Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quantum Writing Part II

Yesterday I talked about working on several writing projects at the same time and preparations to make in order to try this. Today we'll discuss how to do the actual work without driving yourself batty.

For each of your projects you now have a one-page outline, a notebook, folder or file for the paperwork, and a dedicated space for all research and reference materials. From here you can go three ways, depending on how you like to work your writing plan:

1. Write a detailed synopsis for each project.
2. Write chapter summaries for each project.
3. Work off the one-page outline for each project.

I don't like guessing what to write, and there is no such thing as too much planning for me, so I always go with #1 and a modified version of #2 (once I have the synopsis written, I divide it into approximate chapters.) This also automatically generates my daily task list, which we'll get to after we cover the other options.

If you're not interested in writing a synopsis for the project, you can put together chapter summaries based on your one-page outline. You can get as detailed or keep it as simple as you like, but you're basically answering this question for each chapter: What happens now?

Writers who don't want to fiddle with a synopsis or chapter summaries can write based on the one-page outline, which is probably the best choice for you organic writers out there.

Once you've decided on your writing plan, you are ready to make up your session task list. This is when decide exactly what part of the story you want to work on for each project during one writing session. To start off I strongly suggest doing a list for just one session at a time; it takes a while to get used to giving yourself defined writing assignments each day, and you may want to adjust the amount of work you're planning to accomplish.

Here's a session task list with just writing goals:

Project A -- Chapter 1 Scene 2 (Simone receives a cryptic message, knocks out courier, arms herself and rides to chateau)
Project B -- Chapter 6 Scene 4 (The colonists build a temporary shelter out of fuselage, discover new monster in caverns)
Project C -- Chapter 11 Scene 1 (Doyle takes Kit to Rumsen Main, where she is questioned and drugged)

If you'd rather not write on every project, you can write one and perform other tasks on the other(s):

Project A -- Chapter 1 Scene 2 (Simone receives a cryptic message, knocks out courier, arms herself and rides to chateau)
Project B -- Edit/research Chapter 5 (Estimate amount of food and water needed by colonists to survive, possible treatment for unknown venom, weight of fuselage)
Project C -- Type ins Chapter 10 Scene 3 (correct manuscript according to editing changes and rewrites)

Organic writers who don't want to plan anything can still assign themselves goals. If you have two projects and four hours in a session, estimate how many pages you can reasonably expect to write in that period of time, divide it by two, and that's your quota for each project.

When you've decided which writing tasks you're going to tackle for that session, then you just pick which one you want to start on first. This is a decision you make based on how you work, too. If you're not feeling too confident, you might start off with the easiest project first as a warm-up. If you tend to get crabby and tired toward the end of a writing session, save the easiest for last.

Work on each task straight through without backtracking or second-guessing yourself for the length of time you've allotted for that project. If you're working three projects over three hours, work for fifty minutes straight and then take a ten minute break before you begin the second project/task. During that ten minute break, don't think about anything, Make yourself a cup of tea, walk around, stretch, or whatever works best to help clear your mind. At the end of the break move on to the next item on your task list and repeat.

This sounds so easy, but of course it's really not. If things are going really well with your Project A, you're not going to want to move on to Project B. If things with Project B suck, you'll be tempted to shove it aside and work on Project C. The key here is to resist the urge to short or overextend yourself on any one task. Unless you are writing the most brilliant prose (or the most malodorous) ever to grace the page, it's best to stick to your writing schedule.

Sometimes you will need more than a ten minute break to shift project gears, and this is when focus breaks and project cues can be helpful. I mentioned a focus break yesterday in comments; it's something I do when for whatever reason I'm not ready to write during a writing session. I leave my writing space and do a short-term chore I dislike, such as folding laundry. That helps motivate me to get back into a writing frame of mind.

Project cues are something writers do to get their heads in the right place for a project. I usually listen to a song that I associate with the project and visualize the story over again. I also use sensory cues like scented candles or flavored teas. Occasionally I'll change my clothes (I used to put on my old scrubs whenever I worked on any of the StarDoc books; just wearing them put me into more of a medical frame of mind.)

Some other tips:

While you're working on each project, keep a blank notepad nearby to make any notes for unexpected editing changes or research needs. Once you've finish with that project, add the notes to the editing section of your project file/folder/notebook.

If you hit a stumbling block on the page and you can't get past it because you need to be in a different mood, or you need to do some research, or you just need to think about it, note the problem in brackets like this [describe the hotel in Avignon] and move on.

If you feel you're stretching yourself too thin, you're probably trying to accomplish too much each day. Adjust your task list or cut your writing time back an hour or two. You can also give yourself a couple of days to work on one project only, and then when you feel more relaxed, try the quantum approach again.

Don't think about the enormity of working on more than one project at the same time. Don't question your sanity. Don't decide you can't do this. Don't think about failing. Try not to think about anything at all but the work at hand and completing all the items on your task list. When they're done then you can go sit in your worry space and beat yourself up for an hour or two.

Quantum writing may or may not work for you, and the only person who can decide that is you. I suggest that you try it for a week, and then at the end of it look at what you've accomplished by counting the total number of pages of new material you've written for all your projects. Once you've done that, read what you've written, too. This is not just about knocking out a lot of pages on a lot of different projects, it's also about getting quality work done in a timely manner.

Working on more than one project at once can also cause you to burn out faster than the one-project writer, so be good to yourself. Eat healthy, take plenty of breaks, get a good night's sleep and do whatever else you can to make sure you're keeping your creative batteries charged.

And that wraps up this workshop -- any questions?


  1. This is some great info/strategy right here. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great advice!
    Thanks, Lynn. :)

  3. This is such fantastic advice. My biggest obstacle in writing is having multiple projects vying for my attention. And for some reason I always thought it had to be one or nothing. Thus no matter what I was working on, I always felt called towards something else. But by using this strategy, it seems like I might be able to give attention to 2 or 3 at a time. Thanks for sharing your method!

  4. Great post! Thanks for the information and advice! :)

  5. Anonymous4:04 PM

    These posts have been so inspirational! I honestly don't know if I have the brain power for quantum writing, but you've sure made me want to try!

  6. Thank you so much for these two posts! I have to try some Quantum Writing of my own over the next few months, and you have honestly helped me a LOT.

    I am writing one book while rewriting another, and then I'll be writing two books at the same time AFTER that.

    Thanks for your advice and insight.


    p.s. I'll be doing a giveaway for your YA novel next week. I really enjoyed it. :)


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