Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writing Life: Multiple Projects

Image: Flickr, Kathy Ponce
At present, I am currently working on five different projects in various stages of development. I'm rewriting a feature I'm attached to, prepping a feature to shoot in winter, prepping a short film I'm shooting in the next couple weeks, co-writing a feature I hope to shoot in the winter/spring, and writing a treatment for a company that (I hope) turns into a script writing assignment. Not to mention another feature I'm up for, any commercials or industrial videos I'm working on and figuring out distribution on LAYOVER.

Not to mention, as you may or may not know, in December 2013 I became a father. I have an amazing seven month old who doesn't like to take naps or go to bed and is already crawling and standing up.

I have a dream someday about being able to focus on one project at a time but as a young filmmaker working freelance, it behooves me to juggle several projects in the hopes that one will "go."

As such, I am always looking for ways to increase my productivity and make it easy for me to switch between projects, especially ones that are so wildly different in tone. I'm still working on it but I've figured out a few things that help me work on multiple projects at the same time:


I know that writers often hate confining their time to set hours but with multiple projects you don't have the luxury of drifting from one to the next whenever you want. The smartest thing you can do is set up a weekly schedule in a calendar that lays out what you should be writing and when.

In general, my day looks like this:

6/7am: Wake up. (Depends on how Austin was the night before.)
6/7 - 8am: Coffee. Breakfast. Take dog for a walk. 
8am - 1pm: Babysit Austin so wife can work. He'll generally take one nap during this time. During these hours I will respond to emails, read the news, respond to Twitter or FB, look for Twitter or FB post ideas, look for blog ideas, and so on. No major writing going on but I'm always thinking.
1pm - Lunch. Sometimes at home, sometimes a lunch meeting.
1pm - 5pm: Writing/Meetings/Phone Calls. I prefer to get some writing done here but as my mornings are generally occupied, I often have to schedule meetings and calls during this time.
5pm - 7pm: Cook and eat dinner.
7pm - 11pm: Writing.
11pm - 12pm: Read.
12pm: Bedtime.

Obviously, this can vary quite a bit depending on what's going on but it's a schedule I tend to aim for each week.

Then, within those writing times, I schedule out which project I should be working on depending on the priority and where my head is at. Not all of  them have hard deadlines, some do, but I'm also not in a position to just finish them whenever either.


This may go without saying but keeping each project in its own little world, be it a Scrivener project, Dropbox folders, or the multiple desktop screens on a mac really allows you to focus on that one project. I'm easily distracted so this is a big thing for me.

For a long time I would jot down thoughts and ideas and write by hand in a notebook. I like the process of handwriting and I just couldn't get in to the whole Evernote thing. The problem, however, is that a notebook is linear and when you're working on several projects the notes jump from project to project (I don't section out my notebook). So, when you're going back and reading through them, you might stumble on notes for something else and suddenly your mind is thinking about THAT story.

I've recently started using Scrivener and what I love about it is exactly this: everything related the particular project you're working on is contained within its own project file. No more hunting for a file in Dropbox or via email. It's all right there and available to you within a single window (for the most part). 

If you haven't checked out Scrivener it's a pretty powerful tool. I haven't yet used the Scriptwriting feature and I'm not sure if I will or not, but for development its a really incredible tool. The program costs $45 but they offer a 30-Day trial to see if it'll work for you. 


Working on stories that are wildly different in tone, it's sometimes hard to get in the mood to write, especially if you're going from a love story to a psychological thriller. To help move from one thing to the next, especially within a writing period or the same day, I create music playlists for each project. 

For the love story I might be listening to music from THE SPECTACULAR NOW, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and others. For the psychological thriller, I call up music from UNDER THE SKIN, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, etc. If you're familiar with these scores then you know how incredibly different they are. 

It immediately gets my head into the game and allows me to more easily shift between stories that are very different from each other.


When you create a schedule for your writing, what you're also doing is creating a schedule for when you're NOT writing. Now, as writers, I know we're always writing and always thinking. And that's okay. Time away from the computer is a good thing. When you're doing other things, your mind can still be at work on a problem and often is. That's why people always say they came up with something in the shower. 

But what I'm talking about here is worrying about the writing. And what I mean by that is when you're not writing you're puttering around feeling like you should be writing. I'm guilty of this. For the first couple days I was babysitting Austin in the mornings, I would stress about the fact that I should be using this time to write and I would get frustrated because WHY IS HE NOT GOING TO SLEEP?

I had to change my perspective and attitude on the manner. Besides seeing my time with my son as an opportunity, I also told myself that because I had scheduled the writing time for the afternoon and evening, writing will get done, and what I should do right now is just play with my son. 

We all need a break, even when you're working on multiple projects. 

I'm sure there are far more "hacks" for writing multiple projects at one time. What are some of yours? Be sure to share below or on Twitter @Joshua_Caldwell.

1 comment:

  1. Great post on maintaining your schedule -- mine is similar, but inverted: for me, that solid chunk of creative time is in the AM, between 5:30 until I can’t ignore people’s emails and call anymore, usually around 8:30 or so.

    By the afternoon and early evening, I’m creatively spent -- people who didn’t go to state schools + got PhD’s call this “cognitive dissonance.”

    So I use the rest of my time answering emails or nudging along projects that don’t require deep focus.

    That said, I don’t have a 7-month year old, which makes keeping to your schedule about, um, 1000x harder than mine. Seriously impressed.

    In terms of organizational apps, Evernote has changed how I track notes, ideas, and everything I read. It’s awesome.

    For productivity, it doesn’t get better than Freedom -- I am my own worse enemy when it comes to distractions, and with one-click, Freedom takes away all my weapons.