for you. Even when you have a reasonable number, managing multiple writing projects will keep you busy. You need time management tools and life hacks to make the most of your time.

Estimates are imprecise, of course. But there’s extra busy because your estimate was off and then there’s over-busy because you’re in denial about how much you can realistically accomplish and resistance is kicking your butt in the form of overcommitting.

Overcommitting is a dangerously subtle form of resistance. You’re busy all day, every day, and never quite get time or have energy for the writing project you want so much it scares you.

At the end of the day, you’re exhausted and can’t really feel proud because there’s so much undone including what’s most important to you. You try to soothe yourself by saying “I did my best.”

Except you didn’t do your best, because you’re not honoring your commitments, not making time for what matters most, and at some level, you know this.

This overcommitting form of resistance doesn’t feel good, it just helps you ignore the more painful, scary truth of the moment: there’s a writing project you both want to explore and are desperately afraid you can’t do.

If everything is a priority/commitment, nothing is a priority/commitment.

To stop overcommitting, you need to know how much can commit to. (You may want to re-read the previous post.) When you have more priority projects to support than you have resources – time, creative energy and focus – you must increase your resources or decrease your commitments.

Start by saying to new to new commitments, even if you have to say “no thanks” to other people. Unless you can delegate or eliminate other professional and personal commitments, you’ll need to intentionally postpone some writing projects. Moving projects to a Not Now folder reminds me I’m not abandoning those projects forever.

If you don’t create balance between your resources and your commitments, you’re headed for a professional, physical or emotional breakdown.  

Unintentional Postponements

As Anne R. Allen points out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to set aside or close a project before it’s finished. Maybe it no longer interests you, maybe it turned out to be a lower priority than you anticipated, maybe it’s more work than you want to pursue.

Wise writers intentionally choose to move projects to a Not Now folder for many reasons. Resistant writers unintentionally put projects into postponement loops, often without realizing it. I certainly have.

Staying busy with multiple projects can hide how many of the projects you think you’re working on are actually in a Postponement Loop. Thinking you’re working on more projects than you are also gives you excuses for intentionally postponing other high-priority (but scary) projects you would commit to if you weren’t unconsciously resisting them.

Lack of resources or just plain indifference are excellent reasons to close or postpone projects; fear and resistance are not.

Speaking of which, I’ll get back to my postponed project on Shitty First Drafts in my next post or two. You can get an introduction or refresh your memory at Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Sources

Anne R. Allen, “Saying Goodbye to that WIP: When it’s Okay to Give Up on a Writing Project, accessed January 2019 from https://annerallen.com/2018/04/saying-goodbye-to-that-wip/

Rosanne Bane, Around the Writer’s Block: Us Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, 2012, Tarcher/Penguin/Random House.

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2 Comments on “Multiple Writing Projects: Avoiding Resistance Roadblocks on Route 3”

  1. Amanda Fairchild February 14, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    Spot on as usual, Roseanne. I’m terrible for project hopping. It’s amazing how, when I’m slumped in front of the TV / Facebook, I don’t feel the need to be doing anything else, yet as soon as I start writing project A my inner critic is like, “YOU FOOL! SHOULD BE WORKING ON WRITING PROJECT B!!!

    Like

    • rosannebane February 14, 2019 at 7:41 pm #

      Thanks Amanda. Great observation that if you’re not hearing the inner critic, aka Saboteur, insisting you should be working on a given writing project when you’re not writing, it’s a solid indicator that the insistence is an attempt to distract you while you are writing. A suggested retort to your critic/saboteur is that you will work on project B just as soon as you finish the time you committed to give to project A.

      Like

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