The bonuses of working two projects

A couple of months ago, I decided to have a chop at writing an ebook series while also finishing up the second and third drafts of my novel. I’ll admit, I had some concerns about this:

Would I find it hard to keep the two stories separate? Turns out, no.

While working on one book, would I feel guilty about not working on the other? Turns out, yes.

Working on two projects at once was occasionally hard, but I gained some nifty insights about my process along the way.

The second project was mostly fun

Starting a second project actually turned out to be pretty refreshing. I had a clean page, new characters and a new story! I wasn’t locked into the events that occurred in previous drafts; I could create something new from scratch. Now, I’ll admit the first 5,000 words were a bit tough BECAUSE I had nothing to build on. It had been a long time since I had “written into the dark”, but it turned out to be a productive exercise, I had to trust that the story was going to be there.

There was also an incredible lack of pressure. I’ve been working on THE BOOK for two or four years – I don’t own a watch – produced three drafts, conducted primary and secondary research and spent hours calculating timelines and writing out lead character’s bio/histories (including fav colours and preferred breakfast cereals). THE BOOK had theme. THE BOOK had heart. THE BOOK is trying to say something.

The ebook isn’t.

It’s just a story and it’s all story.

And that made it damn fun to write.

Keen to be mean

Being a new project, I wasn’t attached to my characters. Like at all. And man…I was sooooo mean to them. I didn’t even feel bad when I killed the protagonist’s father or forced the car off the road at the WORST possible time ever. (Though, I don’t think there’s ever a convenient time for a car to go bush bashing).

The ebook was written without an outline, and occasionally I was worried that my mean streak would back my characters into a corner. For example: if my main character’s unconscious body was locked in the boot of a sinking car on page 20, then that’s probably story over? Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but what I did discover was a heightened tension. Because I wasn’t precious about my characters wellbeing, I was able to create and maintain a constant source of conflict.

Intentional practice

By the time I’d reached the second and third draft of my novel, the structure, plot and voice were pretty well set. These drafts were more of a line-level edit. I wasn’t forcing literary devices or techniques into the work, I was instead working on clarity and brevity. As previously mentioned the ebook was a new slate, a new slate where I could intentionally practice the literary techniques that didn’t work in THE BOOK.

For example: A pulp fiction author I follow recommends describing a different sensory detail every page with the aim of covering all five senses every five pages. He believes this creates a more visceral feel. I tried this technique in THE BOOK and it didn’t work. It felt forced. I couldn’t stitch a sensory detail into every page without the seam showing. However, this technique worked well with the style of the ebook, as it often helped ground my character in the scene.

The old lead foot

As mentioned above, there was a whole lot less pressure around the crafting of the ebook, which meant I was often able to smash out 1000 words in an hour – sometimes less. Because the ebook was all about story, I didn’t have to maintain things like theme or irony or slip in techniques like foreshadowing or flashbacks (unless I was intentionally practicing these techniques). I was writing a straight and sharp genre book, if the above-mentioned elements showed up in the story naturally, that was great, but because I wasn’t trying to include them I was able to simple follow the story wherever it led me.

I realise the above points may make it sound like I put a ton of effort into THE BOOK and next to nothing in the ebook, but that’s really not the point I’m trying to make here. What I’m saying is that these two projects created a nice counterbalance. While one project had a beating heart, a tenderness, the other was all about “then what happened?” One allowed for meticulous and careful editing, while the other offered a free and loose form (that often resulted in surprising plot developments!).

They were each other’s salves.

And I refuse to choose between my smart project and my fun one.

Image: Playful Balance by Adam Huszka 

 

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