People often ask me if I work on more than one book at a time. I answer, “By preference, I don’t.” I’ve read of studies that report multi-tasking yields results like those of elderly people losing focus. While I’m not quite elderly (at least by my definition!), I do have three -well, four – series under contract, and I need focus to keep the protagonists and their settings distinct.
So I try to shovel out one series at a time. I’ll write the first draft for this one. Then put it down and incorporate copyedits on another one. Then write a blog post or work on an invited lecture for a third. Preferably not all on one day. Because the last thing readers need is me switching from first person voice (Country Store Mysteries) to third (Local Foods Mysteries). Or seeing my introverted geek farmer (Local Foods Mysteries) do something only my extroverted Quaker linguistics professor would do (Lauren Rousseau Mysteries). Or, heaven forbid, have my 1888 midwife use a phrase like “it was hard for me to get centered,” a distinctly twentieth-century usage when it pertains to something like meditation or Quaker worship.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen my twenty-something sons listen to music, check fantasy sports results, cook a multi-course gourmet dinner, carry on a conversation, and do yoga stretches almost simultaneously. And nothing seems to be wrong with their brains. On the contrary, they are super productive, well adjusted, caring, and handsome to boot. (Okay, hanging around being handsome isn’t quite multi-tasking, but I’m their mom, so I can throw that in.) They have yet to be authors of multiple series, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened one day.
Back to my own multi-tasking, though: one day last week I finished going through proofs for FARMED AND DANGEROUS. I heard that my editor accepted FLIPPED FOR MURDER and I figured out how to implement the changes he wants. I changed the murder weapon for BISCUITS AND SLASHED BROWNS because I learned another author had recently used that exact same unusual method. And I printed out COMPOST MORTEM for final revisions. Four at one blow on one day. And that’s only two of the four series. Whew!
Not long ago when I was a technical writer in the software industry, one guiding principle was, “White space is your friend.” If you load up a page with too much information, readers can’t absorb it, and that was when we actually printed software manuals. Maybe brains are the same way. But, then as now, lists were also my friends. Making a list every morning totally helps me cope with my multiple tasks for the day. Constants are: “Write” and “Exercise.” Everything else follows, and some days the reality is that I have to work on two or three or four books. But at least I have something to check off!
So how do you deal with multi-tasking? Readers, what do you make lists of? Everyone, how do you cope with multiple commitments? Writers, do you try not to work on more than one project at a time, or can you easily switch between books, posts, series?