The Art of Juggling Writing Projects

Five Salty Balls

Photo by Gabriel Rojas Hruska. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Tee Morris discusses a problem that most of us struggle with – too many projects going on:

You’ve got project upon project, and suddenly you are at the point where I find myself presently. It’s not what you want to work on but more about what you need to work on. This may seem like an easy call to make but if any of these projects-in-progress carry multiple deadlines, the decision process gets a little trickier.

And here’s the thing about us crazy, kooky creative types: we love to do a lot of things at once. It makes us feel productive. It makes us feel accomplished. It makes us feel alive. The problem comes in when you can’t make a deadline, and poor organization can lead to missed delivery dates which can lead to a reputation of commitment but not coming through on your promises. Falling back on “I am so poorly organized…” really is a lame-ass excuse, too. If you want to get organized, you’re going to have to nut up and take control of your projects before your projects take control of you; or start controlling you more than how they are currently.

Tee presents five ways to deal with the I’ve-got-too-much-to-do syndrome:

  • Prioritize
  • Set realistic production goals
  • Create a realistic editorial calendar
  • Accept the fact that you can’t do everything
  • Make time for yourself

His post and advice were well-timed for me, as I’ve been wrestling with this all year. I have a steady freelance writing gig that pays moderately well, and I’ve given it higher priority than I have my other writing projects. Consequently, I’m still only 45,000 words toward the 120,000 word target for my latest novel. The only short story I’ve produced this year is the one I wrote for the Tales From The Archive podcast. I haven’t blogged nearly as much as I should. In short, the fun writing has taken a backseat to the paid writing.

One approach I’ve considered doing is a version of what Tee recommends – assigning certain days to certain projects. Perhaps Monday, Thursday and Saturday can be for freelance work and the other days can be reserved for fiction. I’ve also considered asking my clients for a rate increase. Yeah, I might get less work, but each assignment will pay a little more and that might free me up for more creative writing.

The only thing I would add to Tee’s list is negotiating for later deadlines. Suppose you get offered the chance to write something for an anthology that really pushes all your buttons. Unfortunately, you’re already juggling three big projects. This is the time to chat with the editor. Is that deadline absolutely firm? Would it be possible for you to turn the piece in a week or two past the stated deadline? Of course, this assumes you haven’t already agreed to the deadline. Once you’ve committed to a date, meet the date. If you haven’t committed yet, see if the editor has some flexibility. If not, then you may have to pass with no hard feelings. On the other hand, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Let’s face it, all of us have too much going on. I think it’s a requirement of being an American. We want to honor our commitments and deliver our best work. That takes planning, discipline, good communication and common sense. It can be done.

Now, if I can just figure out how to sleep faster…

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