Sometimes I wish I had a modified version of Dissociative Disorder, a kind I could turn on and off at will. Prolific writers seem to have mastered the ability to dissociate, to turn their minds to disparate worlds, characters, stories as easy as changing the settings on the washing machine. There’s a skill there that is proving gawdawful hard for me to learn.
I’m not interested in proliferation. (Not yet anyway, wheee!) I only want to be able to dig into one story while wrapping up another, to work on them both at the same time. The prevailing wisdom is while the betas have a draft, or while waiting on queries, get to work on your next story. Alrighty, then. Only, now my mind is split between two stories set in very different eras, with characters who would not be friends in real life. I need to be concentrating on one, but my mind drifts to the other. This seems a sure recipe for not finishing either project, and it may be that most insidious form of procrastination I’ve talked about before: procrastination that looks suspiciously like progress. But even this terrible possibility hasn’t forced me to develop a more effective strategy yet. A writer friend suggested that this ability is a habit, one that takes time to develop. In the meantime, it feels like driving in circles.
Learning the ins and outs of creating marketable fiction is a struggle. Just when a writer thinks he’s conquered one aspect—say, dialogue, point-of-view or storytelling—he’s faced with a new, higher-level skill. It’s daunting, and frustrating. No wonder so many people stick manuscripts in the trunk and never pull them out again. There are plenty of resources for learning mechanical skills, but for the more esoteric skills, it’s really a matter of slogging through and figuring it out on one’s own. Because each writer’s process is unique.
No one can actually teach me how to split my brain to manage two (or more) books at once. I have to learn it, develop a working solution. I’m not a naturally effective multi-tasker at the best of times, and when I’m immersed in writing, forget it. I live in my story. Even food and sleep get shunted to the farthest back burner. But to be a professional about this, which is my goal, this skill must be learned.
Like Janus, a writer must be able to look in opposite directions and see two, sometimes opposing, views at once.
Jupiter help me.
Photo Attribution: By Fubar Obfusco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons