The Rules of Working on Multiple Works in Progress (WIPs)

As a writer who always has more than one Work in Progress (WIP) going at a time, I was asked how I deal with two WIPs crying for attention at once. (Only two?…) Here’s a few rules I use to keep myself on track.

1) Do not work on two different WIPs in the same day.

Sleep is my writing palate cleanser. If I try to work on two WIPs in the same day, I end up working on no WIPs that day. Focus on one.

2) Jot down ideas about that other WIP–the one you are not allowed to work on today, no matter how much you want to–if you’re afraid you’ll forget.

If you get a fabulous idea about the other WIP (which you are ignoring today), jot the idea down so you don’t forget, but do not be tempted to actually write it today. Work on it the next day or whenever WIP #1 isn’t cooperating.

I tend to not jot too much down. Just short reminders of ideas. My brain remembers everything novel-related and if I leave it in the good ol’ brain overnight or for a couple days, said brain makes the initial idea even better. But that might not work for you.

3) When WIP#1 isn’t flowing freely, this is your cue to switch to WIP#2 (but not in the middle of the day – either start the day with WIP#2 or switch to it the following day, if WIP#1 still is not cooperating after a good night’s sleep).

This is why I LIKE multiple WIPs.

Scenario: I’ve been working on WIP #1 for days. I’m at a stuck point and it won’t cooperate. I HATE WIP #1. Why did I think this was a good story? It sucks rocks. (And I get to this point frequently, btw…) When I hit that wall, I go to WIP #2 which I’ve been DYING to continue (because it’s wonderful and could never suck rocks and I have all these ideas that I want to work on), but I have deprived myself of the joy. Oh, WIP #2 I so love you. When I finally allow myself to work on WIP #2, it’s an exciting flurry of activity which eventually runs out of steam and WIP#2, so loved just days or weeks ago, begins to suck rocks. Stoopid WIP#2, how could I ever have loved you? So back to WIP #1 which I’m now DYING to continue, because I’ve deprived myself of the joy and it never sucked rocks, not really, I was just sick of looking at it. And now I have all these ideas. Wonderful ideas. WIP#1, you are the cat’s meow. Purrrrrr.

This works if you’re just working on one WIP, too, except you let yourself write that scene near the end that you’ve been DYING to write. Maybe just a paragraph. Tease yourself a little. It will be more satisfying in the end. Ahem!

4) When you’re totally stuck (it happens), trust your brain to work things out. It will. It just needs time.

And what better way to give it time than to work on something that comes easy. There is a problem with this. When you get to “The End”, the holes in the story are all the hard parts where you got stuck along the way. When this happens I just gotta buck up and force myself to finish it, gritting my teeth the entire time. This is where I currently am with Sinners on Tour Book 3. Not looking forward to the next couple weeks of writing, I tell you that.  Which means, I will finally let myself start writing Book 4.  I’ve been DYING to start it.

Other writers will tell you to plow right through the stuck parts and just write something–you can fix it later. That does NOT work for me. If I do that everything that comes after the plowed part is messed up. I just skip it and return. Or go to the other WIP and let the first stew.

5) If you need discipline (and who doesn’t) designate creative writing days vs. line edit days or nonfiction writing days or whatever else you have on your agenda.

I love creative writing days, so I’m tempted to designate them all as creative writing days, but those line edits (or whatever) have to get done, too. Don’t try to do both creative work and other projects together on the same day. Some people can probably have different times of the day when they focus on one or the other, but I need that sleep palate cleanser to shift gears. This is why I get so little creative writing done on days I work at the day job. My gears are stuck in N (for non-creative). It never turns out well. So work days become line edit, update the website, sign up for conferences days.

Maybe I need to take more naps.