Are Most Writers Polygamous?

InfidelityYou know how it goes. You’re working on a project, you’ve got a deadline. In some cases, like my own, you have two or three projects going and you are getting close to the various finish lines.

But then you’re walking along from the store or the coffee house, and it tiptoes up––that new idea, that inspiration, that concept, that what if?

You try to ignore it at first. Or maybe you give it a little dalliance, while at the same time part of your brain is saying, Stick with the program, bud. You haven’t got time for this!

But this new idea, shoved up from the basement where the boys are hard at work (and they have closed the door so the idea can’t go back down) beckons to you. It winks. It nods. Whatever the scent it’s wearing, it’s intoxicating.

So you figure you’re merely walking along, nothing’s really happening, why not give this idea a little time?

And that’s when you’re cooked. That’s when the hooks go in.

So you take the new idea out for a drink. It’s totally innocent. You’re not wedded to this idea. You have a couple of other ideas you’re married to waiting for you at home. But you’re not home. So just one drink to talk things over, see what’s happening, and maybe you can just part as friends.

But part of you knows it is oh so dangerous to drink with a new idea. You don’t want to admit you’re really attracted to it. You certainly don’t want your other projects to get jealous. But there you are, ordering from the bartender, and all of a sudden you’re looking at your idea and imagining her all dressed up.

She’s wearing a great opening chapter.

Underneath that is a perfect structure.

This idea has legs.


But it’s no use. Your idea is flirting with you. And you like it.

You all know what I’m talking about. It happened to me the other day. I have three front-burner projects I have to finish. But I made the mistake of taking a long walk without any keyboard in front of me.

There flashed the idea! Oh, it was a honey. I started to dally. Two main characters. What was their story? Why would they be thrust together after this suspense-filled first scene?

Oh, I know! I can give them this great Doorway of No Return into Act II!

And who is waiting for them there? A villain, of course! And he’s baaaad….

But is that all? No, my characters each need a “mirror moment” to tell me what their stories are really all about.

Hers: I’ve got it!

His: Yes, that’s it!

The idea whispered, “Buy me another drink.”

And now, guess what? I asked the idea to marry me!

And she said, “Yes!”cupid-308480_1280

Ah, Cupid! I am undone!

This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings…
      (Hamlet, Act II, Scene 1)

Tell me true, is this you? Are you a polygamous writer? Or do you stay loyal to one idea until the book is done? Don’t be shy. Confession is good for the soul!


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44 thoughts on “Are Most Writers Polygamous?

  1. While I can typically only WRITE one book at a time, it is very common for other story ideas to crop up in my brain while I’m writing a book. I immediately make a file for that story idea and file it. It may consume me for a couple minutes only, or it may divert me for several hours, maybe a few days, but I usually always get back to my original project. Of course I don’t have the genuine deadline of a publication schedule.

    In any case, I wouldn’t trade those creative bursts for anything. They have turned out to be very beneficial for me.

    And thanks for the collaboration blurb. While I already have about 3 billion books on writing, I simply cannot pass up another at that price. I appreciate the alert. I’ll be patiently waiting for launch date and delivery to my Kindle.

    • BK, those files are gold. I have hundreds of ideas in various forms–from one line to a page or two–that I keep in a “Possibles” file. Every now and then I dip into it and might take an idea and move it into the “development” stage.

      When it comes to the actual writing of words, I can usually manage four projects, with one taking precedence depending on the deadline.

  2. I call this the SNI (shiny new idea). I fell victim to it for a lot of years. But I do better at controlling it now. I have a wondereful app on my iPad called Novel Idea. Whenever I am the victim of a SNI attack, it goes into the Novel Idea. I can even add characters and a scene idea or two.

    I do juggle three novels at a time. I’m currently writing a series and beginning the spin-off series of one character. I always have one book in the plot stage, one in drafting, and one in editing. I like that for a series because it leaves me lots of room to go back and change things if I need it for a later book.

    Good post, Jim. I honeslty believe the SNI kills many a writing career before it gets off the ground.

    • Perfect, Ron. That’s what I do as well with my Possibles file. You can add to an idea as you like, but leave it alone.

      I like how you’ve arranged your “juggling.” And you’re right about the SNI being a danger…which is why I stress FINISHING the novel once you’ve started it.

  3. Jim, great post.

    Oh, the new ideas can be so seductive. And when you’re born manic, you see them everywhere.

    But there is a famous, prolific writing instructor who counsels his students that writing is a business. In one of your (I mean his) books he instructs us to keep a file. Whenever one of those pretty ideas comes along, we are to analyze, describe, record the idea (I suppose as a businessman would analyze a potential addition to his inventory), and then put her to bed – ALONE – with all those other honeys in the file. We are instructed to then proceed HOME where we can return to work on the ideas we are married to.

    There is an old song with the line “Love the one you’re with.”

    Now I do remember that said instructor wrote that he often gets out that file to “look at” all those ideas that are waiting for him. Now I understand why.

    Thanks for an entertaining post.

    • Nailed it, Steve.

      What I described in my post was an idea that came on so strong I put it right on the burner. It is that good looking. I’m thinking of making this one my NaNoWriMo project in November.

  4. Jim, I admire writers who can juggle several novels at once (along with the research and marketing that goes with the job). I’ve been working on a novella and a full-length novel, and found it to be exhausting. I keep getting characters’ names mixed up. Was that situation in this book or the other? So I’m definitely monogamous. But I do keep the equivalent of a little black book, with ideas for more work.

    • Couldn’t you operate on more than one person at a time, Doc? Remove an appendix here, pop next door for a polypectomy, check out someone’s throat in the exam room, then go back to the appendix?

  5. Great post! And I learned something new! I looked up novel idea for my iPad. It will work perfectly for me becausci go everywhere with my iPad.

  6. Jim,
    This is something I’ve been struggling to do for quite some time. Not multi-task on multiple WIPs, but multi-track, with the idea I’ll spend X amount of time each day on, say, my current novel revision, then Y amount of time on a new short or the outline for the next novel. I haven’t gone so far as to schedule *times* each day (say 9AM to 11AM for novel revision, 11AM-1PM for short story) but have been thinking about it.

    Last month at the World Science Fiction convention I attended a multi-book release publishing party. Talking with one of the authors who hS recently retired from his day job, I asked him how he managed his writing now that he could do it full time. He said he found that he was generally good for ninety minutes to two hours on any one project each day, which let him work on several projects each day. This struck me as wise, letting him hand back WIP A to the boys in basement while he switched to WIP B and so on.

    Thanks again for another great post and the tip on the upcoming bundle, that was an easy preorder for me.

    • Dale, I like that, Multi-track. A good way to put it.

      I often refer to Asimov’s method, which was to type on a project until he got tired. Then he’d stretch, get a glass of water, and walk to another typewriter in his apartment, which had a different project going.

      So yes, resting on one project and then going to another works on some level. Of course, the Boys in the Basement are always at work, so that helps!

    • Dale,

      That multi-project approach is interesting. I’d like to try that one day, just to give it a genuine shot and see how it goes. Maybe I’d do better than I think. It’s just hard imagining that all-in concentration on more than one project.

      • BK, letting go of one project and, after a short break (a writer friend suggested a brisk five minute walk around the block or similar inside your residence which works wonders)embracing the next is freeing. I’m still instilling the habit myself 😉

  7. Love this post! I’m always percolating a half-dozen projects at various stages and keep folders with ideas as they come to me. However, I put a list up of the books I plan to write, in order, and the current one gets the dedicated time and attention. It helps me to set a pub date and get the cover made so I stay on track. But often when I get to working seriously on a future project, I’ve already gotten a bit done. The trick is to put those puppies in line and be disciplined enough to see each project through.

    • That’s exactly right, Susanne. I have a “projects board” in Scrivener. I “pin” index cards to the coarkboard for all my front-burner projects. I color code them, too, as novels, novellas, non-fiction, etc. I then put them in order of importance and according to any SIDs (Self-Imposed Deadlines).

      • Jim, I love your “projects board” method for keeping track of projects and where they are, priority-wise. I’m going to create my own in Scrivener. Thank you!

      • I use Scrivener for my PIs (Project Ideas), too. I definitely like the idea of multi-tracks and will try it at some point. I set aside a half-finished trilogy because as a debut author that is struggling with genre-blending, I decided I needed a simpler story that will be easier to write and edit. That trilogy was exhausting because it was too big for my nascent novelist noggin. A polygamous writing schedule will be something I’ll strive for once I know I can focus better.

  8. I am a terribly polygamous writer and it has slowed my progress on all of my pending projects. I have too many ideas and can’t seem to focus. I need blinders for my brain.

  9. Hey JSB. Well said all around.

    I’m definitely a two-timing project cheater. (Often up to four projects at a time.) Like many people here, I manage all my current and future projects in Scrivener. I may have to try our your color coordinating system, too.

    And I pre-ordered the book. Looking forward to it.

    Thanks all around

  10. Terrific post, Jim. Not only am I laughing, I admire how you tell a story within a lesson.

    That said, when it comes to long works, I’m a stodgy old monogamist, a one-novel woman, totally committed to those characters and immersed in their world. Of course, if I had deadlines breathing down my neck, I might not keep my vows so stringently. Perhaps one day I’ll be tested and find out.

    However, with articles, I’m promiscuous. They’re casual flings and everyone knows it. No strings, no ties. When I wake up, sometimes I have to ask, “What was your name again?” More embarrassing, if I run into former dalliances on the street, I may not even recognize them.

    Thanks for a smiling start to Sunday morning. I’ll pre-order your excellent offering.

  11. Haven’t thought of it that way, but it’s spot on. I am SO that guy. Even worse, I “cheat” with diversions that aren’t stories, like blog posts and book promotion and email and such, which more than ever demand their allotted “alone time.” I try to keep one story front and center, and after that seductive introduction, I create an “I’ll get back to you later” mental file. If I can’t shake the idea, I give her a call, see what happens. The file expands, and suddenly I have a “new project” underway. I think serious writers are almost always helpless when hot new ideas flirt.

  12. Nice post. I pre-ordered. How anyone could ever make money off of a 99 cent book is beyond me. But I have a favor to ask. Amazon just told me, less than a week ago, that my review of your book, HOW TO WRITE DAZZLING DIALOGUE, was not acceptable because it was not objective enough. Wtf, right? Really pissed me off. There will never be a better book on writing dialogue. I’ll go submit another one, but if you wanted to give me a pointer or two on getting reviews accepted, that would be great. This is not the first time this has happened to me.

    • Wow, that’s a new one on me, Tom. Not “objective” enough? Hard to contemplate that when there are so many negative reviews floating around on all sorts of books that hardly quality as “objective.”


      I don’t know how to advise you on this. Maybe try referring to more actual content in the book…maybe mention one thing you’d like to see more of. I dunno. That’s a definite head scratcher and I appreciate your trying again!

  13. Yes, I’m sad to say I resemble this. What’s especially sad is that the tried and true and faithful story that you’ve poured so much love into looks old, a little tarnished, and worse for the wear next to the bright shiny new idea.

    • You’re right, Carrie. We have to make sure we don’t take our old partners for granted!

      An idea is falling in love. Marriage is writing the book. Editing is marriage counseling.

      • Jim, on top of a great post, you’ve nailed the perfect analogy: idea is falling in love, marriage is the book, and editing is marriage counseling!

  14. It’s odd that I have ADHD but can only work on one book at a time. I’m like Doc–the few times I’ve tried it, I find myself writing book 2 in book 1…and that ain’t good. I can edit one book while writing another, but I usually put the other book aside until I finish the edit and send it in. Who would’ve thunk?

  15. Guilty. Just can’t seem to say no to new ideas and new projects even though I have deadlines staring me in the face. I just keep adding it on even when I know it means more time at the computer and the laundry is piling up.

    By the way, pre-ordered the set of writing books. I just keep piling those on too even though I have several I haven’t read. Yikes! Is there any help for me?

    • There’s a song from Oklahoma! that begins, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no, I’m in a terrible fix!”

      I hope you’re never cured of buying writing books, Vickie (he said, selfishly).

    • Vickie, it’s okay to have lots of books on writing. Just like it’s okay to stockpile 3 years worth of spiral notebooks. 😎

  16. Jim, thanks for making me smile and feel normal (not that writers are). I’ve got a running file for novel ideas. If I spend 5 pages with a new one, it tends to stop flirting and behave itself until I’m finished my main WIP. Ignoring the advances of an intriguing plot idea doesn’t work. I have to at least get the elevator pitch down before it gives up. I pre-ordered Writing Success, thanks for the tip.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  17. Hi Jim,

    Me? A polygamist writer?

    Noooo… I get an idea and I stick to it until I’ve written and published the book.

    Or not 😉

    In fact, I’m worse than polygamist. I’m writing two fiction books at the moment in two different genres and have an idea for a third in a third genre. And I’m in an open polygamous relationship.

    Yes, I flirt heavily with non-fiction product creation, and I have a year long relationship with email marketing.

    Oh, I’m bad.

    But wow, how it feels good 🙂

    PS I pre-ordered Writing Success the day you mailed about it.

    • Oh, I’m bad. But wow, how it feels good.

      LOL, Britt. You captured it right there. Take comfort. You are not alone!

      Thanks for ordering the set. I hope you enjoy it.

  18. Pingback: Do You Have a Writing Schedule? | Whispers in Purple

  19. So glad I’m not the only one. 🙂 Thanks for the post, Jim! Looking forward to reading Writing Success.

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