I’ve heard, many times, the recommendation that writers work on concurrent projects. This has always sounded good in theory, since often projects are exciting in the beginning phases, then turn into slogs.
The idea of bouncing back and forth between one project and another as the shine on each waxes and wanes strikes me as some kind of utopian ideal, a way of permanently defeating artistic boredom, or tricking oneself into only working on a given project when in a state of unflagging excitement about it.
But how does one get such a thing going? And how does one prevent the certain byproduct of the exercise, the temptation to abandon work, flitting from one promising start to the next and never ending a thing?
I know one answer to the first question, because this semester, without giving it a lot of forethought, I found myself in the middle of exactly this scenario. The answer was two workshops: the novel workshop and the short story workshop. I tried to write three stories in advance of the story workshop so I could focus exclusively on the novel, but then I realized I was unhappy with the stories and would need to write new ones while simultaneously writing the novel.
So I did, and it was really wonderful to be able to put the novel aside when I got frustrated with it and work on some shiny new thing. A new thing that came with a deadline just as unremitting as my novel’s.
I’m not sure that the method would be especially effective for me in terms of going back and forth between two short stories. I like the idea of having a long work in progress and just cutting the frustration with the occasional story. It sounds so good in theory, and it works so well in practice!
But the second question I posed above isn’t the one that’s troubling me. The question that’s troubling me is the question of waiting. I’m trying to get a new story going. I have: a character, an action. I need: a scenario, a voice. In the past, I would have jumped in with what I’ve got and tried to muscle a story out of it. In this new mode, I’m waiting for some kind of spark – a story in the news, a spontaneous line of dialogue – to strike so that I can begin to move on the story. How long do I wait before taking matters into my own hands?
The thing about having multiple projects going is that the answer is, indefinitely
The novel is keeping me plenty busy at present, which is great. Because the issue here is that I have never been a patient person, vis a vis writing; I’m always writing something, it almost doesn’t matter what. The idea of waiting for something to come along and actually inspire me is strange and alien. Is it a good kind of discomfort or the kind of slippery slope to writer’s block I’d rather not go down? What happens when the novel is finished? Will I have fallen out of practice in wrestling a story out of what few pieces are at hand?
I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not looking to have them answered. It’s the kind of thing that I think time will tell, and I may find answers in a really work-intensive nonfiction craft class I’m taking next semester. Part of the class, I believe, deals with idea generation. I’m pretty excited.