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Publetariat Dispatch: How To Work On More Than One Book At A Time

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publishing consultant Joanna Penn shares tips from herself and other authors for working on multiple manuscripts simultaneously.

I couldn’t imagine juggling all the worlds or the amount of research I do for each book. But then I met professional writers like CJ Lyons (who is writing 4 books in 2012) and realized that it sometimes has to be done.

So although I swore I would never do this, I am currently working on several books at the same time, and to be honest, my head is exploding!


These are the books I am currently working on:

  • Pentecost,to be rebranded as ARKANE. I’m working on edits for my agent before we pitch to publishers in Sept/Oct, so this is the most urgent. It’s a fascinating process as the book went through several editors before publication and I also updated it after the first few months. Now I am reading it again and finding lots of things I want to improve as well as new scenes, adding depth to characters and more. Plus I know the future story development now so I can make sure the first book has some open questions for those subsequent books.
  • Exodus, ARKANE #3 is in second draft. It needs new scenes, reworking and deepening. My problem with getting this finished is that I may sell the ARKANE series and then this book won’t see the light of day for several years. I did have a deadline for self-publishing it by October, but that disappeared when I got an agent. But I need to get it to the point where I would be happy to publish it, take it through my editor and maybe even beta readers before resting it until we see what happens with publishers.
  • Hunterian (working title). This is a stand-alone or the start of a new series. It’s in research and first draft phase and I’ve only written ~2500 words but I obsessively think about it. The book will be a London based thriller/crime novel and would be under JFPenn: Ancient Mystery, Modern Thrill. I love the way this book is shaping up and I really want to work on it exclusively but it has to be sporadic until I can clear some head time.
  • Escapist (working title). This is a stand-alone or the first of two. ~16,000 words of first draft done. This is something a bit different and wouldn’t be under JFPenn because it’s probably categorized as contemporary women’s fiction. I’d have to use another name. I had a bit of a manic writing session the other week and the ideas took hold. I shouldn’t have indulged it but it feels like a little bit of fun writing that is turning into a book.

Alan Baxter Warrior ScribeI’m not the only one going through this process either. I was listening to the funThrillerPodcast the other day and discovered that my kickass, fight scene specialist friend Alan Baxter had this to say:

“I’m currently working on two novels – one is the sequel to a finished book that is currently looking for a publisher. The other is a project that is very much in my mind at the moment and won’t wait its turn! The first is about 42k words done and the second is only a couple of thousand words written, but I’ve been making extensive notes and plans. As the 42k project is the sequel to something currently before publishers, I’m making that my priority, and trying not to be too distracted by the other one. But when ideas won’t leave you alone, you have to at least make notes and rough outlines of scenes. So I would say that I’m working properly on one novel, while working part-time on the other!” Alan Baxter, dark fantasy author.


How do you work on multiple books at the same time?

So my head was exploding with all the different projects and it was hard to keep them all clear, or make progress on anything. So I asked for some comments on twitter and here’s some of the responses:


Are you sure there’s not a useful connection between them? Combine to make ONE GREAT NOVEL? @ThreeKingsBooks


Write them all. I have two I’m working on now. I’ve had as many as 4 at a time in my head. You have to let the ideas out.@lynnleite

Make an idea book where you can take a little time to put down info about the ideas you aren’t ready to work on. @druchunas


How about making a note of ideas for other two books, but concentrating on finishing the priority one first.@MJHolleyWriter

Plot them all, write chapter-by-chapter summaries and then go back to writing just one. That or work 24/7 til they’re done. @graywave


Keep feeding all 3 until 1 takes the lead (attention, energy). Then focus on that one, get to others afterwards. Good luck!@MsMartha_writer

Red Bull. @misterwakefield


Give into brain, ideas will sort themselves out @reebee01

Put your focus and talent into one at a time, scattering yourself won’t do any good! but keep the ideas noted for later!! @kiiyha


Keep going! Buy a dictaphone; hire an assistant. Better to juggle than be empty-handed @BookRambler

Can u capture ideas for two projects in outline form while only “writing” one at a time? @JenGresham


Hear ya. Done this many times. In the end I prioritised and focus on the one thing that would be done the quickest. @ColinFBarnes

That happened to me. But my creativity trigger is my playlists, so I only let myself listen to one set of songs. @LeighAnnKopans


Just write one trilogy? ;) @tomsbiketrip

Caffeine wins for me for every time. P.S Well done. I am struggling to finish the first!@iwanttowriteit


What I always do in that situation is write down key events, maybe write a full scene, so you can go back to it later. @NatashaMcNeely

Work on one in the AM and the other in the PM and vary it with the third. @LindaAdamsVA


How am I actually managing it?

Those were all great ideas, but we all have our own ways of working, right! Here’s how I am managing it.

So that’s me. I need to get my focus back and, in the words of the great Seth Godin, ‘ship’ some work!

Have you tried to work on multiple projects at the same time and how do you manage it? Or what do you recommend? Please leave a comment below.

  • I have shelved Escapist for now. I may do NaNoWriMo this year (November) and use that month to indulge this little project but for now it is parked. It doesn’t fit my brand and I need to finish the projects I have started.
  • I am primarily working on the edits of Pentecost (to be pitched as ARKANE) for my agent as that now has a deadline of mid September.
  • In late September I will get back to Exodus and finish that before October, so it will be the next primary project
  • Hunterian research is my weekend fun project, so I am doing field trips and reading books, but just note-taking and not even attempting to get into first draft writing anymore.


This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.


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