Active and Passive Projects

In the past I’ve talked about how I work Asimov Style, and my wife Katie works Bradbury Style. It’s a loose generalization of how both men approached creative projects. What I’ve realized is that I’ve fallen into a hybrid of those work styles, and that the two can be classified as active and passive projects. It’s how I’m able to be both prolific and creatively satisfied with the work I’m doing.

Isaac Asimov had multiple typewriters in his office. If he got creatively stuck on one project, he’d slide over to the next one and work on that. When he hit a bump with that one or, more likely, he finished it, then he’d slide over to the next one. By the time he got back to the project he was hung up on, he was able to move forward. The point, or at least my takeaway, is to keep working. No matter what, put down words and don’t allow “writer’s block” to interfere. Writing is a job, so you need to treat it like a job.

Ray Bradbury would intentionally ignore ideas. He’d deny them existence, forcing them to percolate in his head. “Unleashing the latent beast”, or something like that, was how he’d describe it when he finally wrote the story that he’d been putting off. Katie works like that. She doesn’t make something until she can’t put it off any longer, not because of a deadline but because the thing she’s creating is ready to be created. It’s the artistic approach, but you can still be working on other things while you’re waiting for other ideas to have their moment.

Working Asimov Style, for me, is best with active projects. The thing that has the most immediate deadline takes priority, obviously, because that has to be completed first. After that, the project with the next-most-pressing deadline, and so on. Sure, conventional thinking is that 100% of a writer’s attention should be on the one project with the nearest deadline. But woolgathering in between bursts of word count is wasted time. I find it better to be working on something than sweating the fact that I’m not working on anything.

On my desktop I have shortcuts from multiple Scrivener files. I line them up according to their deadlines, the most pressing on the left, the furthest down the line on the right. If I get so much as an idea, I open the appropriate file and jot it down. I try to keep only one file open at a time, unless it’s a quick hit to add a note. When I’m focused on word count, the only thing open is the one I’m actively writing. At the point I need to let that rest, or I feel stuck, or I need to think about what comes next, I close it and open the next file. I do some work there, and when I’ve completed a section or get to a stopping point, I go back to the other file, or a different file entirely. Keep moving, but keep thinking.

What I’ve discovered is that in doing this, I’m also working Bradbury Style. Working on Project A, I’m putting Project B in denial. By the time I get to Project B, I have something to add because it’s been percolating. The same goes for as many other projects as I think I can handle, but in reality I find that I’m only switching between two or possibly three. I get a break from the thing I’m on a hard deadline for, which allow me to clear my head and let it rest, to stop trying to force it. I’m using the time to get ahead on other deadlines coming down the road on other projects. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but it’s how I managed to get things done.

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1 thought on “Active and Passive Projects

  1. That sounds like a very effective system. I’ve done similar things in the past when I’ve had to juggle multiple writing projects.

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