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Multi-tasking

Having almost finished the requested revisions for one project (I'm waiting to get something clarified before I can actually say done and heave both a sigh of relief and a manuscript out the door), I'm getting back to writing the novel I put aside to work on revisions. [I've been finishing up the Sunburst Jury award work as well.]

Which is sort of my excuse for being so darn slow to get up to speed on HOUSE WAR again.

When I was younger, I found switching between projects almost a relief. I'm not sure if it was due to the fact that I had no children then, and that there was nothing therefore consuming emotional energy and time in the particular fashion; I do think about this a lot. Why? Because I think I'm becoming, in novel terms, a serial monogamist.

It takes me a while to sink the emotional roots I need to have in place into any novel, and when I move to a different project, I seem -- these days -- to uproot them all. When I come back, I have to give myself a big mental slap, and change speed, tone and direction -- all of which would be easier; I have to find the emotional threads and bindings, which is harder than it used to be.

So I'm sort of wondering how many people here can work on two books at once, and how they manage to do it if they can. I can take short story breaks, but I think this has more to do with the differing processes of the two media.

Comments

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(Deleted comment)
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 02:43 pm (UTC)
Do you find that there's any difference in the way you approach the novels themselves now, as opposed to the way you approached your older ones?

I know that my overall process has shifted, like a type of writerly continental drift, in the years since I finished the first draft of the first novel I managed to complete, but that in many ways the core of it is the same. I don't work from an outline because it kills the book (for me) or stops it dead for a month or two at a time. I don't even structure the chapters that way; the most I'll do is jot a single line or two about what I -think- will happen/should happen next.

But this one foot in front of the other didn't used to be so tightly focused as it is now -- and I'm not certain if it's because I've grown -less- confident as I've grown older, rather than more <wry g>. When I was younger, I think I was less aware of the flaws and infelicities in my own work, and while I think I've improved with time, I'm still aware of them.

kateelliott asked if rereading the books I started work on 10 years ago was enjoyable.

And it wasn't; I could see the flaws. I could see almost only the flaws -- so it was like reading galleys/page proofs in which there are no corrections allowed. And I'm wondering if this experience -- you know, 8 books of it -- hasn't also made me feel much more aware of the balls that can be dropped. And how frequently.
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Jul. 14th, 2004 08:34 pm (UTC)
I've four published novels, and then the one I just sold, and I like everything I've ever written except the end of The Prize in the Game which has that no corrections nature.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I -loved- the ending of that book. Maybe you had an ending in mind that I would have loved better -- but at this point, I can't imagine it; the ending that was there was perfect. To me. As a reader.

On rec.arts.sf.composition once, this sort of thing came up, and people seemed to split into two camps, those who re-read and like it and think "I'll never do anything this good again!" and those who re-read and think "All these flaws! And too late, too late!"

Whereas I do both. While I'm working on a novel, it is All Garbage and No One Will Ever Read Me Again (and will also say, I waited Two Years for -this-??). Everything that I read prior to what I'm working on seems almost brilliant in comparison and I pull out much hair and weep with vexation. And then the Work comes back for proofing, and I -also- do the "all these flaws!" response.

Writer's Ego. You have to love it. Or not <g>.
(Deleted comment)
sartorias
Jul. 8th, 2004 02:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah...if one is where you need to be, then that's where you need to be.

For me, working on several concurrently is habit: today frex, I just finished a very nasty, very wrenching scene, and after my tea and LJ-run I'll be doing a rollicking scene for another book, and then I'll rewrite something with some added emotional texture that I thought of during the middle of the night for a third, and ponder the entry point for a tough scene in the fourth. Habit.

But any one of those could grab me by the chitlins and demand I do only it for a stretch, in which case that's what I do.
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC)
... after my tea and LJ-run I'll be doing a rollicking scene for another book, and then I'll rewrite something with some added emotional texture that I thought of during the middle of the night for a third, and ponder the entry point for a tough scene in the fourth

This might sound clueless on my part, but can I ask how you know that the scene that you'll be working on will be a rollicking scene?

Because I think that's part of finding the right head-space quickly, and I think that's where I fall down.

I don't actually know what I'm going to be writing with any certainty even when I know that I'll be working on One Novel. I know the viewpoint. I know, with about 50% accuracy, what I think I'll be writing -- but the veers are sharp and stuctural, and they work in a way that is specific to my process, and necessary for it.

I don't dread the blank screen -- but finding the right tone, or perhaps, anent recent LJ conversations, the right voice is difficult at the moment if I'm working on something else. I wonder if it's just an immersion or an over-focus problem on my part. If I'm close enough to the character that the character is practically speaking in tongues through me, it's not as hard, for all the obvious reasons. And deadlines are such that it's not technically possible not to switch back and forth.

sartorias
Jul. 8th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
How do I know the scene will be rollicking? Well, of course I don't know that any reader would find it anything but flat and dreary, but in my head I see the images, I heard the voices, I know pretty much what happens. It ought to be quite fun. To write, anyway. If it reads rotten, well, that's for rewrites!
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC)
I'm assuming it'll work -- I'm not being clear (the perils of writing without and editor <wry g>).

I meant the question more in the sense of certain direction than success of the attempt; I'm busily and not-quietly-enough envying the sense you have of what you -will- be writing next.

I have arcs in which I have that clarity -- the whole of SUN SWORD was almost like that -- but they're almost always endings, and SUN SWORD was, well, the last sixth of a long arc.

-That- book, I could pull away from for chunks of time and then settle back into -- but it was built on so much that had come before it. I think.
sartorias
Jul. 8th, 2004 09:28 pm (UTC)
When you say it was built on so much that had come before, well, that's the key.

I'm working on a roman fleuve that I've been writing for 45 years. Some of the projects have had to mature for decades before my skill could match the early glimpses, but like you say, so much is built when the time comes to write I just sink in.
sleigh
Jul. 8th, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC)
I've been able to do short story breaks in the middle of novels, but I started out a serial monogamist with novels and remain so. Once, for a period of about six months, I tried working on three novels simultaneously, but I found the required head-wrenching to be difficult, and I really wanted just to sink myself into one. So I did (turned out to be HOLDER OF LIGHTNING.) The other two are on my hard drive, left where I dropped them.

Maybe if I were writing two novels with nearly identical voices, which wouldn't require a drastic change in tone...

OTOH, for the last several years I've had a "side novel" that I turn to if I'm between projects, or if I need to take a substantial break from the current novel-in-progress/under-contract. Maybe one day I'll actually finish that novel.... I do like what I have quite a bit.
haikujaguar
Jul. 8th, 2004 03:17 pm (UTC)
Oddly enough, my process is exactly like sleigh's.... even to the "side novel." :)
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 09:05 pm (UTC)
Same question I asked sleigh -- is the side project in SF, if the main one is fantasy, or vice versa?
haikujaguar
Jul. 9th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC)
I find the side project's genre matters less than its familiarity. Side projects are usually books that have a lot of known quantities: the setting, usually most of the plot, the characters. It's often a sequel to an unsold series.

I recently finished the latest "side project," which was an SF sequel. The new side project will probably be fantasy in an existing universe, but not directly related to any of the material I've written about it so far.
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 09:04 pm (UTC)
Can you return to the ones that you've left idle now that you've written three books, or would the distance from the projects change them too much?

I was wondering if I would have the same difficulty if I were working in different genres or sub-genres, but the tone and voice of the novels I'm working on in parallel seem, to me, to be -very- different as is. Otoh, maybe if they weren't so different, I wouldn't have as much difficult picking up and re-establishing a certain sense of voice.

Is the side project SF, out of curiosity?
sleigh
Jul. 9th, 2004 04:16 am (UTC)
I've actually gone back since and looked at the other two novels, and I think I'm past them at this point -- in other words, I could take the basic premise, most of the worldbuilding, the main characters, the thematic base, but I'd start back in from page one and begin changing some things wholesale. I'm not the same person I was when I wrote those, therefore I wouldn't make them the same book any more.

When I was doing the three-books-at-once juggling, two were sf and one was fantasy. Two different sub-genres didn't help me, as I said, it was the fantasy that ended up tugging at me the hardest and winking and acting seductively and whispering "hey lover, drop those other two and I'll make it worth your while..."

The side project is urband fantasy/magic realism -- very different from anything else I've written. Very different voice than what I'm currently writing -- and I think that would make it more difficult, not less so, to write simultaneously. For me, anyway.
zencuppa
Jul. 8th, 2004 04:28 pm (UTC)
Songwriting multiple songs
When I am in songwriting mode (like right now) I often finish batches of songs, one by one by one.

I usually have about 7-8 songs/sets of lyrics that could all turn into songs, before going into this mode. At that point I usually select 2-3 songs and roll through each one, finishing it, before going onto the next one. And *then* I work on the performances of these songs *wry grin.*
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Songwriting multiple songs
This is interesting, too.

I've always wondered if the lyrics come -before- the music, after it, or at the same time. When I dabbled in this (before I realized that I was never really going to be good enough at it not to cause myself public embarrassment), they always came simultaneously. And it was messy <wry g>.
janni
Jul. 8th, 2004 05:02 pm (UTC)
It takes me a while to sink the emotional roots I need to have in place into any novel

I find this true for me, too. Since I'm a "method acting" sort of writer, I need to get the voices of my characters resident in my brain, to immerse myself in the feel of the book. Since every book has a different feel and tone, there just isn't room for more than one at a time, for all that I have tried to make that work.

I can work on short nonfiction articles alongside novels; they seem to occupy a different bit of brain.
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 09:01 pm (UTC)
Does short fiction also cause a derailment? I can manage short fiction, oddly enough. I'm not sure if it's just the length of passing time that adds weight to the separation.

Or maybe I'm heading towards the acceptance that in the future, I'm going to have to make adjustments in novel-writing plans, too.
andpuff
Jul. 8th, 2004 08:36 pm (UTC)
Strict serial monogomous with novels.

No trouble with breaking for short stories -- really, no trouble, no matter how much I may bitch about it *g* -- but I don't even want to think about the next novel in the series let alone a new book entirely. When I took those three months in the middle of Blood Something to write the Rat Book it took me almost another month to get my head back with Vicki et al.
msagara
Jul. 8th, 2004 08:59 pm (UTC)
I actually remember that, now that you mention it; you were still at the store, then <wry g>.

I -used- to be able to do this. I think. Had I not, I'm not sure I would have structured writing things in quite the way I have. Hindsight? Blearg.
maggiemotley
Jul. 9th, 2004 02:32 am (UTC)
It takes me a while to sink the emotional roots I need to have in place into any novel, and when I move to a different project, I seem -- these days -- to uproot them all.
This is the main reason why I'm also a serial monogamist with novels.

It takes a while for me to sink into the characters' emotional landscape, but once I do I've got a pretty instinctive feel of how they should/will react to the plot-spears I poke them with. If I shift projects I change mindset to gel with the new people, and so lose the old. Only one personality at a time, please.

Doesn't mean I can't do some flirting, though. I usually know what project will come up next, and have and idea of who and why. I can manage a first chapter, but any more derails me.

Shorts are usually okay for me too, but only in the less angsty stages of the novel. When the emotion's flowing at full pelt I have to either stick with it or lose it.
lnhammer
Jul. 9th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC)
I've been staying quiet because, well, I've never written a novel. But I'm serial monogamist with stories: finish a draft, set it aside for another. Because I have to set it aside before I can revise, so I can see it fresh. Only when I'm truly going nowhere on the mess-in-progress will I switch to another, to give it a rest.

I used to be able to write lyric poems on the side of prose stories; with narrative poetry, I don't — whether because of conflicts or simply I've regeared my brain for longer verse, I don't know. Possibly both.

Oh, and method writer.

---L.
msagara
Jul. 9th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC)
Don't feel the need to stay quiet -- I write novels, so I tend to think of projects as novels, but I think the creative process has to have similarities regardless, and I'm still curious about how other people handle this.
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