I'm a linear person by nature--I make a list, I tick the items off one by one, and I always, always keep moving forward. I approached my first novel this way, moving relentlessly forward until it was complete. But this time I'm writing a historical fiction and the process is turning out to be completely different.
I can't tear through 5K words in an afternoon on this one. The words start pouring out, but then sooner than later, I encounter a black hole in the world I'm inhabiting. I don't know how the window would work, or whether they'd have tea at two or four o'clock. I'm not sure which style of carriage this character would drive--or if he would drive it at all. And then I slip out of writing mode and disappear into the black hole of research, until the gap in my world is filled in so well that I can touch it, smell it, and dream it--until I could write it in my sleep.
This ping-pong style of writing alternately freaks me out and energizes me. Whenever I find myself on the precipice of the unknown, I get a sinking feeling in my gut, but then I always jump. I know that in ten or fifteen minutes I'll be that much better, fuller, and ready to write. But, man is it scary to face holes at every turn! In a modern setting, the details fall into place as easily as breathing. Thinking is barely required. But with historical fiction, I am learning that I have to live the period before I can write it. That would explain why, when my husband brought home a 1000 page book on the great manors of England, I squealed with delight.
How am I handling this change in process? Two key developments: one, I use a lot of XXXX's when I write now, and two, I am also writing another project in parallel, one that is simple, wild and unpredictable, with absolutely no research required because it's pure fantasy. The side project feeds off of the pent up energy and stress that builds from tackling such an ambitious historical fiction project. Yesterday I crossed the half-way point in the side project and realized that meant I was half-way to finishing another book. Another book? I never planned on that!
To be honest, what kicked the side project off was my son's simple request that I write a book for him. "Mommy, when are you going to write a book for me?" he asked, and of course, how could I refuse? As soon as I started writing it, one afternoon after a lengthy research session that stretched so long I felt my eyeballs would fall right out, I realized I needed this simple MG book as much as my son did. I'm so glad he asked me to write it.
Will I always write two projects at once? Or even more at once, bouncing from one to another as I see fit? I'm not sure. I've always thought of myself as a one-project kinda girl. But apparently I was wrong. Or maybe I just underestimated myself.
Regardless, the value of having different outlets for writing has proven itself to me, and I'd encourage anyone who's considering a side project to just do it. Don't feel like you're cheating. How can you cheat on yourself? Your mind brings these desires to the forefront because they are what you require to create. So, create! In the end, the side project may become the project you really needed to write, or it may make the long-term project turn out a million times better, or you may just end up with two books for the price of one. Any one of those will do.