Hello, fellow creators!
…And I realized I have a problem. See, I have a lot of projects on my hands at any given time. Sometimes I get commissioned to write an article, while other times I just end up in a pointless debate with someone on the internet. Most of the time, though, I’m working on a book. There are lots of them I’m working on, and lots more that I’ve de-facto abandoned. That’s probably the greatest shame, because I’ve written them all in my head! Just not on paper! This always saddens me, because I always have another great idea, another new scheme.
Unfortunately, if I were to start on them, then I’d leave other projects un-done, and therein lies one of my greatest problems as a writer.
Focus On One Thing? Hah! …How?
Some people’s first bit of advice is to pick one thing to focus on at a time. For many people, that works – and if you’re that lucky, hey, good for you! Put that exceptionally rare talent to use! Many others find themselves always waking up, each day, with a different “feeling.” Maybe some day they feel like writing, while another day they feel like painting. If they don’t write, their manuscript goes unfinished; but if they try to force themselves to write when they want to paint, well, nothing gets done except for the denial of their true desire! They spend time staring at a blank computer screen, imagining they are in front of a blank canvas, instead.
In my case, I was inspired to write this article because I was working on the cover-art for my next novel, and I realized just how disparate my goals were. There’s so much I want to get done, but so little I can. It’s a problem! Just creating a place-holder image for this article took some time. Yes, I learned new techniques for a paint program, but it was still time spent doing something which distracted me from the sheer pleasure of writing. Sometimes, the research or the image-collecting for an article simply steals the show.
So what’s my answer? Well, one thing is to try to have a schedule. “Day one, work on project one. Day two, work on project two,” whatever works best for you! Everyone has a different routine, after all. Unfortunately, we also have daily obligations. There are days when I only have 15-20 minutes of “Creative Time,” if that! This forces me to pick something I can get done quickly, or at least something I can make a major contribution towards. Being able to figure out where one left off, then continue, isn’t always so easy.
Then, sometimes I’m working on commissioned articles or promotional material, and my “Creative Time” becomes “Second Job.” And sometimes, I’d rather write about knights and dragons than do content for some band’s website. The same things can apply to painters, photographers, and even musicians. Photographers might want to shoot macro-scale, exploring the nuances of a flower petal, but instead have to do bland portraits of an average family to pay the bills. All of these things add to an already overloaded plate.
Truly, sprawl is a problem any creator has to face down.
The Answer Is Patience
Most of all, I feel like I’ll never get something done “in time,” whatever “in time” happens to be. I feel that the book cover will take so long, I don’t want to even begin. I feel like finishing a novel will take forever, and that it won’t get done. Editing? It feels like bashing my head against a brick as a little voice screams at me to work on something fun, not something old. There’s just this overwhelming feeling that if I’m not creating new work, I’m not being productive, and the stories in my mind will never get out. Ever.
And none of that is true.
See, I’m young. I’m 29, now. But even if I were 69, I’m probably not dying tomorrow. I’m probably going to wake up tomorrow and have time to work on my next idea. The biggest reason why other creators I’ve spoken to seem to collapse into working on dozens of projects at once is because they don’t know how to be patient. They don’t understand how to put their ideas on paper until the ones they’re already executing are complete, and come back to it later. That’s the bottom line – patience.
For me, it takes patience to believe that, yes, this cover-art will get done; yes, the book will be released; yes, I can edit and re-release old ones, and – finally – I can put out new material. I can clear this massive plate I have in front of me, and I can think about new ideas and not feel like I have to immediately act on them in order for them to ever happen. The key refrain I’ve discovered? If they are strong enough ideas, they will be there when I’m finished with what’s got me busy.
For others, I’d recommend the same – or, at least, a genuine evaluation of which projects should take priority, and what the subject of the creator’s effort should be. Immediate performance and financial income isn’t the only guideline, here; existential reward and personal satisfaction matter, too. Each person will be different, and there’s always some creep, but sprawl should be kept to a minimum – before it gets out of hand, and nothing gets done.
This article is adapted from an original, less-refined version, posted on my old “Ramble About Writing” blog. Enjoy!