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I'm formulating a habit where I create too many writing projects. I'll work on a project, and things will go fine, until I have this incredible idea and I start writing on it. This continues overtime until I have an overload of different writing projects, all which are good, interesting projects that I care about, but that I have serious trouble completing in an organized, efficient way, due to the sheer number of them.

To give some perspective, there are 4 projects I'm working on/planning, in decreasing completion:

  • A short story (very deep in)
  • A very small screenplay (Just started, but progress is well)
  • A much larger screenplay (Only in planning stages; figuring out characters and other things)
  • A second short story (Barely started)

I like and care about all of these projects, and I want to finish every one of them, but I can't do that unless I figure out the best way to go about it. It just isn't reasonable to be tackling them all at once, fumbling between them in the process.

How can I organize/prioritize these projects efficiently, so that I can actually get them completed?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is about personal organisation - actually nothing to do with writing per se, but it does, I understand, affect writing significantly.

I would suggest that you identify the urgency of your various projects, or - if you have no deadlines - the closeness to completion. Then work on the most urgent or nearest complete. Work on it until you have completed it.

In the meantime, if you have thoughts and ideas for you other projects, which does happen, then write them down, maybe even take half an hour to write a piece of it, and then put it aside, and work on your primary piece. that is about discipline, and it is hard.

BTW, I work in IT, and I have some of the same issues in personal time management here.

The other approach that might work for you is to define a "working day" - say 8 hours. Commit that you will put 8 hours work into your primary project each day. ( if your working day is only 2 hours, then 2 hours it is, but whatever ). The rest of the time you can spend on other projects, or reading writers.se or whatever. But putting in the hours on your primary project means that you will get through it - and then the next one, and the next one.

In the end it is about discipline and a work ethic, both of which are very hard to achieve. But if people can see that you are a disciplined writer, and so get work out on time, then you will receive more work to do, which is a good thing. No really.

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Great suggestions; currently trying out the "working day" method. –  Zolani13 May 28 '12 at 22:18
    
@Zolani13 Hope it helps. It would be very helpful to others if you could let us know how it goes. –  Schroedingers Cat May 29 '12 at 7:59

If one project is pulling at you the most, take down the important notes on the others, and work on the most pressing one first. Failing that, are all projects equally 'cooked'? If something isn't ready to be written yet, it's out of the running for now. If all projects are both clamoring for attention and ready to be written, I would suggest working on the shorter projects first, so something can be finished and make room for another.

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I found it very helpful to use an idea collection, which allows you to prioritize your projects without having the feeling that you miss some of them. It takes one great burden of your shoulders that often prevents that any project is realized: The need to do everything at once — because nothing can go lost when you collect it! It becomes not a question of whether you do it or not, but when. And when mostly means when you have enough ideas to realize it and the necessary time/resources.

There are many ways to collect ideas, I'd refer to my blog/freely (donationware) available book here. When it comes to working on the ideas, I have one core project that I focus on and that is frequently on my mind, then I have central projects (5-7) which are also often in the back of my mind and for which I am generating ideas at a higher rate (as you need more than just one idea for a creative project). But it is only collecting the ideas, jotting them down like "do x or y", a line of dialogue, and the like, not actually fleshing it out or realizing it. And then there are periphery projects (a lot) which are any other ideas I have -- they are also collected.

This allows you to focus on the core project (thereby realize it), while 5-7 other projects have a lot of material build up in the background, meaning you can quickly start another project when the core project is finished (important for me, because I usually fall into a hole when a project is finished, unless I have something else to do where there is already a lot of material to work with).

So working on one core project while building up central projects works very well for me, I can highly recommend it.

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The priority of a writer is to get stuff written and in a shape where it can be read by others. (Assumedly, submitted, sold, to agents/editors, etc.) Your goal is to get stuff written. (Whether quality or timeliness is your primary goal is something you'll have to work out for yourself.)

The advice below is fairly production-driven and deadline-oriented. However, as an artist or craftsperson, do whatever you have to do to get your writing completed. If it means setting rigid deadlines and sticking to them, then do that. If it means getting yourself inspired by writing naked in a dark room with glow-in-the-dark ink on animal skins, then go hit the craft store and turn out the lights.

Deadlines

Do any of these projects have a deadline? I'm guessing from the tone of your question that this isn't the case. However, for the sake of completeness: Deadlines, whether self-imposed or editorially mandated, should be your number-one priority. Respect deadlines and do your best to meet them.

If you don't have deadlines, set them. A project that has no required completion date is one that's begging to be put aside. Deadlines can seem oppressive, but they can also be inspiring (in a pressure-cooker kind of way).

Which projects are ready to be written?

Everything has the same or a similar deadline? Self-imposed deadlines not doing it for you? Let's look at project stages next.

Some of your projects are in a place where you can sit and pound out text for them, and some are more amorphous. This is great, since it means you have a clear choice of what kind of work you want to do at any given time. There's an old aphorism about what to do in the case of writer's block: When you can't get the words down, put down what you're working on and write something else.

When it's time for you to sit down and physically write out the words, I'd pick the projects that are close to being finished - you're more likely to get something done quickly. Feeling wrung-out for the day? Spend some time developing the less-complete projects - brainstorming, working on notes or outlines, or doing research. (Incidentally, browsing Reddit or Stumbleupon: These are not research.)

However:

At the end of all of this, if you're feeling inspired to work on a barely-started project that's not due for another year, listen to your inner writer elves and work on it! With one caveat: When you're doing this to avoid a different writing project, be aware that you may have come down with Planners' Elbow, aka World-Builder's Disease: Using planning to distract from actually getting a project finished.

I's also like to reiterate: A plethora of projects in various stages of completion is not a problem, it's a benefit. When one project is giving you writer's block, you have another one to switch to.

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Would you recommend putting up a progress deadline? "Writing 500 words by Friday," or something similar? –  Zolani13 May 29 '12 at 0:05
    
Sure, whatever gets you writing. –  Neil Fein May 29 '12 at 14:55

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