• Jugglers & One-Track Writers

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 17 comments

    There’s a guy I hang out with who’s a writer. He’s working on a memoir, and has been for a couple of years. Right now, he’s setting that book aside.

    To write a white paper.

    On auto tires.

    For money, of course! It’s a day job. Auto tires are not a passion of his. (Did you ever notice that we never say “car tires,” only “auto tires”? Or am I making this up? But we say “car battery” rather than “auto battery”; “car horn” rather than “auto horn.”)

    But he said something interesting: “Whenever I have to do a big white paper, I need to stop working on the memoir. I only have enough headspace for one [writing project] at a time.”

    I’ve known many writers who operate the same way. One-track writers, let’s call ’em.

    My friend says he doesn’t want the style he uses in his memoir to intrude on his white paper, or, even worse, vice versa. I can understand that. He feels unable to leave his work at the office, so to speak.

    But I also know writers who work better when balancing two or more — sometimes up to half a dozen — different writing projects.

    Writers who work on multiple projects at once have their own solid argument for doing so: “I like to have options so I can operate by mood,” they’ll say. “If I try to work on my novel but, for whatever reason, can’t get my mind into that world, I’ll switch to my nonfiction project. If I’m working on nonfiction but my brain keeps going back to my characters, I’ll open the novel.”

    I’ve never really had more than one major project going at one time. But lately I’m losing momentum on my own memoir, and I’m considering pumping the brakes for a minute and starting work on some fiction. Maybe something old, maybe something new; either way, something different.

    And then maybe, if that goes well, I’ll become a writer who can operate by mood, choosing which project to work on each day based on feel.

    Because without a second project, I find myself working on either the memoir or nothing. And lately, it’s mostly been nothing.


    Your turn: Do you work on more than one writing project at once, or are you a one-track writer, and why?

    If you do work better when you have multiple projects, do they bleed into each other? Or do you find ways to compartmentalize?

    If you’re a one-track writer, have you ever tried to work on two projects at once? What were the results?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.


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    Elizabeth Barricklow

    I’ll make another case for juggling: procrastination. I don’t know what it is about creativity and powers of procrastination, but they seem to go hand in hand, at least for me. The up side is that I am incredibly productive when I’m procrastinating. I can plow through a whole list of things I’ve been putting off! (That ceiling fan really needed to be dusted.) I’m experimenting with juggling two projects at once – a memoir and a children’s book – to see if I will end up making good progress on one of them whenever I’m “supposed to be” working… Read more »

    Elizabeth Westra

    I usually can write only one thing at a time, but once I have the rough draft finished I can write a rough draft of another. Then I switch back and forth while editing. Right now I’m sending a few things out there into the cruel publishing world and not doing much writing. It’s time for more inspiration with a new idea or two. That may take awhile coming.

    Barbara Mealer

    I am a juggler. Currently I’m editing a book, writing two books along with reading a book to review. I only able to edit for so long before I tire and need a change of pace. I’ll work on a a book until I feel I’m making a mess of it. I’ll go back to editing or move on to a different book. The key is how I work in hour or less blocks with breaks in between each block of time. It works for me as it makes it like a fresh start when I jump projects. Today, my… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I am not a juggler—in my writing or any other part of my life. I’m a perfectionist, and I have trouble letting go of anything without seeing it through to the bitter end. My reflexive answer to “can I interrupt you for a minute” is no. And I don’t say it politely. Are you familiar with Person from Porlock? Check it out on Wikipedia. Writing, though, is a partial exception. There are certainly times when I can’t put a piece down, but if I come to a natural stopping place (a scene change, a block, or a realization that I’ve… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I usually do not juggle books, but since I’ve switched to e-books I do occasionally.

    Barb W.

    I’m a one-track writer who would love to learn to juggle.

    David, if you give it a shot, I will.

    Susan H.

    Hi David, Last time I posted a comment I think I called you Justin, and I was not confusing you with Justine, I actually had just finished talking with someone named Justin……. And, gosh, if I can’t even juggle two names at a time I’d better not try two projects. Truth is I am a serial monogamist when it comes to writing. If I don’t give my current project full attention it starts to feel neglected. That is not to say that I don’t “lust in my heart” (is that what Jimmy Carter said?) once in a while and wish… Read more »


    When I juggle, I feel spread too thin. When I one-track a project, I feel too concentrated. Maybe there’s some middle ground, but I can’t imagine where that would be.

    Kate Niles

    Great comments. I stumbled on Goat Hill and the blog because I am feeling isolated and lacking writing community in Durango, CO (home of the nationally recognized 416 Fire, FYI…it is raining buckets now thank god). I think white paper writing (tires!) and the more creative forms of it I have to keep separate for reasons similar to the profiled Juggler. Two different brain parts – one more analytical, the other more creative…but I am similar to others here, and Dave, where when stuck I can and often do switch to another form if my mood is off. Grumpy, convinced… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hey, the title of my book is “Grumpy, Convinced I Suck.” Did you know that!?

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. If you haven’t checked our resources area, we do have a Colorado page. I dunno if any of this stuff is anywhere near Durango, or helpful in any way, but here ’tis: https://www.writebynight.net/colorado/

    For what it’s worth, here, two and a half weeks after publishing this post, I’ve written… nothing. Not a word of my memoir, and not a word of any new project. So.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x