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I'm working on multiple pieces of fiction at the same time, and finding it very difficult. When writing one piece at a time, I'm able to devote my passing time to thinking about the one subject I care about. However, now that I have to work on three pieces at the same time, I'm having a hard time moving from one subject to the next.

I'm having a harder time than usual getting in 'Flow' as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I think my inability to begin writing and continue to write drafts is caused by the number of different pieces I have to think about in my spare time.

For example, when I write one piece, I can usually spend twenty or thirty minutes prewriting and then write straight for five or six hours if I need to. Now that I have multiple pieces going at once, I am having a hard time entering the world of my fiction in less than a few hours.

How can I switch between the drafts of my writing in a shorter amount of time so that I can work more efficiently?

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Is it actually necessary for you to be working on three things at once? Even if you have three works with the same deadline, if you find it hard to get in the groove working on them simultaneously, why not work on one for a period of time (maybe until you get stuck somewhere, but maybe not until it's actually complete), then put it away and work on something else. This is assuming that you're working on drafts of things. If you're responding to editors' requests for revisions, I agree that things can get a bit muddied.

Again, though, I'd try to avoid (for the future) having three projects in the same stage of the writing process at the same time. For me, first drafts are where most of the creativity is required, so I try to have only one project at that stage at a time. Revising technical things is a whole different kind of energy, and I find that it can make a good break from the pure creativity of drafting a story.

But if you can't avoid it... I'd recommend planning your time, including your non-writing time, pretty carefully. If you know what you need to do on all three projects, I'd set up a schedule so that you always know what you're going to work on in the next session. Then I'd spend the bulk of a session working on the scheduled project, but spend the last half-hour (or whatever period of time you find works for you) on the project that's scheduled for the next session. So if you have four hours to write one day, I'd spend the bulk of it on project A, but the last little bit on project B. Then your 'down time' between writing, the time that you spend thinking and daydreaming about your work, should hopefully be focused on the last thing you wrote about, project B, which is also the thing you're going to be working on next. Hopefully, that will mean that when you sit down to work, you're already in the project B mindset, and ready to go.

Good luck with it.

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I agree with Kate--focus on one thing at once. Some people can juggle multiple projects; others, not so much. No shame in not being one, but it's far more productive to manipulate your tendencies to your own advantage.

I have often referred to myself as a polyamorous writer because I always have more than one project--in my head, on my laptop, etc. But the only time I make real progress is when I focus on finishing one (on the plus side, when you go to sub that one project, you bounce straight to the next and if you get agent or publisher interest, have a decent amount of new project to show them. It looks good for you).

In terms of "entering the world of writing" more quickly:

1) Switch off the internet (ahem). 2) Find your "thinking space" and do it beforehand. For me, this is swimming. Exercise is great thinking space because it generates lots of happy, creative hormones, and it's also great for your body, which spends a lot of time rotting in a chair when you write. I find myself "writing" entire scenes in my head as I swim, and as soon as I'm home (caffeine in hand), I get down on the paper (or, er, screen).

The fact that you're stalled on drafting suggests that you're struggling with various elements, and could really use some thinking space. Even if it's just a walk somewhere inspiring--go soak up some energy, some air. Enjoy thinking about your work (and do try working on one thing at a time). When you've got focus, got your energy burning, it's a great recipe for productive writing. Good luck.

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In programming, it is well known that context-switching is a productivity killer. Developers arrange their workdays to minimize interruptions so they can focus on one task. Once "flow" is interrupted, it can take a significant amount of time to get back into it. One 5-minute interruption can blow an entire afternoon.

Human beings can't multitask. Study after study has shown that we make more mistakes and get less work done when we try. We may feel we are being productive, but we're not. Our brains just don't work that way, and no amount of Web-surfing will make you able to multitask more flexibly. It will just reduce your attention span.

So you can't literally work on multiple projects at once. But you can still have multiple projects in progress at once, and make steady progress on all of them -- you just have to make sure the amount of work you can get done in each time slice is not overshadowed by the time it takes you to switch back into the context of the project.

If it takes you "a few hours" to get back into each project, in other words, obviously you are not well-served by switching every day. Try switching once a week instead.

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In addition to Kate's and Lucy's excellent advice about working on one project per work period, I suggest making sure you're "cleansing your palate."

In between work sessions on Project A and Project B, spend some time not thinking about any of your projects. Do something non-writing-oriented which requires all your attention and your hands. Make a complicated meal. Paint a stencil on the wall. Plant seedlings. Rearrange the living room furniture. Go skiing.

Time away from your projects can be as helpful as time on your projects, because it changes your perspective and allows you to come back to something with a fresher outlook. It also gives you a break from the problem so you can recharge.

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