Home > Writing > On writing: too much of a good thing?

On writing: too much of a good thing?

I find myself here at the beginning of the new year in an interesting place. You see, currently, along with two novels in progress (one complete and in first revision, one three-fourths through first draft), I also have at least four short stories in various stages of the editing process, not to mention the occasional pieces of flash fiction. At first, I thought it would be great to have so many things going on at once. You know, work on whichever project inspires me on any particular day. But now I’m wondering if maybe it isn’t such a good thing after all, that perhaps instead of spreading myself all over the place that maybe I should force myself to stick to one project at a time. Of course my mood changes daily, so while today I feel like I’m unfocused (which is what inspired this post), tomorrow I’ll likely want to work on short story number two, and the day after that it might be novel number two, and … well, you get the point.

Have any of you ever found yourselves with so many writing projects going on simultaneously that at some point(s) you found yourself paralyzed, unable to determine what to work on next? Or in a position where you feel like you’re writing but never getting anything done? Anyone feel like it’s best to pick one thing and stick with it? Or think it’s better to go where your creativity leads you?


  1. January 21, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Yes, I’ve been there (actually, I’m there now.) I have three large projects, all at different stages of completion — a children’s fantasy that’s been drafted but is being revised, a novel that I’m drafting and another novel that I’m brainstorming on. I also have a lot of short stories and flash fiction that I work on when I’m not making progress on the books.

    I’ve found that, for me at least, 2 is an optimal number. I can do 2 projects really well. 3 is pushing it, and 4 or more is complete chaos.

    I’m the same way with the books I read. I try really hard to maintain at least 5 or 6 in the queue at any given time, but eventually, that always somehow gets widdled down to 2.

    • January 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Yeah, I agree … having more than a couple to actively work on has been something of a distraction. I feel like I’m constantly flopping from one to the other. The hard part will be picking the two things to concentrate on. I guess it’s better than having no ideas to work on 🙂

  2. January 22, 2014 at 5:06 am

    I did a lot of writing over the past year or so for the various NaNo writing challenges. Now I have to figure out if each novel can really stand alone, or if they need to be meshed together and then torn apart … on the upside, I have a series with repeat characters so I can focus on building a world; on the downside, what if that world is interesting only to myself? If you’re going to have a lot of writing around you (and I think that is a good thing), it’s probably best if you have variety. Seems like focusing on one and only one book would/could be boring or stifling in some way.

    • January 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      I don’t know how you manage to do all the writing you do, Marie, but I’m quite jealous 🙂 I hope to improve the amount of actual writing I get done this year (fingers crossed).

      Your last sentence is what concerns me. Sometimes I can get very bored when editing a large work like a novel … it’s like I need a break or I’ll go crazy. I don’t, maybe that means my book sucks, as in should we ever get so tired of editing a book that we don’t eventually want to chuck against the wall and then burn it? I think I’ll need to keep at least two, maybe three things around that I can work on as inspiration hits.

  3. January 22, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Yes. All of that. But I generally go with the one I feel strongest about at the time.

    • January 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      Exactly. That’s what I’ve been doing, but I haven’t necessarily been doing a good job at it 🙂

  4. January 22, 2014 at 7:23 am

    I only work on one thing at a time. I get really focused, and I find anything else a distraction. In fact, I envy those of you who have several projects from which you can choose. I suppose it comes down to what works best for the writer. If one method isn’t producing efficiency and progress, than it might be best to try a different tactic.

    • January 22, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      I think you’re right … up to the individual. I’m trying to figure out what’s best for me right now. Haven’t been happy with one thing, haven’t been happy with lots of things, so I think I’m going to try working on two things.

  5. January 22, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Like Carrie, I can only work on one project at a time. I would say I have some degree of ADD. 🙂 If I have too many things going on, I end up accomplishing nothing. That’s just me, at least for now. Next year, I could give you a totally different response.

    • January 22, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      I sometimes wonder if I have a mild case of ADD, at least with respect to writing. If I stick with something too long, I can start losing focus. Once that happens, I’m better off working on something else for a while and coming back later. I suppose I could always take some Ritalin 🙂

  6. January 22, 2014 at 9:56 am

    You are reading my mind again, David! There are days when my best intentions go by the wayside, leaving me to fritter the time away on Facebook or some other such nonsense. Because of this, I prefer to work on one project at a time, even though that short story or unfinished other novel cry out for attention! 🙂

    • January 22, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Yeah, there seem to be an infinite number of ways we can waste our time after sitting down to write. Why is that? I have no idea, but I have to deal with that problem along with too many things to work on … Yikes. I think it’s time to reduce the active projects to two. We’ll see how that goes.

  7. January 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    All the time, Dave. I put a novel on hold to start another novel, which I put on hold to write a short-story collection. Then there’s the music. I’d have time for all of it if not for that full-time job thing. Life is so unfair sometimes.


    • January 22, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Nice to know others suffer through the same issues. I don’t know what I’d do if I spent much time with my music. I guess that would mean I just have to quit my job 🙂

  8. January 22, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I tend to have multiple projects going at once, although usually I’m only actively working on one, if that makes sense. I’ll write a short story, for example, and then put the first draft aside to work on something else. I like to give myself time between writing and editing to distance myself from a story so I can (hopefully) return to it with a more critical eye. But in that down time, I don’t want to NOT write, so I’ll start something else. When that second story’s first draft is done, I’ll either move back to the first one and begin editing, or if I feel that I need more time I’ll start something else again.

    Ursula K. Le Guin talks in some of her interviews about the concept of “composting” ideas, and I like that phrase. When an idea strikes you, write it down so you don’t forget but then let it sit in your head and ferment and perhaps turn into something richer and better. For me, story hopping as I described above is another phase of that composting.

    • January 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Interesting, Nicole. I like your calling it “composting” because that’s exactly what it seems to be.

    • January 22, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      I started out originally hoping to do what you describe. Finish something, put it away, write something else, go back to the first thing or write another, put it away, repeat … My biggest problem has been starting so many and never going back to the edit/revise/polish phase on other stories. I love the idea of “story hopping”. It describes exactly what I want to do, except, of course, that each story gets at least a first draft completed and is eventually revisited until it is complete finished.

      I think if I make myself complete each short story before hopping off to another one, and I ensure that I always eventually get back to revising the previous story, I’d be in good shape. Of course, that leaves me with time needed to revise my novel.

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