The Joys and the Perils of Working on Multiple Projects

It’s never my intention to have multiple projects on the go, but almost since the beginning of my publishing journey, this is the way it’s worked out. Currently, I’m juggling a few things at the same time. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is finished, but I’ve sent it out to a small list of publishers. While waiting for rejection, I’m planning my self-publishing launch of this book. A Song For Bill Robinson was sent to beta readers for the first time and I just received the first piece of feedback from a reader. I am now responding to this with a 6th edit of the book. Meanwhile, I made a decision to reduce the planned trilogy to two books by moving the main event of book three to the end of book two. This is in progress. And then there is the four-book series I promised myself I would not start until all these other things were finished! But that’s proving difficult, and I have recently succumbed to writing five chapters and indulging in some research…

I never plan on working like this, and in fact, I’m not sure it’s a good idea at all! I often experience what I would describe as a nervous stomach throughout the day. Unless there is something specific I am worried about, I have no option but to blame it on the thought of my evening writing.

Have you ever juggled more than one writing project? Or would this be your worst nightmare? Here are 5 perils of working this way, followed by 5 joys, because in my opinion, it is fraught with both.

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Perils

  1. Not Finishing – This is a genuine concern. It is the reason I rarely finished anything when I was a kid. During the inevitable slump, my mind would be drawn to a new story and off I would go. This has also happened to me as an adult writer, hence the half-written sequels to The Mess Of Me and The Tree Of Rebels.
  2. Distraction – Working on more than one writing project can be hugely distracting. If your mind is being pulled in more than one direction, it can be really tough to sit down and actually get some words out. It’s not easy to concentrate or commit to one story when you have others calling for your attention. Sometimes I start the evening working on one book, and finish the evening on another, which can feel quite frustrating as if nothing is really getting done.
  3. Panic – This is a definite peril and one I experience regularly. I get a nervous feeling in my stomach like it is constantly turning over on itself. Sometimes it feels like I cannot breathe and I take an extra big breath just to be sure. I’m not exactly sure why I’m nervous about my writing, but I always feel better once I am sat down doing it. I can only imagine that the feeling of panic comes from my struggle to do too much.
  4. Spreading Too Thin – Working on multiple projects could potentially dilute the quality of your work. Lack of concentration, distraction, panic, self-doubt can all be heightened when attempting to do too much at once. This could lead to a reduced quality of your writing, which is something I worry about a lot.
  5. Burn Out – Worst case scenario, working on too many projects can lead to burn out and exhaustion. It could spark off writers’ block. You could become utterly stuck, afraid to move on. I’ve experienced this before, and the only good thing about it is that it does finally force me to slow the hell down.

But what about the joys? Are there any good points about working on multiple projects? Can it be beneficial despite all the above? I might be crazy, but I do think so…

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Joys

  1. Excitement – Writing is exciting. It should be. I know half the reason I get such butterflies in my stomach is that I am excited to get writing. It’s exhilarating to put words to paper, to create and evolve characters, to give them lives, to shape and control their existence, to create worlds and spark drama and emotion. A new project is undeniably more exciting than an old one, which may be wearing thin. I like to stay excited and working on multiple projects keeps it going.
  2. Not Losing Ideas/Words – Now I know the rule is to never assume you will remember a good idea if you do not write it down. How many writers have made that mistake? You must write it down! It’s entirely possible to save future ideas by jotting the gist of it down somewhere safe, then getting back to the project in hand. But what if more words start to come? What if vague characters start to evolve into solid ones? What if they start to present you with conversations and dialogue? There is no way you will remember it all if you don’t write it down! And then before you know it…
  3. Keeps Things Fresh – Editing and revising a novel can go on for years. Writing the rough first draft is fairly easy compared to all that is to come. All the editing, re-reading, rewriting, revising, cutting, rewording and killing of darlings. Editing can be a challenge but it can quickly become dull, and even a torture. Here’s where starting another project can be helpful. Writing something fresh and new! It helps to be disciplined though. I only allow myself a chapter of a new book if I have edited four chapters of the current book, for example. Don’t jump ship! Stay on board and then reward yourself with a little bit of something fresh and new…
  4. Fills In Time Between Beta Readers – If you are anything like me, you will send your novel out to beta readers at different times. I usually have three rounds of beta reads, and I will work on the book in between. But when it’s out, I can’t work on it. What am I going to do? Sit around and twiddle my thumbs? It could be months! So I get my teeth into another project. As soon as the other book comes back from a beta, I down tools and get right back to it, always treating the one further along as the priority.
  5. Increases Productivity – In the indie age, productivity and brand are key. The more books you write, the more brand you create, the more trust you build with readers. Working on multiple projects increased productivity, there is no doubt about that. Simply put, more books are written.

So, over to you guys! What do you think? Do you work on multiple projects? If so, how do you stay sane? How do you stay on track and get it all done? Do you only ever work on one book at a time? Please feel free to share and comment!

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Second Draft Joy

Back in December, I penned this post Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second, while I was busy writing the first draft of a YA novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I was enjoying the first draft, but also realistic about its ugliness, and I was excited about going back to the second draft for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

Well, three months on, I am now well into that second draft, and enjoying it every bit as much as I said I would! It is easier than the first because the basic framework is there and the hard work has been done getting the story out of my head. I already know I can make it better and I have already listed and made notes of how to do this. The second draft is just fun!

I had to have a think about this earlier. Has this been the case with all my books? And I think the answer is yes. The first draft is the hardest for me. The later drafts are the most tedious because you know the story, and really you want to be writing something new, but you have to polish this thing up, cut bits out, sharpen it and refine it and make it as good as it was when it first appeared in your head. I think of the first and the final drafts as the real hard graft. The second, for me, is much more fun.

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In many ways, the second is more of a read through than a rewrite or a detailed edit. After a break, I am familiarising myself with the story and getting to know the characters again. I read through each chapter, getting a sense of them and their motivations, making notes and finding my way back into it all. Of course, I fix any typos I come across, and I do a lot of deleting unnecessary and repetitive words or phrases. I tidy it up as much as I can, but at the same time, I know the more brutal cuts, the reshuffles and the changes in direction will all come much later. This is still very early days, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to make any major decisions at this point.

At the moment, I am totally addicted to this particular story, which is also how I felt when I first wrote it. I suppose it’s more familiar ground for me as an author and a person. A gritty, contemporary YA drama with lots of dysfunctional family behaviours and social issues thrown in. I feel a passion for it. I want to tell these stories. And there are so many stories in this novel…

It’s fast paced. Which is good. I hope! On later drafts I might feel the need to slow things down a bit, my niggling worry being that it might come across as unrealistic for teens to have a life this dramatic. It’s literally a roller coaster of events, repercussions, consequences and drama. It’s full of highs and lows with plenty of unrequited love, dangerous lust, and familial miscommunication and resentment. Oh and of course, a rather wonderful soundtrack (the male protagonist is a talented singer) which ranges from The Four Tops and The Foundations, to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T. There is just so much to play around with!

And I know I haven’t got it all right yet. I know I need to keep fleshing out the characters and finding stuff out about them. I know I need to work on the visuals, the environment, such as their homes and bedrooms and so on. I tend to forget about all that stuff on a first draft, knowing that no one else is going to read it for a long time. I just want to get the nitty gritty down first.

But at the moment I am enjoying the ride, and just felt the need to share that with you. Adding bits and cutting bits. Reading it like a reader and bloody enjoying the process. I can’t get enough of it.

I doubt I will feel this way by the time draft ten comes around, so this is why I savour the second draft so much. I know the time will come when I almost come to hate this book. I have been there with The Tree Of Rebels many times, and Elliott Pie reached that point just recently before I sent it out to a second round of betas. I was sick of it. I am sick of it. Diving into this much fresher book has been just what I needed.

So, for me anyway, I give my thanks to the wonderful second draft, with the foundations laid down and the really hard work yet to come. I shall enjoy the party while it lasts.

 

Beta Readers; How and Why?

Several months ago I was convinced that my new novel, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was ready. I sent it to a tried and trusted beta reader who very patiently and kindly informed me that it really wasn’t. I listened, realised she was right, and tackled it again. And again. And…well, you know how it goes. Finally, a few more months down the line, I thought, okay, this is it, I’m happy, really happy! I’d addressed all of her concerns and it was definitely a much better book. I then sent it to another beta reader, quite arrogantly expecting her to gush with excitement about how ready it was. She didn’t. It wasn’t. Repeating these things to my husband, he asked a very important question. How do I know the beta readers are right?

This is an excellent question and one worth addressing. But first of all what should you look for in beta readers and why do you even need them?

You need them because you are far too close and subjectively involved in your marvellous work of art to see its flaws. It is very difficult for an author who is in love with their story, to be able to see where the pace is too slow, or the information repetitive. You may not realise how much of you and your beliefs and opinions are seeping into the book. You may not realise that there is too much dialogue, or not enough. It is your baby, your child, your masterpiece. Yes, your relationship with it is up and down. You love it and then you hate it. You are filled with self-doubt one moment, only to be surging with confidence the next. Either way, you need beta readers to bring your down to earth. You need them to tell you what is good about the book and what is not so good about the book. Of course, you don’t have to accept their advice, and you certainly don’t have to act on it, but to release a book or submit it to publishers without using beta readers would be, in my opinion, insane.

So, what should you look for in a beta reader? I think this is quite a personal thing and may also depend on your genre of writing, but here are the things I look for and require in my beta readers.

  • they need to have already read my work and connected with it
  • they need to be somewhat connected to me and my life, and have some knowledge of my beliefs etc
  • they need to be highly educated, or at least way better at grammar than I am!
  • they need to be an avid reader, someone who consumes books like an addiction
  • they need to be open to most genres, not snobbish or narrow-minded
  • they need to be breathtakingly honest and not scared to offend
  • they need to be able to understand how a book could be made better
  • they need to be prepared to read the book at least twice and make notes

What sort of things should a beta reader be looking out for when reading your work? Well, again this is very personal, but I will explain the way I often approach it. With Elliot Pie, I wrote the book quite naturally, just letting it flow as you do with a clumsy first draft, worrying about the finer details later. I finished the very first messy draft just over a year ago, and I honestly didn’t think it would need too much more work! This goes to show how blind you can be about your own writing. I did a few more drafts before sending it to the first beta. At this point I was looking for opinions on the plot and the actual story and on the characters. Did they work? Were they real enough etc? What about the structure of the plot and the flow of the narration?

What I got back was very interesting and resulted in me changing a lot of the chapters around. The beta had loved the characters (yay!) and the story but she found the pace too slow in the middle of the book and she guessed the ending. Not too big a problem, as it’s not supposed to be a real twist at the end or anything, but she did help me work out ways I could knock the readers off course a bit. She was also right about the pace. It was too slow in the middle and lots of it needed to go.

Job done. I attacked the book again, and again and again. Each time I went through it, I cut bits out, added bits, fleshed the characters out more, and wrote lists as I went which consisted of the things I still needed to do when this draft was done. I considered my work done when the lists ended. As far as I was concerned I could do no more. Yes it would need some more proofreading and a few more read throughs, but I was happy. More than happy.

I sent it to the second beta reader as she is my biggest critic and I knew she would be intensely honest. There was no way she would hold back if there was anything about it she thought could be better. We ended up having several Skype chats while she went through her very detailed notes on the novel. I made lists, nodded and listened. The more she talked, the more I realised how right she was, and the more I felt my own subconcious misgivings becoming unearthed. Everything she said about the book was true. I had written it in both first and third person. A bit of a challenge, yes, but that was just the way the story presented itself to me in the first draft and so I went with it and ended up sticking with it. This meant that all of Elliot’s, (the 12-year-old protagonist) perspective is in the first person. We are entirely inside his head. And in my opinion, that’s a wonderful place to be. I find him interesting and funny and amusing, you see. Of course I do, I created him! But would the reader think the same? Or would they find the narrative repetitive as he talked them through his little world? Was I telling them far too much detail when a lot of it could be shown rather than told, or omitted altogether?

I sat and nodded grimly and knew that my beta was right. I had climbed inside his head and got lost there. I was way too close and way too involved. I loved him too much but I needed to get back out and get some distance. I suggested changing his view to third person and the beta had thought the same thing. The more we thrashed it out, the more I realised how many problems this would solve. I actually began to get excited. There were other issues too, aside from POV, but I won’t go into them now as they will probably pop up in another blog post.

We talked about how I’d had a similar problem with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. (Again, this is where history, friendship and connection aid the beta/writer relationship) Originally written in the third person, from all the characters point of view, it was eventually rewritten into the first person, and from two points of view. At the time I was both terrified and excited to take this machete to my work, to slice it up and stitch it back together again, to tell the story in a totally different way. I knew I would lose tons of scenes and perspectives and dialogue and this saddened me beyond belief. But it worked.

With Elliot I have the same problem but in reverse. I need to lose the first person, get some distance from Elliot and tell the story in a different way. There is a lot of work to be done, but the groundwork is all there. The second beta also loved the actual story, the plot and the characters and found the pace just right.

I am so glad I gave it to her to dissect. But back to the original question? How do I know she is right? How do I know either of them are right? I know because as soon as they voiced their opinions, I knew I had been thinking the same thing all along. All they did was confirm what I already knew deep down inside. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself, because admitting it meant even more work, even more drafts, even more editing and proofreading, and it means the other books that are on hold waiting for this one to be done have to keep waiting and waiting and cramming my mind and driving me insane! I wanted the book to be ready so badly I had convinced myself it was.

But I can’t let a book go until I am sure it is the best it can be, and in my case, my betas are there to help me get to that point. I can’t thank them enough for the time and effort they invest in me and my books. I trust them implicitly and I know I am extremely lucky to have them.

But what about you? Do you use beta readers and if so how did you find them? What do you look for in a beta? Have they ever felt differently to you about a book being ready for release? How have they helped your books reach their full potential? Have they ever been totally wrong? Please feel free to comment and share!

 

Beta Readers; Handing Over Your Baby

Sometimes I try and work out what the toughest part of writing a book is. Is it the first draft where everything is at its freshest, but also most fragile? Is it the second draft when you realise how much work your first draft needs? Or is it when you are edging closer to the finish line? When you are swinging between self-doubt and elation? I’m not sure, but I think handing it over to someone else to read for the first time has got to be up there as well.

Last Friday I finished the second draft of Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. This second draft took less time than I had anticipated and went surprisingly well. To be honest, it was more of a read-through than a rewrite. I’d left the book for some time while I focused on other things, so I needed to familiarise myself with the story and the characters. I found myself smiling whilst reading it. I genuinely love these characters and it was enjoyable and comforting to be back in their company again. Obviously I cut out words here and there, picked up on some minor plot holes and corrected any glaring typos. But generally, I have to say, this time around it was a pleasant second draft. I like this book a lot. I feel good about it. I feel like I had a clear and concise goal before I started it, and I feel like I have so far achieved it.

Of course, I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be major rewrites and frustration further down the line. If my other books are anything to go by there will be! But right now it all sits nicely with me.

Only now I’ve got to let someone else in on the secret. I’ve got to hand it over to beta readers and see what they think. Now it’s obviously up to the writer to decide when their book needs to be picked apart by betas, and with a lot of my other books it has been much further down the line. But handing Elliot Pie over now feels right. The basic plot is all there. I just need to know if it works. If it is believable. If they see the ‘twist’ coming. If the characters ring true. I need to know if it makes them laugh or cry. The structure of the book is also rather different this time around, and I might be completely wrong about it. I can’t say too much at the moment, but I have been slightly experimental in terms of point of view and tense. For me, right now, it works, but I am bracing myself for my beta readers thinking otherwise!

They are so important in this process though, so vital as the first set of readers to dive into this fictional world I have created. Will they see it the same way I do, or will they see plot holes and inconsistencies I’ve been blind to? Now feels like the right time, because if the particular layout and structure of the book doesn’t work for them, then I will need to do some serious thinking.

Handing your novel over to your betas is a strange and disconcerting feeling. It’s a bit like handing over a piece of your soul. When you write that first draft, you are writing just for you. You have no idea if it’s going to work or not. You just start and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a flop, other times it’s spectacular, but no matter how good you feel about the finished product, you can’t just rely on your own opinion. Handing it over to betas is the first step in what Stephen King so wonderfully describes as ‘killing your darlings’. Hopefully, if they are doing their job correctly, the betas will send it back to you with a long list of thoughts, feelings, corrections and criticisms. Of course you want to hear positive things about the book, but it’s the negative things you really need right now. What doesn’t work needs to be changed or cut out. Subsequent drafts after the beta response ought to set the culling in motion. If it’s not adding anything to the story, it has to go. Cut out the fluff, tighten it up and be ruthless. I don’t think I could enter this phase comfortably without waiting for the response from my trusted betas. It’s like once I’ve heard the good the bad and the ugly from them, I can start swinging my axe with confidence.

Having said that, I already have a rather long list of things I made not of while going through it. Things I need to amend or add or pay more attention to on the next draft. It will be interesting to see what else my betas pick up on. I’m so curious to know what they think of the book in general. I feel a mix of emotions right now. Impatience and excitement; will they love the characters as much as I already do? I feel anxious and nervous at the thought of them casting their critical eye over something I am rather in love with. I know I will have to brace myself for anything scathing that may come my way, and remember how much better it makes a book to have early critiques like this before you unleash it on the public. I’m also sure there will be things we disagree on!

It’s exciting though because it is all part of the process of writing and finishing a book. That first draft. The elation and pride when it’s done, when it’s written, when this thing that was once just inside of you, is now out and in story form! That second draft. You’re moving on, starting to get critical, cutting bits out, polishing it up. Sending it to first betas is another significant stage in the life of a novel. They are the first readers to tentatively enter the world you have created. They are part of the process of making it all the best it can be.

It’s a bit like this book is my baby and I’m watching it grow before my eyes. It’s taking it’s first steps and changing! It’s got so many more stages to go through and I know from experience that the road ahead is nearly always a bumpy one. Some of my books have had major rewrites at later stages, leaving them almost unrecognisable to what went before! It’s satisfying to have set it on it’s path though. I’ve given birth to it and set it on its wobbly way towards maturity! I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Please add your comments below! When do you feel the time is right to hand your work over to beta readers? Does it feel a bit like giving your baby away? What do you think is the toughest part of writing a book?