I’ve spent a surreal amount of time wondering how writers balance multiple projects. Especially unpublished authors who don’t have to meet a publisher’s deadline for each project. It seems like as soon as I get grounded in an idea that I’m fired up about, a new idea comes along that throws my brain all out of sorts. Some people call this “shiny new idea syndrome” and for me, that term sums up the issue perfectly.
Case in point: I recently started drafting a nonfiction how-to manuscript that I’m excited about. I’m treating the project as an experiment since I’ve never written a manuscript this long, but I think with editing it could be a book I’m proud to publish. I outlined it weeks ago and let the idea simmer for a while. Then a few days ago, I started drafting.
Guess what happened today, literally 5 days after I started the project? I was reminded that April is National Poetry Writing Month. I’ve always wanted to participate, and I view poetry as my home genre. I am suddenly more excited about potentially completing NaPoWriMo than I am about the how-to book.
Even before I did some googling and learned about shiny new idea syndrome, I knew that this new idea was going to be a distraction. That’s not to say I can’t give it a shot but diving into 30 days of poetry will certainly make me question whether the how-to book should be a priority. True, I could probably draft a poem pretty quickly each day, and I should be able to continue writing my nonfiction manuscript at the same time, but the point of National Poetry Writing Month, at least for me, is not to write down 30 half-baked poems. If I undertook the challenge, I’d want to revise my drafts over the course of the month alongside writing the daily poems. That’s a time and energy commitment. One that I’m not sure I could reasonably sign up for knowing that I’d also be writing a book.
Yes, I overcomplicate things. I should just choose. The thing is, I don’t like thinking I have to pick a project or even a genre to focus on for a season. I’ve been writing long enough to know that this is how my brain works. I stupidly try to juggle a dozen things at once and drop all of them out of exhaustion. Sometimes I spend all my time trying to figure out which projects to juggle in the first place and go weeks without writing consistently.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. I see committing to a project as a sure-fire way to finish what I start. There’s no shortage of all the ideas a creative person could dream up over time, so if I continue idea-hopping I could potentially spend the rest of my life jumping from project to project without finishing one. I know that sounds dramatic. After all, I’d probably finish one of those projects eventually. My point is that once you get a shiny new idea, the previous one seems a little dull in comparison, and if the next shiny new idea comes along in a few weeks and your first shiny idea begins to look dull too… The old ideas begin to get buried in the pile. Then what?
Kristen Martin, an author who I’m subscribed to on Youtube, made a video about balancing multiple projects that I found pretty helpful. She suggests “tapping into your writer-brain” on a day to day basis to see which project you feel up to working on that day, but only picking one project per day. I like this approach. I translate it as taking a moment to listen to my creative side and see what she wants to write today. Since the only deadlines I have to work on are my own, this approach could help me be productive without putting pressure of me on to finish one project as soon as possible.
Kristen Martin also discusses “compartmentalizing projects” which I take to be a form of prioritizing. Once I’m rolling on a project and feeling good about it, I need to compartmentalize any ideas for other projects and save them for later. I should write them down, maybe take some notes in a new document, but then I need to put them away and make them wait their turn. I shouldn’t give up on my current idea or put it on hold unless I’m truly stumped or just don’t think I can make it work anymore. This seems basic to me, but I have such an impulse to do start on ideas as soon as they come to me.
Kristen’s advice is definitely helpful, and I’ll have to see how it fits into my own writing life over time. I trust that I can learn how to manages the ideas coming into my brain and the writing going out. It’s a matter of practice.
At the beginning of writing this post, I was tempted to drop my how-to project and start writing some new poems for National Poetry Writing Month, but I guess rehashing my dilemma has made me realize that I’d much rather complete a project than hop around. So I’ll keep trudging along on my nonfiction idea, and before too long it’ll be a full manuscript.
I know that consistently writing every day is what I need to focus on in this period of my writing life, and I am committed to that.
Do you struggle with project hopping or shiny new idea syndrome? I’d love to know what’s helped you and what your experience has been like.
“… a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.” – Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer
Telling people you’re a writer, discussing your idea for a story but never writing it down, watching a third episode on Netflix and later saying to yourself, There’s no extra time in my schedule to write! talking about writing without actually writing, fantasizing about the day when you’re famous and doing book signings, reading books about writing, criticizing popular authors and jabbering endlessly about how those writers make no contribution to the literary world while you continue to not write anything publishable whatsoever, complaining loudly outside your writer’s workshop that no one “gets” your work, refusing to revise, sharing listicles about things *only* writers understand, complaining about your workload while refusing to shift anything superfluous around so you can actually write, spending your designated writing time tweeting about being a writer, glorifying [insert canonical author’s name] while you trash modern day writers, procrastinating on writing because you’re afraid you won’t be good at it, trash talking presses that rejected you, complaining about how no one appreciates “good” art anymore, using your writing desk as a clothes hamper, tweaking your blog without ever publishing posts, playing with the font, wasting time thinking of a title before you actually write a single word, accumulating “writing” notebooks that you never fill with notes or write in, sitting in a coffee shop with your laptop open to write but scrolling through Buzzfeed instead, laying down at night and dreaming about the day you’ll hold your own book in your hands without actually ever writing.
A short list of things that will make you a writer:
Putting words on a blank page.
Our Number Days by Neil Hilborn is a collection of poems dealing with grief, mental illness, and the realities of love. Neil Hilborn is a Button Poetry writer who has competed at spoken word competitions all over the U.S. Most recently, he traveled on his own tour reading his spoken word poems to live audiences and promoting his new book. Our Numbered Days is his first full-length poetry collection.
The Good Stuff:
Neil Hilborn does a great job of presenting complex emotions genuinely. If you’ve seen this book on twitter at all, you know that people play up how sad the poems are. Those comments have merit, but I think it short changes the poems to say they’re only sad.
Hilborn’s writing style makes me feel like he’s always choosing to be honest with me as a reader even when the details of the situation he’s referencing are clearly presented from his point of view. In other words, he’s good at speaking his truth but leaves the door open for interpretation.
In my mind, I can hear Hilborn saying the poems aloud, but I can also hear myself saying them. There were a lot of great lines that I connected with profoundly. Many of the poems read in multiple tones because Hilborn integrates complex emotions throughout, and I like the duplicity of that. For instance, I read lines such as “Life on earth will in some ways / be easier. I will not have to return / her phone calls.” From “Our Numbered Days ” with a sense of both mourning and relief. I like that those two emotions are being allowed to coexist without one being edited out to play up the other. Life is like that too – we often experience multiple conflicting emotions at once. I love that Neil captures that so well throughout the collection.
The epigraphs set the tone well for each piece. In several poems a half dozen or more epigraphs appear before a short poem which allows outside voices (of the people being quoted) to influence the piece. It seems like Hilborn’s way of giving us context about what he was feeling and thinking about while writing without oversimplifying it or detracting from the main story of the poem.
The epigraphs are a way of zooming out from the poem while bringing the reader closer to its meaning. That probably sounds ridiculous to some people, but in my head, it’s like unraveling and raveling a piece of yarn each time I read one of the epigraph’s in this collection. It had a strong effect me as a reader.
“MSP PHI LGA ALB PHI MSP”
“Ballad of a Bruised Lung”
“The Red Sheets”
There are several poems throughout the piece which are all titled “Our Numbered Days.” I liked the thread that these poems carry and the way they further developed the title; however, it really annoyed me that they weren’t numbered or distinguished in any way from each other. Every time I came across one, it pulled me out of the book and made me wonder if I had accidentally scrolled back to the beginning of the eBook (I was reading on an iPad, so it wasn’t as easy to recognize where I was in the book right away). It happened several times before I learned to ignore that feeling and stay engrossed in the book. I really didn’t like being pulled out of the book in that way.
There were a few poems that left me wanting more. It’s normal to find a few poems I don’t care for in a given collection, so this isn’t a huge deal, but I wish I’d walked away from those poems with a line or two to think about. “The News Anchor is Crying,” “I’m Sorry Your Kids Are Such Little Shits and that We Are in the Same Zen Garden,” and “Parking Meter Theory,” are examples of poems that left me feeling a little unanchored, a little insecure. I wanted to have more footing in the story of these poems to go along with the images and the voice.
Overall, I thought the collection was enjoyable and found some nice lines to dig into. I consider poems featured by Button Poetry (like many of Neil’s poems are) to be accessible reads for anyone trying to get into poetry and learn more about the craft. If you like poetry that focus on the narrative first, these will be enjoyable poems for you.
If you’ve seen any of Neil Hilborn’s performances on YouTube or read Our Numbered Days, be sure to leave a comment so I can hear your thoughts!
I’ve been writing for most of my life, but within the last two years, I’ve been published for the first time in a few literary journals. I’ve made a couple mistakes that make me cringe as I look back on them, but we live and learn. I’d like to share three things you can do to prep your poems before you submit, and hopefully you can avoid some mistakes I made.
1. Run it through a grammar check.
It doesn’t matter how much you’ve edited. You’ve looked at your work so many times that your eyes might be missing something. Take a few extra minutes and pop your poem into a grammar check like Prowriting.com and double check for any simple errors like your/you’re mix-ups or grammar mistakes like plural vs. singular usage. It doesn't take that long, and if you look at your poem a few weeks down the road and realize it has an embarrassing typo in it, you're going to wish you'd taken the extra step and used a grammar check website up front.
Granted, a grammar checker is going to flag a lot phrases in a poem that are correct because we often play with wording in poetry, but it’s easy to spot when the computer is flagging a sentence fragment (usually a line break) or when it’s flagging an issue with correct pronoun usage. I stand by this rule because I know from experience how frustrating it is to send your work out to five lit journals, get rejected by all of them, and find out later there were typos in my poems that I had somehow never caught in my dozens of revisions. If your work has a lot of typos in it, you’re making it easier for editors to write you off because it seems like you’re not really trying. In some cases, your writing may withstand the test despite having several typos, but why risk it? Run it through a free grammar check and then let the editors decide.
2. Double check the submission guidelines.
You don’t want to look like you weren’t interested in the journal and didn’t take time to check that you formatted your work as per their request. You don’t want to submit and then find out that the journal is actually publishing a themed journal that your work doesn’t fall under. You don’t want to waste three months waiting for a reply only to get a rejection because you didn’t do enough research up front.
Editors know that not every writer who submits their work is going to be super well acquainted with the publication, but they do expect you to look at what’s available – submission guidelines, about pages, and sometimes previous issues posted on their website - and submit with that information in mind.
3. Copyedit yourself.
Copyediting for a poem means making sure the information is consistent throughout. This is something a grammar checker won’t catch. That means if the beginning of your poem begins with night time imagery but ends with imagery that references the daytime, you may want to make sure that the inconsistency is intentional. I say this from experience. If you find inconsistencies in your poem and decide you like the poem that way, then no big deal, but double check yourself to make sure you didn’t just accidentally change the time of day during a rewrite.
It’s a pain in the butt to realized you submitted the poem to multiple places with errors, and even if the poem is accepted, it’s embarrassing to correct mistakes after the fact. Plus, once it goes into print, it is final, and sometimes due to deadlines, poems are printed with typos intact because proofing was done so quickly. Again, I’ve seen it happen. Copyedit yourself so you don't find an embarrassing typo in print later!
These are three tips I try to live by when it comes to sending my work out! I hope it gave you some useful ideas about prepping your work for publication. If you have more tips, tell me about them in the comments so we can chat!
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.