Articles, Writing

One Track Mind: The importance – and pitfalls of – project monogamy

So far this year I’ve done a great job in implementing some of the ideas I had to re-organise my workflow and keep busy.

An important part of these plans is allowing for the flexibility to change priorities for certain projects. For instance, with my upcoming horror novella Nightmare Tenant, I’d pretty much completed the new draft in January as planned, but I had some things left to do so I’ve given myself some time in February to get that done and then, while that project is beta-read, I can work on something else.

One important thing I have not done is to work on two separate projects concurrently, which is the focus of today’s discussion.

I am openly fearful of working on more than one project at a time – whether that be for a month, week or sometimes even a particular day. I think it’s an issue I will need to keep a close eye on in future if I want to max out the time I have.

First thing to identify is why I am a stickler for strict project monogamy:

  • Splitting my time means neither project progresses fast: I feel a bitty, bit-here-bit-there approach results in precisely why I had to overhaul my writing planning late last year – doing a dab here on one thing, a dab there on something else actually results in very little getting done on either project. This results, ultimately, in wasted time I come to regret later.
  • Each project takes my whole focus: for instance, last month with the Nightmare Tenant edit, that project took all my creative energy as it was an intensive process that required me to make a lot of changes. I needed to be as invested in that project’s world as possible, especially during a crucial first edit. I’ve found that I have a certain amount of creative focus in any given period of time and projects tend to take up most of that when I’m working on them.
  • Momentum must not be squandered: when I was preparing the third draft of my post-apocalyptic adventure novel The Thaw, I got about halfway into the edit, making decent, steadfast progress and then stopped. It took me six months to restart that and I found, after leaving myself high and dry halfway in, I’d lost a lot of the circulating thoughts and immersion in the world. This made rebuilding that momentum a great deal harder. Therefore, I feel the lesson from that is that a project should only be shelved – and a new focus found – when your current work is in a position of done-ness that allows for that. I would never leave an edit half-way through again, which is why I had to be realistic last month and give Nightmare Tenant a few more days to prepare. Months are arbitrary units of time, and if a project needs the time, it should get it.
  • I feel I owe it to my projects: If I know I’m not giving a project the attention it rightly deserves to I execute it to the best of my ability, I become genuinely quite upset. This is because I’m very conscious of what I’m doing, and that it’s hurting the project I want to enjoy working on. Ultimately, it makes the project a lot less fun – as writing, to me, always should be, as this is a passion and a hobby at its most base level – and when writing isn’t fun, I don’t enjoy it. And not enjoying the writing process results in crappy products that ultimately require more work than if I’d not been two-timing them with something else.

I realise a lot of the reasoning here is a bit fuzzy. That’s okay, writing should always have that mysteriousness to it. But I also realise my monogamous nature when it comes to projects is ultimately not fully efficient. I feel being able to switch tracks – maybe not day-to-day but perhaps in a less granular format than my monthly plans (maybe have two projects on the go – and editing one and a writing one, which already feels doable) – weekly or fortnightly – and allow for some creative flex.

I feel too it would be remiss not to mention a significant downside to my monogamous nature to my projects – especially large ones – is that sticking with one project for an extended period of time results in two undesired circumstances:

  • The project becomes stale: sitting in the incomplete world of one project for a long period of time – especially when progress seems sluggish or slow – seems to dampen my excitement for the project; it becomes, for want of a better term, a bit of a slog with no sign of completion.
  • Apprehension to starting something new: if I’m 8 months into an edit or draft that feels never-ending, or that the work to get it to standard seems like an intimidating cliff-face, why would I want to start that process, which has resulted in apprehension, stress and fatigue again from scratch? There’s a definite shade of blank page syndrome there too which is most unhelpful as it leaves ideas languishing in that “I’m too scared to work on you” frame of mind, when the break and sense of wonderment and discovery might just be the ticket.

I like to end these posts with a positive reflection, and initially I wasn’t too sure in this case, but I think this situation requires careful and continual monitoring to get the balance right and get out of perhaps unhealthy writing habits, which I have discussed before.

I would be very interested to see if anyone else relates to the issues above!

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2 thoughts on “One Track Mind: The importance – and pitfalls of – project monogamy”

  1. I have done the same issue with my zero draft of a novel. I have left it slow long that the thought of going back to it makes me feel sick and I won’t be as “in the moment” that I was with it as I near the end of the draft. I’ll go back to it someday and I know the editing process can be a killer but we must buckle down and push through.

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