Sarah Leyton | Working on Multiple Manuscripts at Once
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Working on Multiple Manuscripts at Once

For the first time in my writing life, I am working on several manuscripts at once. Since 2014, when I got into the writing romances game, my eyes have goggled at anyone who could work on more than one story simultaneously. All I could think was why? How? Do you ever actually get anything done?

Typically the answer is one of two things:

  1. I like to be able to switch to something else if I’m not in the mood or I get stuck. Or,
  2. I have two stories I just can’t get out of my head and I have to get them written down.

 
I’ve also noticed it to be about a 50/50 split on whether people actually finish what they start, which is my main goal with writing. I want to sit down, write the book, and move on to the next one. I was joking with Carla Cassidy at a writer’s retreat this weekend when she said “I just want to write books. I don’t want to worry about anything else.” All I could say was “SAME!” I just want to write books. I want to do what I love. And that means I need to finish projects.

Hedging my bets

I’ve finished two manuscripts in the last year and partially finished one more. I was looking to wrap up the one on my plate and start the next book. Then things slowly spiraled.

I sent a interesting factoid picture about werewolves to a friend of mine, sort of a cool spin on the concept. She got really excited and asked if I wanted to cowrite the story with her. After we talked about how we would structure it, all the cool things we could do with not only that story, but with a three-book story arc I got really excited and agreed to do it. Next thing I know we’ve each written half a chapter.

Then I got the idea for the structure of the sequel to a contemporary action/adventure I’d finished and just had to get the idea down on paper. Then I saw the #DareBlitz call on Twitter and couldn’t resist whipping up something awesome to submit. Next thing I knew, I had four projects in the works, all of which I was excited to work on.

So, what in the hell do I do now? I thought. I’m never going to get anywhere with these. They’re just going to sit here unfinished because time will just continue to pass me by, and I’ll never get any traction. And that will drive me crazy. So, what do I do?

Then I figured something out…even if I make one page of progress each day I STILL MADE PROGRESS. I still have more words the page than I did the day before. Tomorrow I’ll have more words than today. The great thing about writing is it’s cumulative. Eventually, you’re going to have a completed work in your hands, and, writer gods willing, the hands of readers.

I write for the joy it gives me. Now, I know that’s not the case with a lot of writers. They want and need to make money from their work. They want to write full time, supplement their income, pad their savings or vacation accounts, etc. For those folks, I get it is a bit different. But for me, who at this moment in my life does not have my main source of income coming from writing, I’ve got nothing but time.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be productive or move quickly to complete things one chapter at a time. I can afford to hedge my bets, finish the first book in several series and see what sells. Then I can focus my energy on the most critical pieces in the backlog. I’ve found some rules that, by following them, I can make significant progress on each project without letting the others fall to the wayside.

3 Phase Writing Multiple Manuscripts Rule Sheet

WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU KNOW

Yes, I am a plotter. I work best that way, and I seem to write much faster if I do plot out a book ahead of time. I’m sure all the pantsers out there are starting to sweat. Calm down. Take a deep breath. I’m about to tell you the secret of plotting even when you don’t want to. You ready? 

Write down everything you know will happen. Create a bulleted list in a document. This ain’t your momma’s outline, folks. It’s so much easier. You write the major events as the top bullets and any information on how that happens underneath in sub bullets. That’s it. Here’s an example:

  • Bob the Dragon’s horde has been stolen
    • He doesn’t know that the evil villain/warlock, Richard, took it
    • He needs help and the only person he can turn to is the uppity Princess Henrietta
      • She has the magical ability to locate people
  • Princess Henrietta needs a husband
    • Why? Because the prophecy foretold it
    • When? By her 25th birthday

I think you see where I’m going with this. It can be as empty or as detailed as you want it to be, just get something down on paper to keep you pointed in the right direction. It’s also going to be a living document. You might get halfway through the book and realize that it would be better if Richard is Bob the Dragon’s jealous step brother, or Henrietta needs a wife. You don’t have to stick with what you put down in the beginning. It’s just a guide to help you keep moving on a story so you don’t get trapped in the “oh no, what do I do next” vortex.

LET YOUR IMAGINATION GUIDE YOU

Don’t feel like you have to give each story line the same amount of attention. If you feel like you’re really jamming on story A then there is no reason to move onto stories B or C or D just because you haven’t worked on them in awhile. There’s no reason to cut off great content on a story just to keep things equal.

In fact, it’s probably better that not all of your stories are at the same phase anyway. It’s the same logic that weightlifters use. You don’t want to overwork and tire out one muscle. Your brain thinks and processes differently when you start a book versus when you’re writing the climactic incident, or doing edits. So, stretching each “muscle” can keep the ideas flowing.

HAVE A GOAL OR SCHEDULE

All writers know that it is soooo easy to not write. The excuses are always there: work, kids, school, family, health, exhaustion, TV, reading. There’s a never ending line of reasons why you can’t find time to write. Having a word count goal or writing schedule is imperative to success. You have to SIT your butt in the chair and write. Let me say it louder for those in the back. YOU HAVE TO SIT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE.

I can’t tell you what’s going to work for you. For me, I do a word count goal of 2,000 words a day and to write a minimum of 4 days a week. With my work schedule I can’t commit to 7 days a week. Make sure to keep your goal realistic. It’s just like a workout regimen. If your goal is to work out 2 hours a day every day and that’s not realistic, then you won’t meet your goal and you’ll get discouraged. Eventually you’ll give up all together. You don’t want that to happen with your writing. Setting a goal that you KNOW will work with your schedule is essential.

A friend of mine writes from 10pm to midnight every weeknight after her kids and husband go to sleep, another gets up at 3am to write before she goes to work because she’s most productive in the morning. There’s no hard and fast rules to when or how much, but you need a plan. Give yourself rewards for sticking to the schedule (food, paperclip chains, pedicure, etc.). Get a friend/significant other or another writer to set a goal as well and keep each other accountable.

 

By no means do I have all the answers, but I do know what I’ve learned through this exercise. I’d love to hear any tips or ideas from other writers on how you make it work, so leave them below in the comments!

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