“Finish one project before you start another or you’ll get confused. You’ll lose control. It won’t make sense if you jump around. Stay on top of it. Push, push, push. Go A to Z so you don’t miss anything.”
I was taught early on to stay organized, to work linearly. Start one project, finish it, and move on to the next. Orderly. Precise. Tick off those lists and move on to the next one.
In my working life, I, like everyone else earning a paycheck, always had multiple projects. File folders lined up neatly, projects to be attacked one at a time. Open the file, make a few notes, a few phone calls, a few decisions, delegate, update, decide, postpone, note, and close the file. Next. Answer the phone, open another file, discuss, notate, send updates, schedule a follow up meeting, close the file. Next.
It worked, this method – it was so organized, so precise, so…focused.
My first book Stitches is out, and, in my formerly highly-scheduled, highly-organized world, I would close that file, take a deep breath, congratulate myself on a job well done, and open another clean, crisp, empty folder.
The next book. Start at the beginning, move on to the middle, and get to the end. Finish, revise, edit, circulate, revise some more. Finish, send off, close the file.
Boy, has my world changed.
Writing is not structured that way. It’s not so cut and dry, is it?
Stitches is only the first in a series of six books. I ended it with a hint of what would happen to another character, Renee.
But I originally wanted to follow up with yet another character, Jade, and I started that book, but when revising Stitches with my editor, it occurred to me that I wanted to go with Renee, a much better choice. So I stopped working on the Jade book and began to focus on Renee.
I was uncomfortable leaving something hanging in mid-air. The old tapes started to pay and I thought my original enthusiasm would wane and I’d forget what I was doing with Jade. It would have driven me crazy in the past. Now it’s just teasing me out there in the universe and I keep Jade in mind while I’m working on Renee so it all fits.
As if that weren’t enough, it occurred to me recently that a group of women I meet with once a quarter or so (we call ourselves the Margarita Mavens) are such powerful, interesting women I should write a book about them. I got so excited about it I started writing it then.
That makes three books in process, and I have the other three of the series laid out in my head.
Yesterday I met with a writer I had been communicating with for over three years – she lives in Toronto and came into town for a mystery writers’ conference, and we finally met in person. When we were getting to know each other I told her a few things about my personal life and she got so excited about one aspect she said I absolutely had to stop what I was working on now and write that one. We even had the perfect title, and it practically wrote itself in my head.
So I came home and started it.
I now have four unfinished projects – and it’s okay! The world has not ended because the projects are not taken in order. I don’t have to finish one before starting another.
And guess what? I started the new one at the end, not the beginning. Liberating! I feel like such a rebel.
So here’s the lesson I learned: it’s okay to be messy, to have projects unfinished, to not know where you are going or what you are doing.
It’s really okay. Fun, even. I was starting the new project this afternoon, and it led me to an idea about the Renee book, and I took the time to write it down to remind myself of this great idea. That aspect never would have happened had I worked on one project alone.
I jumped projects.
A sacrilege in my old life, and my parents would not be pleased I had wandered off the orderly path. But they weren’t writers.