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This week, I found myself gatecrashing a conversation on Twitter between two big genre writers (as you do.) One of the themes that came up was that it's not enough to write a good book if you want a career at writing. Simultaneously, on a forum I've recently joined, the question was raised about how to manage multiple projects. The blog-wheels started to turn.

I know there are one-hit wonders out there. I can name some famous single-novels that made it: Emily Bronte, Harper Lee (yes, yes, I know there's a prequel out now, but for decades Mocking Bird was a single book), Margaret Mitchell all spring to mind (it's worth looking into their background - all of them wrote throughout their lives, in various guises).

They are the rarity. For most of us, if we  want to make a career out of writing, we're going to have to learn to write more than one thing, more than one format and, possibly, for more than one related market (I write sf, fantasy and the odd bit of horror; that's a pretty common mix.)

I write flash fiction (just coming out of a nice 300 word competition, in the silver medal position), short stories and novels. Plus blogs and guest posts. I write them when I have a notion of an idea, when there's a prompt and when I'm asked to submit to places. I don't sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, I say yes and then write something.

Those short stories have taken me far in terms of my name getting out there. They also brought in a small amount of money before the novels ever did. They gave hope in the long journey to publication that something might break.

But - how to balance it all? At the moment, on the go, I have a final edit for publication, a first publisher's edit, a book to review before editorial, a book a first revision stage that I hope to get onto sub soon, two shorts waiting to be completed, a new idea buzzing and fizzing and wanting some attention, and a sequel begging to be written. To make it harder, two of these books (and one of the shorts) are space opera, one is real-world fantasy, one mainstream fantasy, and one straight SF-thriller. Two are in the Northern Irish voice, but in different genres. 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and dizzy. Here, then, is how I manage it:

1. One thing at a time. I only have one main WIP open at any given time. I might have ideas for others, I might even write out a long hand scene if it's begging me and keeping me awake. But only one piece open and being worked at on the pc at any one time.

2. Shorts are a great refresher between projects. Shifting from one novel's voice to another's is hard. It usually takes me a week or so to shake off what I was doing and move onto the next. I find working at shorts between the switch works well for me. It removes the original voice, inserts one which isn't so fixed, and gives me space to move back to the new work.

3. Mix it up. I'd go mad if I had to do three first drafts in a row. But, also, much as I like editing (I know, I know...) it takes concentration and less creativitiy, so doing three tight edits in a row would also tax me. I tend to have, on the go: a final project being polished, a mid-way project being revised and something new and shiny for me to go to play on. That's my reward, almost.

4. Celebrate finalising something! It's so easy, when you're working between things, to never see the end of your work (and writing, once you get to the stage of deadlines and expectations is real work. It's real hard work, actually.)

If you were in the workplace, you'd pat yourself on the back at the end of a project. You'd take time to plan the next (or rather, you should.) You'd also have others celebrating the end of a project with you.

In writing, the end can be strangely down-beat. The WIP goes from you to a copyeditor. It might be another month, or six months, until it comes out and you can ra-ra about what you've written. That vacuum is a hard one, so it's up to you to fill it.

Take a day off, or a week. Go out for a meal. Do something you enjoy. Do anything that actually says that yes, you've achieved something. And then start writing the next thing.

5. Get to the end! It's easy to gad about. I have a book I was happily revising, eight hard chapters in, and then I had to break off to work on something else. It's still the next project I'll return to. That discipline isn't easy when new, fun ideas are exploding (and the planning I'm doing for Inish Carraig 2 is a lot of fun), but it's needed. Without it, you'll never get anywhere.

6. Don't be a production line. Start to pick and choose your projects. At the start, exposure is everything. But, later, exposure can be at the expense of a paid gig. Start to weigh up projects, to ask if it's the right one for you. And don't be afraid to say no. Everyone else does.

7. Lastly, try to enjoy the process. You started writing because it was something you wanted to do, right? (At least, that's what most writers tell me.) You didn't start to make a squillion. (I really, really hope not. If you did, I have bad news for you...) If you're at the point of multiple projects, it's going well. Savour it.

A list of things that I have worked on can be found here:


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