I’ve always admired writer friends who can easily switch from working on a 150,000 word novel to creating any number of short stories or flash fiction pieces, maybe with the occasional poem thrown in, just for fun.
This sort of writerly multi-tasking is something I’ve never been able to do. I tend to focus completely on my current work in progress until it’s finished, and only then will I start something else. For example, I’ve spent the last year and a half doggedly working away on the same book, to the exclusion of any other writing. In the summer, I finally got to type ‘The End’ on my final page and when I did, something happened. I was suddenly able to write other things.
It was as though, once my brain had released an entire book into the world and knew it was all written down, albeit in a very rough state, I was released from the need to capture it. This makes sense; once the first draft was finished, the book stopped existing only in my head, and I didn’t have to worry about pinning it down.
I also think this might have been about voice. The main protagonist in my book is a twelve year old boy and switching from his point of view to writing flash fiction for an adult audience would have been tricky. Perhaps if I was a more experienced writer I’d find the movement between different works in progress and different protagonists easier. I’d certainly be more confident about being able to finish any writing project that I start. But maybe I’m just not the sort of writer who works on several things at once, even though I’m definitely a multi-tasker in my day to day life.
I spoke to a novelist who started out writing poetry and she told me that she still thinks ‘like a poet’. When writing, she likes to flit from piece to piece rather than spending a prolonged amount of time on anything in particular. Another friend insists that her apparent ability to multi-task when it comes to her work is actually down to her short attention span. She moves between different pieces to keep things interesting for herself.
There is a danger to this kind of approach though. If you work on several things at once it’s quite possible that you’ll never finish any of them. The distraction of each shiny new idea can diminish your willpower, especially when the alternative to writing the best story you’ve ever thought of is to edit an older piece that you might have fallen out of love with. If you’re a multi-taking writer, you need discipline. Perhaps that’s why I stick to one piece of writing at a time, as otherwise I’d be floating in a sea of half finished novels.