When I was planning my writing routine in the last few weeks before I graduated, I had some grandiose ideas about how I was going to structure my new-found writing time. One of those ideas was to work on two projects at once. I knew that I absolutely wanted to work on my novel-sized project–I had been chipping away at it for years– but I also wanted to work on some shorter-length projects at the same time.
During my undergrad I had written a few short pieces with some moderate success. In particular, I really discovered my love of writing short stories. It was nice to work on a smaller scale project, dealing with 2000 or 3000 words instead of 50 000+ words. When you work on a novel-sized writing project, the process is long (often years) and requires massive amounts of confidence in the work to finish. The nice thing about short stories is that they are relatively low commitment and (usually) offer much more timely satisfaction. Quite frankly, there’s not as much pressure in writing a short story, because you’re investing less time and energy into it. A low-pressure project is especially helpful when you’re a young writer trying to write, but also building barrier against self-doubt.
By the time I graduated, I enjoyed both forms of fiction-writing–the sprint of a short story and the marathon of a novel–for their unique merits. Naturally, I thought that working on my long project and a short story in tandem would be great. My plan was to use the completed short stories (that I was sure to write) to build up a bit of a CV for myself, so that when it came time to try to sell my long project (yet to be completed), I’d have something to show for myself. The plan was to work on my long project in the mornings and my short stories in the afternoons. It was going to be great, and I was going to be living the writer’s dream.
Big surprise, it turned out to be a little more difficult than I anticipated. For the first month or so I blissfully worked on my long project. I had developed a routine and was working through my rewrites at a good pace. It was going well, until I tried to introduce a second, shorter writing project into my routine. I found that it was difficult for me to switch between the two stories, so for a few weeks I decided to only work on my new short story.
The novelty of working on a new writing project quickly wore off, and the difficulties set in. Part of the problem was that I was in a hurry to write a short story that wasn’t fully developed. In the past, I had always let my short story ideas percolate for a long time before ever putting a word on the page. I had the luxury of doing this in the past, because my main goal was school, not writing. Any writing I did during the school year was gravy. Now that I was spending dedicated time writing, I felt like I had to pump out short stories much faster, so when I got that first seed of an idea for a short story, I immediately started writing it. Purely an instant-coffee kind of situation–no percolation.
It’s difficult to balance the creative development of writing with the disciple of putting words on a page. You don’t want to rely on “inspiration” or a muse in order to write, but you also can’t write a piece that isn’t ready. I think if all I had to work on was that short story, I would have tried harder to write through the problems and develop the idea on the page. However, I had my long project waiting in the wings. Coming back to the novel-sized project was like a breath of familiar air in my lungs. Self doubt wasn’t looming over every sentence, because the work was already established, and I was confident in it, unlike the new short story.
At first, putting the short story on hold and returning to a single project felt like a bit of failure. But you know what? It’s not. Since going back to the long project exclusively, I’ve felt re-energized, and I’ve been writing more than when I was trying to be extra productive and write two pieces at once. I do want to try working on multiple projects at once again at some point, but I think I’m going to wait until the short story has more time to develop and the story is ready to be told. Instead of focusing on the speed of my writing, I am going to focus on being flexible and patient as I get to know myself as a writer in this new stage of life.