Once again I’m renewing my efforts to narrow focus and simplify creatively. Somehow over the past year or so I’ve gone from working on just a few short stories at a time to as many as twelve or fifteen. While I think it’s OK to have a folder (real or virtual) with lots of ideas in it that sit there and ripen until they’re ready to work on, and maybe you occasionally add a little note to the folder, I think it’s a mistake to have a very large number of active projects you’re working on at once.
What I’ve found is that I’d work hard for several weeks on a given project, such as code name TF, then shift to something else, and by the time I dabbled a little bit in other items in my folder, three or six months might pass before I returned to TF again. By that time some of the passion for the project might be lost, or whatever impetus or motivation got me started on it in the first place might be dulled a little. I’d go back around to TF and spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what I was doing there in the first place, what the story needed, and how to go about these changes. If I’d just stuck with it and made more substantial progress, I would have been able to get this story to a place where it was almost ready to be finished, and all I would have lost was a bunch of dabbling in projects that probably won’t end up going anywhere for a long time, anyway.
The obvious answer might be, “Why not just work on one thing at a time, then?” I could do that, and I do sort of envy those writers who get to (or are able to) focus closely on one thing at a time. But I find that my solution to writer’s block or loss of motivation is simply to switch gears. If I’m stuck on project AIR, I just switch over and work on FFS for a while instead. By the time I’m done with that, maybe (usually) I’ll find I’m un-stuck on AIR. This kind of switching around has worked well for me within reason. The problem is when I start to get too ambitious about adding more projects to the “active” file. Like a cook who does perfectly well preparing a main dish and a side dish simultaneously, but who would totally fall apart trying to multi-task the cooking an entire buffet worth of food, I just need to narrow my focus. I’m back to switching between no more than three stories, and I’ll devote at least 90% of my time to those. When one of them is finished and sent out into the world, I can move another one into its slot. What little time I don’t devote to those three will be spent making sure that some of my “back burner” ideas are developing into something substantial enough to develop when their time comes.