Monday, May 24, 2010

How Do You Prioritize Your Writing?

Currently, I’m in a bit of a quandary as to the best way to prioritize my writing tasks. A year ago, this wouldn’t be an issue. I had one WIP and a short story or two knocking around in my noggin. But as the months passed, and story ideas accumulated as I made the time to write the way I’ve always wanted to, I now have a number of writing projects demanding my attention:


  1. Historical Romance Novel – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from an editor I met at a conference and a critique as a result of entering a contest. NEED TO: Query agents, contemplate entering the Golden Heart this fall, preferably armed with the aforementioned feedback from the editor and the contest.
  2. Science Fiction Novel 1  – STATUS: First draft complete. NEED TO: Revise, paying particular attention to the character development of one of the MCs and the antagonist, and focus on worldbuilding. I also need an additional 20-30k to meet customary word counts for the genre.
  3. Science Fiction Novel 2 – STATUS: 20K of first draft. NEED TO: Decide whether I’m keeping it in 3rd person or shifting to 1st person, layer in some plot elements in the 20k I’ve already written, and finish the draft.
  4. Literary Short Story – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from writing group. NEED TO: Revise based on feedback, and start targeting possible venues.
  5. Flash Fiction – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from writing group. NEED TO: Come up with a title, revise based on feedback, and target possible venues.
  6. Science Fiction Short 1 – STATUS: First draft complete. NEED TO: Read over reference materials from library to finish researching one aspect of the story, finish the story, polish, share with writing group, revise, and then consider submitting it.
  7. Science Fiction Short 2 – STATUS: Partial first draft. NEED TO: Complete draft, polish, share with writing group, revise, and then consider submitting it.
Now, there are other story ideas floating around in my mind, abandoned on my hard drive, or languishing in one of my notebooks as well, but the projects I’ve outlined above are the strongest, have the most potential, and get me the most excited when I think about them.

In a previous life, I was a research project manager. Every day I had to assess where we were at with a project and identify where we needed to be and how to get there. I was constantly adjusting my priorities, moving things up on the to-do list, pushing things off until another day, and delegating like crazy.

With writing, there’s no one to delegate things to (except my husband/beta reader who gets the first pass on most things I write). And that’s usually not a problem. In fact, I love the independence that’s needed in writing. Except for the times when the ideas don’t come and I’d love to have someone at my level to bounce ideas off of. Or someone to help me figure out the oh-so-important title. Which is often the hardest thing for me to come up with for a writing project. And as a result, these are the things that I keep putting off in my WIPS.

So how do you prioritize? Especially when each writing journey is different, when your end goal may differ from another’s, when your work is so uniquely yours it’s not apparent how to move forward… Sometimes, it seems that making a decision via Rock, Paper, Scissors can be just as reasonable as a more elaborate decision-making process. And sometimes, I suspect, there's no right answer.


I don’t have any hard or fast rules. I try to take the pieces that are closest to being of publishable quality (still trying to come up with a litmus test for that – ha!) and send them off to contests or get them in the hands of my writing group, so I have a bit of breathing room to consider my next move. Then, during the in-between times, I work on the other pieces that aren’t quite ready for primetime. Usually I select the projects that need the least amount of work before moving on to the ones that require more mental effort and preparation. Case in point: Project #3 on the list was started well before #2, but I ran into trouble and starting doubting my initial POV choice. Instead of slogging through it, I put it on hold and completed the first draft of #2, which was more straightforward in terms of structure and plot. I wouldn’t call myself work-adverse, but this was certainly a case where I avoided the project that demanded more of me in favor of something slightly easier.

Part of me wonders if I am making these choices because I’m (relatively) young and impatient and want to get my work out in the world now. Will I prioritize my writing projects in the same manner five, ten years from now?

How do you prioritize your work when you have competing projects vying for your attention? And if you’ve come across other blog posts tackling this issue somewhere in the intertubes, please post links in the comments below. Thanks!

6 comments:

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

*Sigh* Don't we know this feeling all too well? It's never easy to know where to concentrate your writing efforts. My solution is to keep moving forward, and as Martina would say, get my butt in the chair. As long as I'm doing something to propel my writing (actually writing, editing, reading, pondering, blogging, conferencing, you-name-it), then I feel like no effort is wasted.

Marissa

Ronda Levine said...

Well, for me, here's how prioritizing projects goes for me:

1) I look over my "to do" list every Sunday.
2) Anything for a client gets a priority level assigned. I then assign a day to work on it.
3) I devote 1 hour a day to personal projects without deadlines, otherwise they get overlooked when I get busy doing work for my clients.
4) Once client work is done, personal projects with deadlines are tackled.
5) If I make it through 2-4 in a week, then I work more on those personal projects without deadlines.
6) I try to prioritize everything I'm working on with a number. This way, once an item is completed, I don't have to think too much about what to work on next.
7) I work with an accountability partner. We check in with each other at the beginning and end of the week. Sometimes, on projects that I'm tempted to procrastinate on, we "bookend," that means I say "I'm going to write this, check in with me in one hour." It helps productivity a lot!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I wish I could be more helpful...but I've got nothing. I have sooo many projects going on. I need to write some query letters to the educational market for two projects I consider done...I'm posting on my blog my weekly goals that might help me be more focused. (fingers crossed)

Jane Rutherford said...

Honestly, I hate prioritizing. In a way, at the back of my mind, it always feels like playing favorites, like making decisions which "baby" deserves my attention more... Yes, I do realize it's a riddiculous approach, but still. Every time I choose which project to concentrate on, I feel bad for all the other plot bunnies, WIPs and short stories that are there, waiting to be given a chance.

In times like that I revisit the "research cloning possibilities" thing, so I could write it all at the same time...

Diana Estigarribia said...

Hi,

Great post. My day job is in research, too, and I've been trying to apply what I know professionally into my writing projects. I look at my writing projects and what stage they're in, and I try to work in time increments. I ask myself, "What can I do in the next 20-30 minutes?" Finish a story? Work on character development? Look something up to flesh out a plot, etc.?

So I guess I go by task, rather than individual project. But your list inspired me to take a wider view so I can keep track of it all.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

Interesting question but I am not trying to balance multiple writing projects right now so I'm not sure I can be much help. I don't know how much you work either, which plays a huge part.

I prioritize things in the day by what needs my freshest brain juice and what is more urgent. So this is usually a balance of adding words to the WIP (literary novel) and my client work (consulting). To be honest, I don't get to much else in a day. I do find it helps to schedule times for this stuff though. Like, 10 AM-Noon: WIP. 1-4: PM consulting. 4-5: Blog. 5-6: admin stuff.

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