Writing, just like every other creative craft out there, is something that requires an immense amount of time and energy - perhaps more than most.
It's every writer's dream to get everything in their heads onto paper in the snap of a finger, but while that would be ideal, it's also impossible.
The next best thing would be to write multiple books at once and also maintain a standard of quality while doing so. Though it's not entirely impossible, it’s bloody difficult.
Every writer's style varies depending on their strengths, and while some authors believe that their creative juices flow a lot better when focusing on one project at a time, others believe they can get the best results when producing more novels simultaneously.
However, it's no secret that the more tasks or distractions that divide our attention, the sloppier our work will be, for the majority of people at least. But of course, there are a few talented exceptions. For example, some writers can focus their minds on various things concurrently and achieve astounding results every time on every project. These writers, however, stand in the minority.
Just like every other artistic project or creative process, writing often requires undivided attention.
But while there’s a multitude of reasons that stand against you writing several novels in one go, which we’ll get to later, let’s start with the two main reasons why it could beneficial for you.
1. Traditional Publishing
Writing a few novels at the same time may work better for authors who want to take the traditional publishing route and get a literary agent, mostly because the traditional publishing process is long and strenuous.
Although it can take years to draft a novel, it can take even longer to see your book in shops, and there are endless steps your literary agent will take you through after writing ‘The End’, such as developmental editing, line/copy editing, proofreading, cover design, text design, illustration, translation, marketing, publicity, and sales.
This whole process generally takes around 18 months, but often longer, partly because it takes a long time to get a manuscript ready for publishers, but also because the publishing houses worth proposing are always juggling many other agencies, authors, and books.
So yes, although writing a novel is hard, it’s sometimes the easiest part of the process when you consider every other step. As a result, while you’re waiting for literary agents to respond after querying, it’d be wise to begin working on your next book, and if you do manage to get a literary agent, it might be a start idea to ask them for advice on your second novel – if they like the sound of your sequel or new standalone idea, it could be in your best interests to start writing it while your first novel is being prepared for publishing houses or book shops.
Not only will you then be able to keep doing what you love, but you’ll also keep your creative juices flowing and get more done in less time.
2. Time to Breathe
The second reason for writing more than one novel at once is to allow your other manuscripts ‘time to breathe’ while you work on a different project.
When you come back to one of your manuscripts later on, you may spot new things that may need changing or fixing that you didn't see before.
For example, if you alternate between two manuscripts every three months, for example, you’ll return to each of them with fresh eyes, new writing skills, and as a better writer than you were before, which may be more difficult if you just focus on one novel - your brain will get too used to your own work, and let’s face it, when do you ever leave your manuscript to rest for longer than a week? 😉
Anyway, after letting each manuscript breathe for a bit, you can make each one significantly better each time you work on them, which could better prepare you for querying literary agents, hiring book editors, or self-publishing.
Quick tip to writing several stories at the same time: Draft several shorter stories alongside a lengthier novel, which could prove to be a lot simpler and more manageable than working on several 85,000-word novels in unison.
Now we've covered the main two reasons for writing multiple novels in one fell swoop, let's dive into the reasons you probably shouldn't write more than one novel at the same time.
1. Shiny Object Syndrome
Though every person's creative process is different, you could argue that it’s difficult to produce a masterpiece while focusing on many projects at one time. However, what works for you may not work for someone else, which is why it's important to know your strengths and what works best for you.
As mentioned before, dividing your attention too much can be detrimental to the quality of your manuscript, assuming you finish any of the novels at all with so much on the go.
As you’ll already know, it's easy to be seduced by another story idea whilst trying to draft your current novel, and sometimes, all the amazing ideas floating around in your head may lead you to consider writing all of them at the same time.
However, as time goes on, you’ll likely realise that it’s more difficult than anticipated, mainly because you’ll accidentally, or deliberately, abandon your first novel to work on your new shiny idea, or even abandon both ideas, leaving both works unfinished – which is commonly known as shiny object syndrome.
2. More Equals Burnout
Working on numerous ideas at once may become exhausting after a while.
Just think about it – writing one lengthy novel can get overwhelming and exhausting from time to time, so imagine trying to complete two, three, or four novels all at the same time!
Focusing on a high number of projects in any area – e.g., writing, housework, exercise, hobbies etc. – soon leads to burnout, which could prolong your writing journey and make you dread writing in the future.
So, evaluate the amount of writing you can realistically take on and stick to it. Perhaps you could keep a journal of all the sparkling new ideas you have so you can work on those after finishing your current project.
Plots, characters, structures, writing styles, moods and tones are all things that face the possibility of getting mixed up if you work on various manuscripts simultaneously. As a result, accidental crossovers can occur unbeknownst to you until the editing process.
For example, if you’re writing two historical novels – one follows the story of Anne Boleyn and the other concentrates on Anne of Cleves, you might start to get confused in some areas. Or if you’re writing three different high fantasy novels that each have different magic systems, you might muddle them up by accident.
So, perhaps in cases like these, it would be simpler for you to write one novel at a time.
It’ll come as no surprise that writing multiple novels at once will take much longer to finish, so speed is another factor to consider if you’re tempted by a second or third story idea.
If you’re writing one book at a time, you can really focus on perfecting everything before you query literary agents or self-publish, and you’ll produce results much faster, but if you’re spreading your attention across quite a few projects, you may not complete everything as wonderfully as you’d hoped.
So, if you’re dead set on completing at least one manuscript as fast as possible, consider focusing on your first novel idea, or at least the book that grips you the most, but if you’re just going with the flow and you’re not as concerned about deadlines, writing more than one book that the same time might not be such an issue in terms of time.
While no one has ever said that it’s impossible to work on many different novels together, it is, however, strongly advised against.
The appeal to starting a brand-new book is understandable, especially if you’re in the middle of writing a novel and losing motivation to continue, but there are ways to combat this.
One of the best ways you can avoid getting seduced by hundreds of other story ideas is to keep an ideas journal for you to come back to only after you’ve completed your first novel. As a result, you might feel more motivated to complete your book as you’ll be super excited to begin working on your second idea.
Though it may seem daunting, especially if you have a lack of time as it is, completing one book at a time may be the best way forward for most writers, but that’s not always a bad thing.
J. K. Rowling took a total of six years to write the first Harry Potter book, and it's pretty safe to say that her novels are immortalised.
So, if time is one of the factors that compel you to write multiple books at the same time, remember that working on one masterpiece is better than working on two mediocre novels at once.
Good luck on your writing journey!
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!