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Recently I read an article by Hilary Mantel in which she expounded on what her writing day looks and feels like. If her name is unfamiliar to you, she writes amazing historical fiction, the kind of stories that hold on to you long after you’ve finished the book. A lot of people love her work, but those who don’t like it REALLY don’t, so fair warning. Either way, her stuff makes an impact.

Anyway, on to my point: I love reading the little insights into how professional authors approach their day because I always learn something from them that I can apply to myself. Okay granted, I’m not really a professional author in that I don’t earn a living from it (yet?) but I still like to treat the endeavor professionally, and part of that is being flexible with the things I think I know.

As is typical of Hilary Mantel’s writing style her descriptions use simple language that is nonetheless so visceral in its detail that one can’t help but feel immersed in her experience:

“Days of easy flow generate thousands of words across half a dozen projects – and perhaps new projects. Flow is like a mad party – it goes on till all hours and somebody must clear up afterwards. Stop-start days are not always shorter, are self-conscious and anxiety-ridden, and later turn out to have been productive and useful. I judge in retrospect.”

This really spoke to me, especially the part where she works on multiple projects. I’ve heard a thousand times from other sources that authors should stick to one project at a time and off on other ideas until they finish that one project. I still think there’s wisdom in this to a degree. If you’re constantly bopping around from one idea to the next, you’ll never finish anything. But, as with so many unbreakable “rules” you hear about in writing (or any creative field), one should allow some bend when following it.

In my case, I usually have several projects cooking at the same time. In fact right now I have a short story series I’m in the third installment of, a couple of novella series (one in its third, the other in its first installment), and a novel. Novels tend to have multiple story lines going on, and character arcs to keep track of, and a larger cast of characters. Sometimes I just want–nay, need–to churn out shorter works. I find it helps center my brain for the complex web of larger story lines. After that break I’m able to get back into them with greater energy and joy.

Stupid as it sounds, that one-project-at-a-time-rule always had me feeling a bit guilty about it, as if I were cheating on the novel somehow. Ms. Mantel’s description of her writing day points out that the creative mind isn’t like a train with tracks leading one way or another. It’s more like riding a horse. You lead it, but it’s important to remember that it has a will of its own. You work together. Sometimes you keep it to the path, and sometimes you let it run loose across that open field.

And finally, this:

“I stop for the day when some inner falling-away says, that’s all there is. It feels like a page turning inside – the next page is empty. Nothing is left then but to go to bed and wait for dreams and for the next day.”

Such a beautiful description of something I think all authors experience.

For the full article–and it’s worth a read–click here

What about you authors out there? Do you find you need to stick to one project at a time or do you work on multiple things?