A friend of mine just told me that he had stopped working on his novel because he seemed to be running out of gas and began working on some vignettes for another project. After he took a break and picked up the thread of his novel again, he found that it took a whole new and inspiring path that he was excited about.
Sometimes, no matter how intently we work on a writing project and how devoted we are to it, we run out of juice temporarily. Rather than soldiering on valiantly, but ineffectively, I’ve often found that it’s best to do exactly what my friend did: shift gears and work on something else for a while. Some writers, many accomplished authors among them, actually enjoy working on more than one project at once on a regular basis. They switch from one to the other almost seamlessly, keeping their train of thought intact and using one project to energize the other.
If I recall correctly, Dickens did this; at some point in his career, he was juggling two novels with two entirely different sets of characters and plots. Quite the high-wire act. But then, Charles was always a big risk taker. For most of us, this would be well nigh impossible and the stuff of nightmares.
But switching from one type of writing to another, say from working on a novel to working on a short story or memoir? That sounds doable, doesn’t it? Once Stephen King has pulled together a full draft of a novel, he likes to let it simmer for six weeks or so before revisiting it. During that time, he’ll work on a novella or a short story. That’s certainly one model.
But we can also work on different types of writing in tandem. From day to day, I often find myself switching gears: working on bigger projects, then trading off and working on a poem or a snatch of a song that might find its way into a musical I’ve been playing around with. This approach seems to keep me excited and just a bit on edge about what’s coming next — a great place to be when you’re writing dangerously. How about you? Do you like to barrel through on one project or shift gears? Write on.