Multi-Tasking Truths and Nobodys

“Truths” are a very dangerous thing when you’re a writer. I’m pretty sure there’s a rule for whatever element of writing you might want to think of, and no shortage of ways to second-guess yourself. It’s a double-edged sword, in that the whole enterprise of writing fiction is inherently subjective thing: the good thing is that many different people have different ways to approach the same problem.  The bad thing is that a writer, in a moment of weakness and panic, might think that these things are absolute rules and if you don’t follow them you’re doomed to failure and a career full of mediocrity.

I’ve figured out that a lot of these “rules” are nothing of the sort and have led me down some blind alleys in my career. The problem is that these things can sometimes become so much of your approach that you’re not even aware you’re obeying them. I’ve outed another such nasty little one recently: the matter of which works you should focus upon.

The truth is, I thought focus mattered. I thought that focus would save me, help boost my writing career. I’d struggled with finishing works during my early career, so focusing on one work at a time would help me get through the Big Thing on my plate, right? The problem is that my mind just doesn’t work that way. I need constant stimulation – I believe the correct term is “neophile“:

Neophiles/Neophiliacs have the following basic characteristics:


  • The ability to adapt rapidly to extreme change
  • A distaste or downright loathing of tradition, repetition, and routine
  • A tendency to become bored quickly with old things
  • A desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty
  • A corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest.

Honestly, only one of those fails to fit me, and I’ve been that way forever. I have a need for novelty and a need to constantly be in motion, even if only in my mind. As a child, when my writing consisted of dreaming up scenarios for a series of comics that I wanted to one day create properly, I would be listening to music, or possibly watching television, as I worked. Some of that has become more difficult as I’ve aged, but it still applies. I’m often writing or reading as we watch television.

I thought it was only a matter of taming that spirit to get what I wanted from my writing. Focusing on certain works would make me more efficient, right? Turned out that “truth” was crap, and a big reason why I’ve been experiencing frustration and burnout. So this weekend I gave myself permission to work on several things at once, and the dam burst. I’ve hit word counts that I haven’t touched in a few months, and I can see movement toward a couple of stories now, stories that are targeted for release by the end of the year.

Turns out that editing is not enough for me. I need to be writing new material as I edit, or I wither on the vine. The content of the new material doesn’t necessarily matter; for example, as I write this entry, I’m working on converting MP3 files for my other site, writing an entry for that site, editing Room 3, and working on a short story entitled “On the Air”.  I don’t know, it works for me, and I think it’s the way to keep going.

So what about you? Do you work on several works at once? If so, do you find it gives you a significant advantage in avoiding burn-out?


Sadly, Found Music did not get an update last week, but it’s back this week, and back strong, with a great collection of punk covers by Denver band Nobodys:

I can hear some people rolling their eyes already. “Great, another album full of ironic punk covers’. I thought the same thing when I broke the shrink wrap and realized what I had, but nothing of the sort. This album is instead a love letter to the bands they’ve toured with – including bands such as the Queers, Chixdiggit, and Guttermouth. The jacket even features pictures of members of the Nobodys with the bands that they cover here. It’s such a damned cool idea that I’m surprised I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Check it out here.

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  1. Hey! A kindred spirit. Does not surprise me a bit.
    I can only work that way. TOO much focus on anything and I am doomed. Especially myself. Rules are so made to be broken.
    Glad you broke out.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Glad to hear someone else has to do it! Seriously, that’s a relief, haven’t heard from too many people who have to do it that way. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting, Jonathan. A neophile, huh. Whatever works, works.

    The important point is that people have a tendency to look to each other for clues as to whether we are doing things “right” or “wrong.” The education system is set up based on “right” and “wrong.” The irony is, the focus isn’t on the best way for children to learn, but on whatever is most convenient for teachers. It kind of conditions kids to feel shame over not being able to not just do right, but to BE right.

    How a person achieves results makes very little difference in the long run. One writer might need a Cone of Silence and intense focus on one project, while another requires head banging music, toddlers running amok and a ringing telephone. As long as both writers are producing, both methods are absolutely right.

    • Interesting comments, Jaye. If I may sidebar as a recently licensed educator, the big focus these days is actually on differentiation. We are supposed to figure out the different learning styles and teach to those learning styles (working under the assumption that all students are capable of acquiring knowledge).

      As to your post, Jonathan, I don’t really believe I fit the “neophile” definition, but I’m a helluva multitasker. I generally have at least five or six tabs open on the internet, and a few documents open at the same time. For writing, though, I can have music, but that’s about the extent of my distractions (and for music, it’s more mood than distraction).

      But hell, as I’ve said before, whatever works for you and gets you writing is all that matters. Keep plugging away.

      Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

      • Jonathan D Allen

        I always imagined you as a multi-tasker (you practically have to be given your career), so I’m not too surprised to see that. I find my distraction level varies based on mood and relative level of energy, as well. A tiring day and I need to focus solely on the story. A day with a good night of sleep and I can steam along on multiple projects. I try to get more sleep for that reason but it’s not always practical.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Yeah, I came across that description somewhere and it just stuck with me. It can get kind of exasperating in my personal life because, until recently, it often meant that I left a lot of things undone. I’ve gotten over that hump, but I’ll always have that tendency.

      I think you’re right about looking for cues; I know my biggest weakness is comparing how I’m “doing” in my own career versus other people who started about the same time (disregarding things like genre, relative level of experience, etc.). I don’t know that I necessarily look for “right” or “wrong” but I do often say “well, that’s working for him or her, why isn’t it working for me”, which ignores that the whole POINT of the stories I write is to do something differently. Yet another annoying tendency, but I’m suddenly a lot more aware of it 🙂

  3. I often have stuff going on in the background when I’m working on FB, twitter, etc. When I write, I need quiet…I’ve always been that way. I know lots of people who can’t work without something going on but as for me, I just prefer to write and read with quiet.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      It’s interesting, in the right mindset, music can become more of a screen against the distractions of the outside world rather than something that distracts. As I said to Paul, though, if I’m a little tired or off my game, that can take it out of me, so on some days I can relate.

  4. I have always been a single-focus writer. To stick to the schedule I’ve outlined for the series I’m writing, I will need to be starting to write the next book as the previous book is going through the final stages of revision. You give me hope that such is possible. It scares me, though, so I might have to fib to myself and pretend like I’m only working on one or the other. “Hey, self! Today is Tuesday! That means that the only thing that exists is Book III. What? Oh, no, that Book II revision thing is so not happening…”

    I’m glad you’re finding a style that works for you, though! It’s the most any of us can hope for. Yay!

    • Jonathan D Allen

      That’s funny, I actually did that fib thing to myself for awhile, not because I couldn’t write multiple things, but because I’d get anxious that I was leaving my “main” work for a little while and didn’t realize that recharging my batteries would also be good for that work. Eh, like most folks said, it’s all about finding the style that works best for us.

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