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 Especially unpublished authors who don’t have to meet a publisher’s deadline for each project.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.
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.