Rules for Writing Multiple Books at Once

I make no secret of the fact that I am working on many projects at once. I’ve been doing so for more than a year now, and I honestly don’t see myself stopping this behavior any time soon. I had a meeting with my agent recently, during which I laid out a bunch of books I’d like to write, thinking she would say, “Pick two and run with them.” Instead, to my delight, she said, “How soon can you get started on all of them?”

Since I’ve sorta, kinda documented online my ongoing quest to write a metric ton of prose, I am sometimes approached by people in the real world about it. The other night, I was at a launch party for a friend’s new novel and I ended up in a clutch of fellow authors. As usually happens when you put authors together, the question went around, “What are you working on right now?” And when I ran down my list, the next question was, “How do you do all of that?”

For me, the immediate answer is, “Well, I just do.” But when I was put on the spot like that, I had a sudden burst of insight and I realized that I do have some systems in place that help keep me on an even keel as I do all of this stuff. At first, I had three rules, but then I added a fourth. Since then, I’ve thought about it and added a fifth.

So, if you’re at all interested in Uncle Barry’s Formula for Writing Multiple Books at Once…read on!

  1. Your projects must all be vastly different from each other: If you’re working on more than one book at a time, it’s deadly to have them be similar. Look at it this way — say you’re writing a dystopian novel. And at the same time, you’re working on another dystopian novel…but it’s just a different kind of dystopia. Well, I think you see the problem. When you get burned out on one, the other one is no safe haven. They’re different books, but they’re too similar. They use the same psychic muscles. Make your projects distinct from one another and each one will act as a sort of safety valve for the others. Bored with that thriller you’re working on? Skip over to the romantic comedy for a little while!
  2. Always be at a different stage on each project: Again, this is about overworking muscles. Starting a book uses a different set of mental abilities than editing one or cruising to the end of one or researching one. So stagger your projects. At the beginning of 2010, I was revising my graphic novel script. At the same time, though, I was deep into the first draft of The Book That Will Kill Me. And I was researching I Hunt Killers. Later in the year, I was halfway through the first draft of Killers when I started writing the second Archvillain. Simultaneously, I was overseeing Colleen’s art on the graphic novel and headed toward the end of a draft of The Book That Will Kill Me. Once again, each book acted as a pressure release for all the others. No matter what I was working on, it was different and varied from what I had just been working on earlier that day or week.
  3. Turn everything in early: This is a tough one for many authors, who have difficulty meeting their deadlines already. But I swear to you, it matters. When you have so many projects on your plate, it’s inevitable that two or more deadlines are going to overlap or conflict. This means that if you slip on one deadline, you’ll put multiple projects in jeopardy. And if you think being in the weeds on one book is bad, try it on many! In order to keep yourself honest and to prevent a total meltdown, turn in everything early. Set your own deadlines that are well in advance of the official ones and follow your deadlines, no one else’s.
  4. Let no one else dictate your schedule: Closely linked to #4, obviously. But it’s important enough to call out on its own. In addition to not letting anyone else dictate a deadline to you, you also can’t allow anyone else’s whims to stall you in developing a project. Here’s an example: Say you have just turned a new book to your editor. You have another project you’d like to get started on, but your editor has told you that she will get back to you on the first book in a couple of weeks. You think to yourself, “Well, I won’t make much progress on the new project in just a couple of weeks, so I’ll wait to hear from my editor and THEN I’ll start on the new one.” No! Odds are, it will take longer than a couple of weeks for your editor to get back to you. And even if it IS just a couple of weeks, that’s still time you’re wasting, time when you could make at least some progress on the new project. So plunge into the new project and let your editor get back to you whenever she can.
  5. Be flexible: When I work on multiple projects, I tell myself, “OK, by this point in time, I need to have made X amount of progress on these three projects.” And so on. I manage to stick to that pretty well. But writing a bunch of books at once isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so you need to be flexible. Allow yourself to spend an extra few days on something if you’re really feeling it. Give yourself a week off to play Xbox if you’re starting to feel dangerously loopy. If you work on comedy in the morning and drama in the afternoon, switch it up every now and then in order to give yourself a break. Flexibility will keep you from cracking up entirely.

So, there you have it: Five Rules for Writing Multiple Books at Once. What are you waiting for?

Comments

  1. I’ve been looking for someone who successfully writes multiple stories- this is exactly what I was looking for! Great!

  2. Jason Gruhl says:

    This helped me a ton! I have been trying to focus on one thing at a time lately (across the board in my life), and I’m seeing the benefits of that. But I think there is something in my nature that just craves “what’s next.”

    I loved what you said about making sure the projects are very different and on different timelines – and mine usually are. I can be working on a children’s book and a work of fiction quite comfortably, but if I add some short stories and a memoir in there, the energy starts to wane from all of them. I think it takes being aware of what you are bringing to each project, and really dedicating to the integrity of each one, letting that dictate how much more you take on.

    Again, really appreciated this insight.
    Cheers,
    Jason

  3. Maggie Wei says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for this post, I’ve been wondering how this can work. I am currently working on my first fiction novel, but whilst I’ve been writing this, I worked on two separate e-books, which are non-fiction and in the self help genre.

    How would you recommend I go about this? Should I still put them on my profile OR should I give myself a pen names for each? ie for all fiction novels i have one name, and for self help books, another pen name?

  4. James Peranteau says:

    Lacks the website….
    Anywho, I must admit that I crept into your site to find if there was another soul who has been struck with the; I love to write forever, bat!
    I honestly convinced myself that I emphatically was the only writer who had such passion.
    You have successfully filled the void in relation the need for the essay with regard multiple books finding progress for read by; lovers of write.
    Your advise is impeccable, so on the mark with this essay! Likewise, you have inspired me to continue with another book whilst three others are in wonderful progress. One which is ready for the literary agent which I don’t have one, the second, I am currently editing, the third is in splendid progress if I may say so myself!
    Well, have a fantastic day, and I so can not wait to be in the company of the wonderful authors which you have thrilled me with in your essay here. Not that you have mentioned any, yet you categorically have….yourself! james

  5. You’re a genius. Thank you so very much.

  6. Hello Barry,

    Thank you so much for writing this post.

    Since I quit my job a year ago, I’ve been working on the plot for my comic book which is set in a different world – so I’ve been doing a lot of research. When I try to connect major events in the books together, I find writing it in novel form helps.

    On top of that, recently I’ve decided to start a financial self help blog, which requires a completely different set of frequent readings.

    I tried working on one in the morning and the other at night, but I find it difficult to switch between both as they require a different state of mind.

    I tried working on one for one week then the other on a different week, but I guess I’m still trying to find what works.

    My question is how exactly do you work on multiple things at one time?

    Do you wait until you’re dead sick of something, then switch?

    Do you finish a chapter then switch?

    Or do you work on one book for a few hours, then later on you work on the others?

    Would really appreciate it if you could comment on how you juggle different things.

    Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. […] is, and don’t ignore any one of them for very long. For some more good advice check out Barry Lyga’s blog article about this same topic. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  2. […] two – or more! – books at once can actually help your writing. Barry Lyga’s Rules of Writing Multiple Books at Once was especially neat. This is a gentleman who seems to write multiple books at once on a regular […]

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