Is it Better to Focus on Writing Only One Thing at a Time?

How much does it really matter?

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From what I can tell, there are three types of writers: those who only work on one project at a time, those who can balance many projects at once and still do fine, and those who try to commit to three dozen writing projects simultaneously and pretty much end up not actually writing anything.

Whichever of those categories you fall into (I’m a mix of the second and third depending on my mood that week), you might find yourself wondering if you’re doing something wrong. If you work best only focusing on one thing at a time, could you potentially be doing more by splitting your time between projects? And if you do try to do multiple things at once, would you be more productive if you narrowed your focus?

Is one way better than the other? That depends.

For whatever reason, there are some people who can successfully and rapidly shift their focus from one thing to another without much struggle. There are also people who find their focus and productivity hopelessly derailed every time they try to move on to the next thing without finishing the first.

The good news is, there’s probably nothing wrong with you if you’re a one-project-at-a-time kind of writer. It’s also totally normal if you’re capable of working on multiple things at once — as long as you’re not burning yourself out, making yourself miserable, or neglecting your personal needs in order to get it all done … or all of the above.

Every writer is different. We work best under different conditions, write at different speeds, prefer different methods, and worry about different details. That’s why it’s so hard to give writing advice to a large, general writing audience. I always have to be careful to remind readers that just because I’m recommending something doesn’t mean it will work — or that any other strategy they try won’t.

So it’s actually impossible to tell you that one way is “right” and the other is “wrong.” Really what you should be asking is: “Is the way I’m doing it the way that’s going to work best for me?”

How many projects you work on at once really depends on your preferences and whether or not you can manage multiple ongoing tasks simultaneously. There is no right or wrong way to do it, no way that’s necessarily better or worse. What works for you works for you, even if it’s not the way most experts or experienced writers recommend it should be done.

There’s also nothing wrong with switching it up — spending a solid week on only one thing and then spending the next several diversifying your creative outlets. In the end, it really doesn’t matter HOW you do it — as long as you’re doing something and you’re (mostly) happy with the results.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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9 thoughts on “Is it Better to Focus on Writing Only One Thing at a Time?

  1. I agree. Each writer must find a routine that works best of him or her. I don’t mind having multiple projects going. It keeps me writing while allowing more time to finalize a longer type of project such as a short story. My creativity works better this way.

    1. That’s the best and worst thing about giving writing advice — it’s easy to celebrate writers’ many differences but not always easy to give general advice to every reader! haha. I try. :)

  2. My running theory on multi-tasking is that it’s best not to have multiple projects that are too similar in nature or status.
    For example, I might work on a rough draft, which is a full “choose the words, craft the scene” project, while also revising another, or developing an outline for future story.
    At the moment I tend to divide my time into the categories of story development/writing, story reviews, reading/writing storytelling theory, and the submission process.
    I feel like if I were to work on two projects that required similar skills, that would divide my mental energy in a way that would weaken my effort in each project.
    But that’s only my current theory, and I think in time I might revise it.
    I certainly admire those who can crank out a short story in between sessions spent working on the rough draft of their current novel.
    Someday I hope to grow into that level of proficiency, but not yet.

    1. I actually LOVE this theory!! There could be something there, and actually, I don’t think it’s a bad strategy either. I might actually try it myself and see if it helps me increase my productivity without increasing the number of things I’m doing. :)

      1. Thank you. That is most kind, and I am glad to have helped. May be that it proves the seed of additional posts down the road.:-)

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