Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enough Head Space, by Matthew MacNish


I wrote this post a while back on my personal blog. I called it Storytelling, but really it should have been called How do You Know When You're Ready to Start Telling Your Story? I'm not sure why it was so popular, but it probably had something to do with Nathan Bransford sharing it on his blog.

It wasn't really a very good post. It was short, and no research went into it or anything, but I think it asked a question that really resonated with writers.

I've been thinking about that question again lately, because I'm kind of in-between projects. I'm not the kind of writer who writes every day.

Well, let me rephrase that. I'm not the kind of writer who puts words into a draft of a new manuscript every day. But I am the kind of writer who thinks about stories every day.

Lately, I've been wondering how I find the head space. Recently, I've been working on two deep critiques for some critique partners I have (they are both award winning published authors, so I'm not really sure why they trust or even need my feedback, but that's neither here nor there). I have also been putting words down on a project of my own I'm working on, but it's not a draft. It's brainstorming.

I can't say much about the project, but it's a secondary world fantasy, and I've never written one of those before, so I want to make sure to do the necessary work up front, to build the world, so that I have a sturdy foundation going in once I really am ready to draft.

So what's my point?

I'm not really sure, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm okay with "not writing every day." I don't have the head space to juggle four stories at once. I mean as long as I'm working on storytelling--which, let's face it, if you're a storyteller by your nature, there's really no getting away from it--I'm okay with that.

I learn more from reading and analyzing other people's work than I do from pounding out my own first drafts anyway.

What about you all? How many projects can you work on at once?

22 comments:

  1. I can only work on one at a time and I also go many months in between projects. And I spend more time planning than I do writing the first draft.

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    1. Me too, Alex. Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. Only one at a time well. But...I had to learn to punt this year, with two books under contract. While #1 was back with my editor, I researched #2. Thankfully, after a friend encouraged me to give it a try, I NaNo-ed #2. The timing was right, and I finished an awful draft the same day #1 came back. And now, #2 is due at the end of September (having officially finished #1 just a few weeks ago). Even though I won't keep most of the draft I wrote, it was a very, very helpful tool in starting (even if just to show me what the story isn't about). So grateful I have a starting place to move forward from, even if it isn't great and even though the two books at once scenario isn't my preferred method for working.

    Does that make sense?

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    1. Makes sense to me, Caroline! And being under contract would probably change things for me too.

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  3. I am the sort of writer who is always thinking/dreaming about ideas, even if pen is not put to paper. I am also the type of writer to whom shiny, seductive new ideas appear while I am in the thickets of writing a story. I seem to have enough head space for that.

    Good luck with your new project, Matt!

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  4. well, in the past i've only ever worked on one thing at a time, but sometime very soon i'm going to have to put that to the test and see if i actually can swing more than one at a time.

    Also, i'm excited about your secondary world fantasy

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    1. You'll be reading it. Eventually. It will be a while.

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  5. Also, are they trepanning that guy? Gross.

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    1. Yes. He needed a bit more head space. That's why Philip Pullman is in the labels. ;P

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  6. I don't actually even know, anymore, how many different things I'm working on.

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    1. Well you are crazy, Andrew. But talented!

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  7. When it comes to longer projects--novels and screenplays--I generally work on one at a time. With songs, though, I've discovered that I'm far more efficient when I bounce between projects. And generally, I'm an advocate for that, as long as you don't spread yourself too thin. When you're blocked on one project, you may be ready to go with another.

    In the next few weeks, I hope to reach a stopping point on my major project for the last few months and jump over to a collaborative project with a friend. As long as I keep moving forward, and always work on something, things will get done.

    Harrison Demchick
    Developmental Editor, Ambitious Enterprises

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    1. Do you write your own books and music too, Harrison, or only work as an editor?

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    2. Oh, definitely I write my own stuff as well, and that's what I'm talking about above. The best known of those would be my novel, The Listeners.

      In editing, I'm usually working on two projects at once.

      Harrison Demchick
      Developmental Editor, Ambitious Enterprises

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    3. Figured as much, which is why I asked. Thanks Harrison!

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  8. Matt, I usually start writing my stories before I'm quite ready, which is how I end up stuck in the middle all the time, lol! (Like now) However, I've never been good at planning everything out. Some things just have to be discovered in the first draft.

    I am usually a 1-project kind of person, but lately I'm thinking that I should have more than one going at a time. Now that I won't be teaching anymore, I'll get depressed if I don't add words every day. (I can say this with surety, since I haven't added new words since Saturday and that has made me feel very low.) But if I switch to a different project, I can still be productive every day.

    So right now, while I'm stuck, I am doing the research -- reading and note-taking -- for a new idea.

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    1. You make a good point about being a professional writer. If I didn't have a day job, I would almost certainly put more pressure on myself to write every day.

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  9. I definitely don't write every day, but I do some sort of writing task every day. Meaning, brainstorming, marketing, editing, etc. Plus the whole being a mom to three teen sons thing. My head space is crowded enough as it is! Great post, Matthew, now and then :)

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    1. Thanks, Julie! I definitely agree about being a parent. My kids are older, so I can get work done when they're around, but my time does get eaten up by driving them all over town.

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  10. This is a great point. I sometimes feel guilty if I'm not making word counts during my writing time, but letting an idea sit and percolate is also a crucial piece of the process. I'm slowly learning that daydreaming up setting ideas or reading inspiring books counts too! Most recently I've been brainstorming steampunk worlds and found a how-to-draw-steampunk at the library. It's been a fun creative splurge.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!