You Can’t Write Everything All At Once So Please Stop Trying
Time for another YAIA (You Ask, I Answer).
Rob Donoghue would like me to speak about “Shit You Don’t Need To Write.”
I can speak to that. Assuming, of course, I’m interpreting it correctly. I’m interpreting the question to more accurately be, “How do I determine what stuff I shouldn’t be writing?”
Actually, this answer’s going to be so short, it’s almost criminal.
You know that one project you’re working on? The one you tell people about? “Oh, I’m writing a novel.” “Hey, I’m writing a screenplay.” “I have this rad-as-fuck comic book script I’m kicking around.”
You need to be writing that.
Everything else counts as the shit you don’t need to be writing.
Ta-da! End of story.
Wuzza? You want more? Fine. We can dig a little deeper.
Maybe you’re familiar with this problem. Let’s see if its precious stink is familiar to your trembling nasal sensors. You’re working on this project, your WIP (work in progress), and suddenly — suddenly! — a glorious epiphany occurs to you. Man, holy shit, wouldn’t it be cool to write a novel about a hive of honey-making bee people? Like, they’re bees, right? But they have human faces and shit. You got the queen. You got the workers. They dance. They sing. It’s dynastic. It’s upstairs-downstairs, but, but, with motherfucking bees, brother! Er, bee people. Whatever. You shut up over there. So, you decide to drop your old WIP (oWIP) for a new WIP (nWIP) and everything is just zipping along nice and sweet.
That is, until you’re halfway through the Mighty Saga Of The Bee People, Book I: Barony of Black Honey, Keepers Of The Humsword, and then you’re all like, “Oh, fuck, fuck, what would be really excellent is if I did a coloring book about serial killers, but the serial killers are actually cutesy babyfied versions of themselves — y’know, like Muppet Babies, but with serial killers and shit. You got your Baby Gacy, and he’s all clowny-cute, and then you got your Baby Dahmer, and he’s got this cartoony caveman bone in his mouth (that silly cannibal!) and then you got Baby Heidnik and…”
(Actually, that’s a pretty cool idea. Do not steal that from me. If you steal it, I will chop off your hands and feed them to my dogs and then sear shut the wriststumps with a guttering torch. I have a rusty machete that hungers for blood. You dig?)
So, you interrupt the Bee People novel for the Baby Killers coloring book, and then you get a different idea for this whole other thing and, and, and –
And on and on and on.
Writers feel enslaved to their muse, and they feel driven by the heat of the flame, and when the flame starts to go out… well, who wants to really work to keep it going? That takes effort. All those sticks. All that chopping. Better instead to wander into the darkness and find the light of another fire.
That, of course, is hog dookie. A giant floppy mound of smoldering hog dookie, as a matter of fact. Are you really going to finish the oWIP if you keep hopping to the nWIP? No. No, you are not. Stop that shit. Stop it right now. You’re being very stupid, and everybody can see you being very stupid, and when you’re not looking, they’re pointing. And laughing.
… well, okay, I’m probably the only one pointing and laughing. Just to warn you, I’m also setting up a bucket filled with pig’s blood so it cascades down upon you. So, there’s that.
To return to the question, then:
The shit you don’t need to write is the shit you’re not currently writing. It’s that easy. Whatever you’re working on, see it through to the end. Finish it. Everything else can wait. The Bee People novel can be a series of scribbled notes that will one day, Good Lord Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise, be your next project. Oh, and repeat that word. “Next.” Next, next, next. Not this one. The next one. This one is the one you’re doing.
Am I oversimplifying it?
“Do you work on one project at a time, or many, and how do you manage either?”
And now it gets a little more complicated.
I generally have a number of projects in the pipeline at a given time. I might have gaming work. I might have novel work. We’ve got the film, and we’ve got the TV show. I might have erotica I’m writing under a secret pen name (like Rupert Hymenbreaker, or Misty Mountains, or John Q. Jack-Me-Off-In-A-Gymsock, Jr.). I usually have three projects juggling in my hands at any given moment.
Doesn’t that violate the rule?
It does, and it doesn’t.
It does because, yes, I’ve got a bunch of shit I’m working on. I have the Bee People novel, I have the Baby Killers coloring book, I have some other thing.
It doesn’t because, in actuality, I’m only writing one of them at any given time. Visually, think of it like the bullets in a revolver. Six bullets, one cylinder. But I can only rotate one bullet into the firing position at any given time. In the morning, I sit down to write one thing, and one thing only. I work on a single project until its completion.
Further, I don’t generally work on two projects of the same type. I don’t have two novels in the cylinder. Or two films. Or two this, or two that. One of each. I don’t double up; the diversity helps keep everything fresh.
To answer the second part of Filamena’s question, “How do I manage?”
I segment my day. I cleave it in twain with a karate chop.
In the morning, I generally write if I have something to write.
In the afternoon, I edit if I have something to edit. Or outline. Or research.
Betwixt those two sweet halves, I eat lunch, I drink tea, I pet the dogs, I pleasure myself, I dream big, I take a shower, I extract hoary vengeance from those who have wronged me or wronged people that were standing near me, and so on. Point is, I do some activity that nicely bisects my day and shakes my brain like a squalling infant. It jars the barnacles loose. I might be mixing my metaphors there. Do babies grow barnacles? Or is that boats? It might be boats. But I’m pretty sure it’s babies.
Now, all of this adds up to a perfect world scenario. It has happened where a deadline rose up and demanded that the forbidden must occur: I must stop in the middle of one project and switch horses midstream to work on the new project. I don’t like to do it, but you do what you have to. Yes, that utterly violates my rule. But yes, I also like to have money to buy things like food and heating oil and electronic pornography.
How do I manage?
Easy. I finish all of it. I suck in my gut and hike up my pants and change my diaper and get on with the work. Neither project will fall by the wayside because life, I’ve learned, is too short to keep starting projects and bailing on them. It’s not ideal, but things are rarely ideal. In that case, your best weapon is discipline. And discipline comes from clamping your jaws down on something and doing it enough times so that it becomes routine.
That’s that. That’s my vague, uncertain answer.
Look for my new novel, Mighty Saga Of The Bee People, Book II: King Of The Comb, Queen Of The Sting, in e-bookstores sometime in the third quarter of 2031.