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Too many writing projects? Declutter with me

My writing project folder is fit to burst and I am struggling to settle into one. It's time for a declutter. I'm going to take you through my process: how to collect, evaluate, cut, prioritise and organise your timeline in order to achieve your writing goals in ten steps.

This morning is a blog writing morning. In my diary, I had written the title of this blog weeks ago. Almost immediately I started tinkering with an entirely different project – oh the irony! It definitely is time for a declutter and the perfect time to write this.

While notebooks brimming with projects might sound wonderful, this can sap your focus. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible to have writers’ block and too many ideas simultaneously - the guilt about the project you should focus on, the desire to start another, burling between high level ideas and being stuck on which to open up and actually write one word after another. Personally, I feel a sense of duty to the ideas that I have scribbled down, and an odd feeling of guilt about the fact I could never write them all, and so I try to tend them all. It leaves me unable to grow any.

In the autumn I felt as though my creative well had dried up some. It was very busy, the first stretch of time back to full pre-covid levels of activity, worry about rising costs and the winter ahead. I threw myself into ghost writing and editorial work which was great in terms of writing habit – something I believe in, as you know from my post STAY MOTIVATED AS A WRITER ( I set out in January with the notion of opening myself back up to new ideas – and it has worked. The second novel, the YA trilogy, the children’s books, the blog posts and articles, and a poetry pamphlet (or two). I have ideas for two film screenplays, a TV comedy and a theatre play.

I need to declutter my projects. I like to do this at the start of every season, but I skipped it in the autumn and winter, so I’m well overdue. Let’s do it together, walk with me. This process takes me a good couple of hours, so you’ll need coffee, tea, kombucha, whatever your get to work juice is.

Step 1: Write them down

I like a mind map for this, you may prefer columns. In my mind map I group my projects by genre. It’s a great way to see just how many things there are in your project pot.

Step 2: Evaluate

Essentially, pros & cons. I have no experience of writing theatre, for instance, and while I love going to see a play, I rarely do. To write a play would require me to develop a large amount of new skills. A firm believer in lifelong learning, I must also acknowledge this would involve a great deal of time. As for poetry, I write poems every day, they’re part of my routine, and as a poetry editor and publisher, I feel reasonably confident that I have the skill set needed to pull together a pamphlet.

Step 3: Steps to completion

I find this flows from the first level evaluation – a deep dive into what I would need for each project. Time needed for completion, the skill set I would need and whether I already have it. Do I need to find a mentor or support? Whether I already know those people.

Step 4: Highlighters

Ok, you can totally skip this stage but at this point I get my highlighters out, I like to use orange for the project titles, yellow for the cons, green for pros. I find it gives me a great deal of clarity at this point. Pink highlighter is ready to go for the ones that I shan’t progress.

Step 5: Rank the ideas

At this point I categorise them. The novel, the poetry, those are my mainstay. They are level 1. An article idea I thought I might pitch based on Jamie Lee Curtis calling for Coldplay to play matinees and how much my lower back and sleep pattern would appreciate it is a level 5. At this stage, level 5 does not mean that it will hit the cutting floor. As I categorise, I weigh up my pros and cons. Something I could write relatively quickly and easily might rank at 5 simply because as I go through I realise my heart’s not in it.

Step 6: Time to prune

A friend of mine once said “prune the bush to let it blossom”. When I look at my project mind map, it is instantly obvious to me that I have too many ideas and they will stifle each other. By this point, I often have ideas that I’m desperate to cross out with the pink highlighter. The ones that I realise don’t have legs, the ones that I’m not in fact interested to pursue having reached this point. Today I’m ditching most of my ideas for articles. Long term I do want to have articles published but looking at this mind map, I have a scattergun approach to these. Pink highlighter – cross out cross out cross out.

Give yourself permission to cross out the ones that may be a terrific idea, and that you could do, but you know, in your heart are not for you. It’s scary to let go of these ones, especially if you have already spent some time on them. New ideas will come. Think of them as an exercise in blue sky thinking.

Step 7: Check for new growth

This process may well have your creative juices flowing, and one of your projects is begging for you to dive in to them. HOLD. I’ve done that before and not completed the process. What this is telling you is that this project that is howling for your attention will need to be give priority in your next writing slot. How about your other projects? Are there one or two that you now see to be gathering dust, and others that feel ready to go? Split the projects into a “long term projects” and “focus for the next quarter”. OK so I work in quarters / seasons, you may divvy up your year differently, so go with whatever your stage is.

At this point I may see things move from last season’s “long term projects” up to “focus on now”. Bilingual children’s books are getting shunted across from long term to now as I have been creating Canva pages that I can bring together in an evening so I may as well upload them. The novel and the poetry are the ones that are howling for me to JUST GET ON WITH IT.

Step 8: rack ‘em up

Some writers can work with laser sharp focus on one project at a time. I need spill-over. You need to know how you write best. My seven minute daily gets the juices flowing. Writing a poem (or two) of an evening is like an overflow. I’m finding that writing for this blog once a fortnight is particularly useful – it tightens up the writing. The keystone is the novel, but it’s a serious drama, so I a comedy script will balance it up. I need various things on the go.

Step 9: Bonus round – completion

Sometimes I find that there are projects on the mind map that are in fact really close to completion. I have a few articles kicking about that just need a read through, and those bilingual children’s vocabulary books I mentioned ready to pop on KDP - as a multilingual mama and former languages teacher, I have been making up simple vocab books for years and made a couple of brightly coloured ones for some Wee Pals. Additionally, I have realised that I have some poems ready for submission. Woop!

Step 10: timeline

We have reached the last step: the timeline. You may like to use excel for this, a page in a notebook, a fresh sheet of paper, your diary. I have a paper diary. I have already put my blog ideas for here for once a fortnight until September, and I have a few new ones that would have been articles from my “pitch pile” so I shall pop those in now. That’s the blog planned up till November now.

Tomorrow, I shall pop the children’s books on KDP. That’s in the diary now. I clearly need to set aside a submissions days so I will earmark an hour for the next four Mondays and re-evaluate that after Easter.

Now for the biggies. Draft 1 of the novel will take me up until Christmas at least, and I’ll work on the comedy in tandem up until the summer. That’s the time popped into my diary. It will be fun to learn some new skills and hopefully useful to work on my dialogue writing which I find the trickiest, and that should also mean that my focus is better for having a parallel project. Thursdays for comedy? I don’t need to put my poems in the diary but I do need to put aside for pulling together a pamphlet – this is a career not a hobby so I schedule the time.

That’s my diary updated, and I also have written out a synopsis project page for my main projects that I shall focus on. This feels good.

Finished. Projects decluttered! Hurrah.

I personally need to go through this periodically. It keeps me focused, allows me to move on rather than get hung up on ideas I can’t see through. I have a vague belief that somehow I am setting the ideas free for someone else to catch, because I know I will catch more, I’ll have new ideas that I fall in love with, and I will need to sort them and maybe even bump something that right now seems blindingly wonderful.

I think having multiple writing projects underway can work really well for most writers and that allowing yourself that creative freedom, whether or not these projects reach publication, can be a really useful way to fuel your own writing. However, a periodic declutter and sift will stand me and you in good stead to move ahead with them. I am still working on getting the balance right, I learn about my own process each time. I learn how much I can take on each time. You too can learn this, whatever your craft, the process is ongoing. You just need to get going, and keep going.

I’d love to know how you found this process. I am enjoying exploring and sharing different facets of my writing life. Thank you for joining me in this.

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