Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Juggling two novels at the same time?

By Eleanor Shelton

I’m 55,000 words into novel number two of a thriller series, first draft, some good, some crap. Novel number one is currently being shopped around by my agent. This phase of number two is the just-get-some-semblance-of-a-story-down-so-we-can-move-on-to-making-it-much-better, please, phase. 

Without too much struggle, my characters are chattering away in my head, and there is a rough storyline appearing. All good. But there are other characters destined for a more literary novel also chattering away in my head begging to be let out and made whole.  

What’s the collective writing wisdom of working on two, completely different novels at the same time?

At first, I decided I needed to concentrate on thriller novel number two and then just make notes on literary novel number one. I began by sketching out characters and then outlining a super vague plot. 

But like that squirrel easily sidetracked by shiny things, my imagination began playing tennis with my stories (minus the annoying female orgasmic grunts).

·      The fun of writing a fast-paced romp

·      The satisfaction of delving deep into complex characters

·      A commercial audience (maybe)

·      A selection for book discussion groups

·      High stakes

·      Serious reputation

·      Branding

·      Awards

·      ….Facebook

While I contemplated these celestial concepts, I wasn’t doing much writing on either story.  I was conducting a lot of research on thriller number two but I applied to a residency using the vague premise of literary novel number one.

Having several ideas in the air was confusing me so I read an article about the benefits of juggling, real juggling, and there are many including helping your brain, improving your posture, and relieving stress. But according to the author, it’s not a cure all like alcohol, so I’ll stick with literary, metaphorical juggling since I’ve already got the alcohol thing down pat.


I read up on other authors in the same position. Some worked in phases—writing one, then editing the other; prep work on one but polishing another. Others wrote one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. 

That’s great if you don’t need any other source of income.  One writer swore that working on two projects kept them both fresh but a different writer said it made them both fall flat.  Or even worse, neither story gets finished.

Arrgh…not helpful. For now, I’ve decided to concentrate on thriller novel number two so that if I am lucky with thriller novel number one I have something that I can give my editor to show how dedicated I am. 

But at night, as I lay in bed reading, I think about my amazingly interesting and complex characters in literary novel number one and look forward to the day when I can bring them to life. Maybe I’ll get accepted into that residency.


Patricia Stoltey said...

I loved this post, Eleanor, because I do this all the time. I'm the master of unfinished projects because of the shiny character or setting or plot idea dancing around in my head.

David Sharp said...

I certainly know this dilemma. For me, I've learned there are consequences for working on more than one major project at a time. But breaking up the flow with an occasional short story is great!

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