Project hopping isn’t ideal, but at some point in your writing future you’re going to have to project-hop. I have become the reluctant master of this in the past year. Here are some tips to retain your sanity.
You finish a manuscript and send it off down your chosen avenue of attack. In my case it was to agents, but it could be to editors, publishing houses, your great-aunt Tippy, or otherwise. Everyone tells you once you’re done with YOUR BABY, the only logical progression is to MAKE A NEW BABY (I’m going to stop with that analogy now because it’s creeping me out.)
So, you’re working on your New Shiny, and then beloved agent/editor/aunt Tippy get back to you and they want some changes. YAY! This is progress. You will have to edit your stuff many many MANY times on the road to publication, so you’d better get used to it now. But you’re so in love with New Shiny. You don’t want to leave New Shiny in the lurch.
Keep a separate notebook for each project.
I use A4 hardback ones because my writing is unruly and huge, but whatever works for you. I write the title of each project on the outside of the notebook with a sharpie. It is weird how this works, but it does. They’re all different colours, so when I open a notebook, it’s like I set my brain up for that particular project. I can remember where I was when I wrote certain notes; I can remember what my train of thought was. You don’t get any of that when you vomit it all into one book.
Write it all down
So when you have your separate notebooks for each project, and you’re about to swap between them, write down every last thing before you swap. Every little thing about your New Shiny. What you want to do is to make coming back to it as easy as possible. Sure, everything is all clear in your head now. I mean, you couldn’t possibly imagine forgetting that Mabel’s long lost cousin Steve is about to fly in on a hovercraft at the end of chapter 19, could you? Well you will. You might be neck-deep in another project for weeks or months, so your memories and ideas will fade. Protect them at all costs.
Stick with it
Once you’re working on a project, try your best to stick to just the one project for a decent amount of time. I’ve tried to swap between two manuscripts in the space of a few days and NAHH. Not for me. The last thing you want is your voice to get all tangled, and your characters to smudge together. Before you know it, your themes will crop up in the wrong manuscript, and certain phrases too. You’ll essentially be ripping yourself off. I try to work on a project for a minimum of two weeks, but four is better.
That doesn’t mean you abandon anything, even if a project is on the back burner, it’ll still speak to you. Keep notes on your phone – I love Evernote, personally – because these characters will keep on swimming in your brain soup, suggesting things. You don’t want to forget those things just because you’re working on something else. I keep a note on each project, and where I’m up to in the process, usually like this: AWESOME THINGIE – second draft – notes. Sounds silly and particular, maybe, but you try searching for your phone at three am with a burning idea in your head. This is all about making it easier on you.
Put your red pen away and read
Read your manuscript before delving straight in. the more you write, the more your style will change and hopefully evolve. Don’t assume you know these characters without trying just coz you made them. Read your stuff once through when you come back to a project you haven’t worked on for a while, even if it takes the first few days and feels like a waste of time. It isn’t. Editing and drafting need to be consistent. Characters can’t spend their first eight chapters speaking one way, then suddenly change when you come back to it. It’s jarring.
How I learned all this stuff
I’ve had to become a juggler. It ain’t fun but it’s the only way to get stuff done. Here are the plates I’m currently spinning. No wonder it sometimes feels like my head is going to explode:
Main Project – about to be re-written extensively before going out on submission.
New Shiny – just printed it off, ready for a tightening and polishing “final” draft before sending it to my lovely agent.
New Shiny Companion Novella – out with beta readers, ready for a second draft when I get their notes.
Last Year’s Nano – first draft written. I’m planning a re-write based on feedback.
Yet Another shiny! – 15k written before I had to jump back to another project. Full plan written. I’ve made many many notes so I can get back into it as and when I have the time.
New IDEA – Because clearly, my brain hates me. But I couldn’t shut this one up. I’m in the process of making an in-depth plan for this one, and reading books around it for research, so that when I eventually get a chance I can power through a first draft. I like this idea more than the the one above (shh! Don’t tell it) so I’ll probably bump this one up the queue.
So yeah. Allofthe projects. Allofthe ideas and the writing. But only finishing them – and polishing them! – counts. So I have a ton of work to do 🙂