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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On the importance of side projects

I think the hardest part about writing is continuing to write. Like, starting a story is easy--any idea can start a story. But getting past the first spark, keeping the story going, that's the hard part. That's where block kicks in.

And that's why I think writers need side projects.

See, in my experience, block isn't usually a comprehensive can't-write-at-all thing. It's usually a I-have-no-idea-what-happens-next thing. But stopping writing just because you don't know what happens next means there's no new words going down on the pages, and that's when it becomes a problem. I'm not a very linear thinker--I read several books at a time, I watch lots of shows during a week, I tend to text people in batches and carry on three conversations at once. So it occurred to me: why should I try to force myself to write in straight lines when I don't think in them?

Maybe you're like me?

The answer to I-don't-know-what-happens-next block is to do something else for a while. To have side projects. To switch gears to where you DO know what happens next, and to continue a different story somewhere else.

Then you make progress on several projects at once!

Of course, you have to manage yourself. If you're on deadline, don't sacrifice more than a small amount of time to the side projects--and hour or a day or a week. Not months. Not years. And you do still have to finish things, or it's not a project and a few side projects, it's a string of unfinished work that doesn't do anyone any good ever. But it's nice to have the escape hatch, the pressure-release valve for when you're feeling too tied up in the main story and can't figure it out.

What works best for me is to have, say, a novel going. Then the side projects would be, maybe, a short story, an experimental thing, maybe some non-word art--smaller things that won't take as much time or brain space as the novel. If the side project is another novel, it'll be in a different stage of production: ironing out what I want to happen, note-taking, editing--not the main writing phase.

The point is to give your brain something else to do and to focus on, without stopping the habit of writing and creating. Giving yourself a break without breaking the habit.

What do you guys think about side projects?


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