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I am, at present, 50% of the way through my first novel (17 chapters (and counting), ~55,000 words, ~100 A4 pages) and yet I also had many other (what I think are) wonderful ideas pop into my head for new stories.

Therefore, I have also begun writing three other novels alongside my "main" novel. In comparison to my "main" novel, the other three are between 3% - 5% complete, but I still have an urge to tell the other stories, too.

My question, however, is this: is it advisable (I expect by established authors, perhaps) to simultaneously write multiple novels? Is this a common practice? What are the possible advantages and pitfalls?

I have read lots of thoughts on this take on writing, with the majority concluding that it is a good idea to write multiple novels simultaneously as it allows the author to "take a break", as it were, from a single - and possibly tedious - task(s).

Furthermore, I have read some advice which encourages authors who do choose to simultaneously write multiple novels to write them at different stages, to keep their idea fresh. By this, they mean have one story in which you are halfway through, whereas the others might be in the first few chapters and some others towards the final stages.

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Great question. I removed language that was asking for discussion and polling the community, but please let me know if I removed anything vital. –  Neil Fein Oct 3 '13 at 15:12
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I suspect the answer will be affected by the degree of relationship among the novels (totally different story/characters/setting versus side stories/prequels/etc). I hope answers will adress that, particularly if it turns out that doesn't matter much. –  Monica Cellio Oct 3 '13 at 15:59
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@NeilFein "Great question" - thank you. Not to worry regarding the omitted content - I spent around thirty seconds drafting this question whilst at work and basically wrote my thoughts down as I went, so not to worry; nothing essential has been removed, so all is (still) well. –  SnookerFan Oct 3 '13 at 20:08
    
@MonicaCellio Great point; it will be interesting to see what answers follow. FYI: my three novels are all based on the same genre, but they vary somewhat in style. I am also lucky enough to be able to write (well) across a range of genres whilst keeping up (in my opinion) the same standard consistently. –  SnookerFan Oct 3 '13 at 20:18

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

My advice: Try it and see if it works out.

Things to watch out for:

Reasons for switching projects. What leads you to switch from one project to another? Are you stuck? Bored? Something else?

If you are bored with your current story, switching might help. You might regain interest when you return to it later.

But it may also be a sign that your current story is boring. Switching won't help that. Better to throw out the boring stuff, go back before the place where it started to get boring and write something that's more interesting.

If you are stuck, switching might help. You might unstuck yourself while the story bubbles in the back of your mind as you write other things.

But it may be a sign that you're giving up too easily. Or that you would benefit from applying a few creativity tricks.

The next time you get stuck, try this seemingly stupid writer trick: Just write the next sentence. And the next. Do that a bunch of times before you decide you're stuck.

Or try this: If you've written yourself into a corner, go back and change something earlier in the story to give yourself a way out.

Or apply Wilhelm's Law. Award-winning writer and editor Kate Wilhelm famously advised writers to "throw away your first three ideas." Your first idea is probably obvious. Most of your readers will have thought of it. Many will have thought of your second idea. Some will have thought of your third idea. But your fourth idea, that's probably fresh enough to seem original.

I've discovered an odd thing about Wilhelm's Law. It's extraordinarily useful when I'm stuck When I can't think of a single idea, I apply Wilhelm's Law and think of four ideas. For some reason, it's easier to think of four ideas than to think of one. Maybe it's because when I'm looking for one idea, I'm seeking perfection. But if I look for four ideas, none of them has to be perfect. This jiggles my stuck brain loose, and then the ideas can come. And of the four (or more), at least one of them will be good enough to get me unstuck. Most of the time.

Set aside vs. abandoned. Notice whether you ever come back to the stories you set aside. If not, you don't really have multiple projects in progress. (Hint: They're in progress only if they're progressing.) In that case, maybe starting multiple projects is a way to rationalize not finishing anything. Many writers (and other people doing creative things) have a fear of finishing. Or, more likely, a fear of being judged. You can absolutely avoid judgment by making sure you never finish anything. But that ain't so satisfying.

What "in progress" means. Of course, the distinction between set aside for a while and abandoned is not obvious. Note the last time you wrote new words on each project.

My advice: Count only new words as progress. World building is not progress. Research is not progress. Outlining is not progress. Only new words are progress.

At some point--three months? nine? a year? five years?--it will be harder to call it "in progress" if you haven't written new words.

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Wonderful - and informative - answer, Dale. Duly upvoted. –  SnookerFan Oct 3 '13 at 22:27

I definitely do that with chapters/sections/scenes of a single novel (i.e., skip around as I'm writing). The advantage is that each chapter/section/scene is fresh. The difficulty is maintaining cohesion between disparate chapters/sections/scenes, written out of order, in different frames of mind. Requires lots of rewriting. If the chapters/sections/scenes are for different novels, that will probably increase the freshness advantage while also increasing the cohesion difficulty.

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Every writer has his or her own way of writing. You simply can't correlate your way of doing it with anyone else's. I personally have never written only one thing at a time. Currently I am writing three mystery novels, four mainstream short stories, two serious novels, a golf instruction book, a Western screenplay, two science fiction short stories, and a few other things I can't even remember right now. I just write something until I can't stand to write it anymore and then I switch to something else. Eventually everything gets finished. But many writers absolutely have to stick to one thing until it's done. You just have to find your own path. :)

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First of all, unless you know you can handle this personally I don't think it is a good idea to write multiple novels at the same time -- it is too much to carry around in your head at the same time and each of them will suffer.

On the other hand, since it is all too easy to forget the details of a new story you have developed in your head, I think it is important to get some of this "down on paper" so to speak.

In terms of how to do so, I think it depends on what your writing style is. Some authors like to plan out their entire novel in advance, all the way to the end, and then as he/she is writing, they fill in the details but at a higher level they know exactly where they are headed.

Other authors like to just start writing, and let a story takes its own course, often surprising the author himself with both the storyline and the ending which may be very different from what they had planed when thy started.

If you are the first type of author (you plan everything out), then I would write out an outline and save it for later, perhaps along with character descriptions of all the major characters as you may know them now. Then you will be able to pick this up later and know where you are going.

If you are the second type of author, then keep doing what you have done already: starting off with the beginning and continuing for 1 to 5% of the story then stopping.

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Great advice, thank you. I fall into the latter category of writers who like to "just start writing" and seeing what happens. Although, I do make "scribbles" in a separate document as I go along and cross them off. Also, I actually have a very good memory and never forget a detail of what I intend to write. –  SnookerFan Oct 3 '13 at 20:06

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