Doing Two Things At Once

I rarely write short stories, so I was surprised when an idea hit me last week.  And there I was, too, right in the middle of the current novel.  (Hopefully it’s a little past the middle by now, but you never can tell about that sort of thing till you reach the end.) 

What to do?  My writing style is straight linear.  I write books from start to finish, never going back to revise until a draft is done.  Sometimes I might skip a chapter or two because I think they may be too difficult to write yet (I couldn’t get my head around the really emotional parts a third of the way into The Magicians’ Daughter until after I’d written everything else).  But normally I plow full speed ahead, trying to get a little further into the story every day.  Rewriting is for the next draft.  And I do the next draft the same way. 

I don’t turn aside for other projects, either.  Until last week.  But the novel I’m working on has proven to be a balky sort of child, very different from the Stoneways books, and requiring a completely different writing style.  Tight first-person POV, for one thing.  And I thought I could use a break. 

So I wrote a draft of the story, which now needs to sit and ferment for a while.  I’ll be going back to the novel next week.  And I’m wondering, is this what other people do?  Do most folks break off from a novel to try and get down an idea that flashes into their heads?  Or do you wait, finish what you’re doing, and come back to it?

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  1. 1. Natania

    I think it totally depends on how intense the novel writing is going. I’ve had some short stories that sort of wiggle in while I’m writing a longer work, and I write them because the images, etc. are so vivid I don’t want to miss the chance. Other times, what I’m working on is so consuming that I worry working on a short story would derail me!

  2. 2. Mary

    I work on several works in series. I can’t help it, that’s the way I work. But it’s a dangerous habit because it can leave things hanging.

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    I used to do a lot of parallel writing, multiple novels, short stories, etc. Lately I’ve really picked up my novel pace and I’m just not writing shorts, so it’s a much more single-project, linear process. I do write outlines for projects as they occur—usually a couple of new novel ideas happen in the course of writing whatever project happens to be on the front burner.

  4. 4. Kathleen

    If I just got the idea, I have to write it down, because even the time it takes to get me to the keyboard means I lose some of it. But once I get down as much of whatever scene I saw and then all the background I can think of that didn’t fit or structure ideas or whatever, I’ll set it aside and go back to my primary piece.

    Of course, then there’s what I’m doing right now, which is working on two second books in two different series at once. Neither one is really stamping it’s little foot and demanding my full attention yet.

  5. 5. S. M. Payne

    The main reason I think I’m still a writer and not published is because my first big project is a huge multi-book project that requires an understanding of the overall story arc to write (insert frustrated growl). So having started that in 2002, I can honestly say I’ve started and finished multiple works other than Portal including a Christmas story, a juvenile fiction book (27,000 words), several articles, endless poems, and a handful of short stories that I can tolerate.

    That said, I’m currently embroiled in two projects: the Portal novels and a short story set in the same universe.

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Natania – Usually with me the novel is so intense there’s no room for anything else. This time I guess it was different.

    Mary – I don’t think I could ever do things in series like that. I really have to focus on one thing at a time, otherwise I get nothing done.

    Kelly – I wish I could do two things at once. I had a middle grades book idea that came to me six years ago – but I haven’t been able to even start it yet!

    Kathleen – I know what you say about needing to write things down. And how they can start disappearing before you even find a keyboard or pen and paper. If I lose them, I try to console myself by saying that, if the idea was any good, I’d never have forgotten it.

  7. 7. S.C. Butler

    S.M. – The Stoneways are really one long book, perhaps like your Portal series. After it took me four years to write the first one, I decided I should try and see if I could sell it before spending another 8 years on the rest.

  8. 8. NewGuyDave

    Eight years, while working, right? I hope so.

    I write my short story ideas down in a WP document and let them stew until they are so annoying that they won’t let me work on my WIP. When they reach that level of readiness, I open up a new file and let them pour out.

    It’s my understanding that my vegetable soup (story) is best served fully cooked, no sense in pouring a bowl before its ready.

  9. 9. S.C. Butler

    Dave – All stories are best served fully cooked, vegetable or chili con carne, no matter how long it takes.

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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