What Sort Of Writer Are You?

We’re leading with the questions in today’s Words of Wisdom:

What sort of writer are you? Do you only work on one project at time, or do you have multiple irons in the fire? Have you ever worked on two projects simultaneously that are at the same stage? If so, how do you juggle them? If you haven’t, have you considered it? Oh, and do you know your writer type?

Okay, that last needs more context, and Kathryn Lilley provides it below, in the last of our three excerpts today. Clare-Langley Hawthorne’s post discusses her own consideration, prompted by her agent, of working on two projects simultaneously, while James Scott Bell talks about the lure of a hot new idea when you are already working on multiple projects.

As always, the full post for each excerpt are date-linked below.

When I met with my agent a few months ago he raised an interesting suggestion – that perhaps I consider juggling multiple WIPs at once. While I have certainly managed copy edits while writing a new project, I have never actually juggled two WIPs and I am intrigued as to the practicalities of having more than one active project on the go at once. To be honest I am a bit of a linear writer, tackling one draft at a time, but now I am seriously considering the possibility of trying to complete multiple WIPs simultaneously…and I need some advice.

  • For those of you who have juggled multiple WIPs, how did you handle it?
  • How did you divide your time and deal with the development process for each?
  • Were you able to retain a sense of balance?
  • Was it easy to keep each ‘voice’ unique or did the projects blue or affect the others?

All and any advice on juggling multiple projects will be gratefully received (!) while I try and wrap my head around getting back into the swing of writing once more…I have to tell you though moving countries plays havoc with your schedule:)!

Clare Langley-Hawthorne—September 6, 2010

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!”

Ah, Cupid! I am undone!

James Scott Bell—September 6, 2015


I spent some time today pondering the variety of our styles. Here’s my list of some of the major categories and characteristics of the writer species:

1) The Proud Pantster

Outlines? You don’t need stinkin’ outlines! To get inspired, you bite the heads off voles and spit them out. Sure, sometimes you have to perk up saggy spots in the pace by throwing in a dead body or two. But hey, that’s the way you roll.

2) The Reluctant Pantster

You always plan to outline, but never get around to it. You feel remorseful that your track record is so haphazard. You  promise to outline the next one.

3) The Writer-Terminator

You churn out an impressive  quota of words every day. No. Matter. What. You finish projects before deadline, and juggle multiple WIPs while breaking the minute mile on the treadmill. Your fellow writers admire you. And resent you.

4) The Unemployable-As-Anything-Else-But-Writer Writer

Thank goodness you can write pretty well, because basically, you have no other marketable skills. If it weren’t for words, you’d be pushing a shopping cart.

5) The Accidental Writer

You didn’t plan to spend your career writing fiction–it just seemed to happen. A series of lucky breaks meant that you didn’t have to work too hard to get published. You don’t like to talk about how you got started–people get annoyed. Besides, nowadays, you are definitely suffering

6) The Cranky Writer

You like having written, but you hate to write. Writing for you is like pulling out a fingernail. And then smearing the blood on the screen.  Your bottom line: Writing. Sucks.

7) The Harried Writer
You cram in your writing time between a million other duties: job, family, life. Your perennial dream is to go on a writer’s retreat. Or simply to take a nap.

8) The On-deadline Writer
See Harried Writer. See also Cranky Writer.

9) The Fantasy Island Writer

Words flow easily from you, in delicious, buttery prose. You landed your agent and a contract with a Big-6 publisher within weeks of finishing your first draft. You don’t understand what people mean when they say they’re “blocked.” When you write, you’re simply taking dictation from a band of leprechauns who conjure stories deep inside your brain.

Just one problem: You don’t actually exist.

Kathryn Lilley—February 4, 2014


Up to this point, I’ve never been able to work on two projects simultaneously, though I keep returning to the idea. If you have tried it, are both projects in the same genre, or different ones?

When it comes to writer types, what’s yours? Feel free to add your own type to Kathyrn’s fun list. I’m “the Novel Journaling Outliner: Needs to figure out the beats, the ending, character motives and goals, while troubleshooting, brainstorming, and thinking about the book in the (digital) pages of a novel journal.”

I look forward to your comments!

This entry was posted in #writers, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, James Scott Bell, Kathryn Lilley by Dale Ivan Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dale Ivan Smith

Dale Ivan Smith is a retired librarian turned full-time author. He started out writing fantasy and science fiction, including his five-book Empowered series, and has stories in the High Moon, Street Spells, and Underground anthologies, and his collection, Rules Concerning Earthlight. He's now following his passion for cozy mysteries and working on the Meg Booker Librarian Mysteries series, beginning with A Shush Before Dying.

28 thoughts on “What Sort Of Writer Are You?

  1. I always have at least two projects going. When I get stuck on one, I go to the other. Somehow the blank spaces fill in when I’m not worrying over them. I just delegate “I need this done when I come back” and when I come back it’s there.

    • Cynthia, I love this. An elegantly simple system. It is amazing how, given some time, the subconscious will often get us unstuck on a particular project.

  2. Great articles from the archives, Dale. Thanks for setting up a great discussion.

    I’m a “Focused, Obsessive Writer,” with underlying OCD (although you wouldn’t know it with all the messes and unfinished projects around me). There’s certainly a manic component as well, because I bite off more than I can chew. The problem is, when I have more than one creative project, my brain chooses one and works overtime to find solutions to problems, filling my spare moments, and waking me up to report some new “solution,” meanwhile ignoring the other project.

    Bottom line, I do better if I focus on one project at a time.

    Thanks for setting up this discussion. I look forward to reading everyone’s self-analysis. I yield the analyst’s couch.

  3. I don’t fit any of the categories in K. Lilley’s list. I certainly don’t outline, but then it isn’t my story. My characters, not I, are living it. In my own story, I’m sitting at my laptop with my fingers on the keyboard. But I do have fun running through the stories with my characters as their stories unfold around us.

    I’m not a revisionist. I simply record what happens in the story, and I would no more change any of the story events or my characters’ reactions or dialogue than I would change my neighbors’ account of their trip to Barbados or wherever. Not my place. Finally, if writing fiction wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. When my characters tire of sharing their stories with me, there’s always fishing.

    I call myself a writer (lower-case, no “calling,” no angelic choir) because that’s what I do. I write, every day. People marvel at my production, but I spend only about three hours per day doing my job, and I write only about 1000 words per hour (a blazing slow 17 words per minute).

    I write one fiction project at a time, though I have stopped writing one novel to write another, more insistent one, then returned to finish the first I also spend about an hour per day to write my instructive (and free) daily Journal to share my journey and what I’ve learned with other writers.

    • Harvey, you’re proof that keeping butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard can produce the words, day in and day out. I’d be tempted to call you a “pure pantser,” but of course you get to decide what kind of writer you are, and, in the end, all of us wordsmiths are writers, period, as long as we write, however we do it.

      Having fun, however we do it, too, is so important.

  4. Fun compilation, Dale!. I remember Jim’s post and laughed all over again.

    Pantser who often takes the wrong offramp and has to be guided back to the freeway by critiquers and beta readers.

    Generally I work on only one novel at a time. When I go into that world, I stay there until the book is finished.

    Once I stopped in the middle of a new novel in the series to go back and write a bridge novella that, time-wise, fell between the prior book and the WIP. That worked all right b/c the story had the same characters and was in the same world.

    For a change of pace, I usually have short nonfiction articles going on the side.

    • That was such a fun post by Jim! I loved revisiting it. You know yourself, and as I commented to Steve, that’s half the battle as a writer IMHO.

      I used to be a pure pantser, and wrote a bunch of stories and three novels that way, but went to the outlining side of the writing force when I embarked on the “path of studying writing craft” in writing workshops etc back in 2008.

      I’m doing something similar right now with my prequel story and book 2 in my Meg Booker mystery series, which is good, because I can capture Meg at two points, six months apart.

      Writing non-fiction articles as a change of pace on the side is a wonderful approach.

  5. Way back when I was a newbie writer, I did two projects at once. It made me feel productive… until I realized I wasn’t being productive at all. That’s when I resolved to finish one before moving on to the next.

    I also don’t fit any of the categories. I spend a lot of time in my imagination (constantly, it won’t let me let up as JSB says in his post). I call that in my head pantsing, then I create an outline. Then I write. My writing habit always changes with each book, the POV character seems to have its own mind on how to tell the story. But I put down as many words as I can per week.

    • JSB has written about “letting the movie play in your head” and it sounds like you are doing that it, in fine fashion. Honoring your own process, including if that changes depending upon the story and the character, is important in my book. Happy writing!

  6. I’m definitely the harried writer–although I don’t want to give myself that much credit because I don’t always get the writing done crammed in between all those things.

    RE: Working on more than 1 project. If memory serves, I think it was JSB who recommended getting into the flow of working on more than one project but you’re working on them in different stages–drafting one, revising another, etc. I think that is outstanding advice.

    My favorite writing times in life, however, I was a ball of fire working on more than one project. By that I mean writing one, but ideas for other stories were falling down on me like snowflakes from the sky. 😎 I felt like a lean, mean, creative machine. LOL! And don’t get me started on all the story ideas that are generated from doing research…

    The danger of course is starting a bunch of writing projects but not finishing them (guilty). Even so, I love the feel of that creative fire when you just can’t stop brainstorming different stories. Frankly, I miss it, as I’m currently going through a phase of creative burnout. Yes, I’m working on one project, but it’s slow going. I can’t wait till this burnout phase ends and the creative fire starts again. I’ll be shouting from the rooftops! 😎

    May we all have an outstanding, creative day today!

    • Those “ball of fire” creative moments are definitely to be treasured. I can be a harried writer, at least when deadlines loom, but I (and my wonderful wife 🙂 prefer that I not be.

      Here’s to that creative day!

  7. I try to keep one project going at a time because I have a failure to finish manuscripts problem. As JSB said in his latest craft book (paraphrasing): it’s easy to begin a book, not so easy to finish one. So, I clack away on my WIP as I desperately try to avoid the siren song of my mistress: The Other Project.

    • As usual, JSB is wise! FWIW, I always reach a point in each of my novels where I think about quitting–the exact point in the story varies, but it’s really because self-doubt is trying to get me to bail on the book. I’m always happy that I ignore that voice and see the novel through to The End.

      • I usually hit “the wall” at about 30k. Very common. I take some time to regroup, make sure my “story engine” is as strong as it can be…then power through. When I get to 40k, it’s smoother sailing…until the end, which I work hardest on.

        If it was easy, everybody’d be doing it (well, I guess AI is. Ack!)

        • Even with short stories, which I pants, I noticed the end comes flying at me once I get over the hump. Novels, not so much, so exploring outlining now in hopes of actually finishing something. Just ordered your Super Structure (in print, I’m old school).

  8. I have worked on two things at once, but they were vastly different: an essay and a mystery. My hat is off to those who can juggle more than one novel in the same genre!

    • Being able to work on two novels in the same genre at the same time is certainly impressive in my book, too, Vera. If I ever manage to do this, it seems like having that second novel be in a different genre might work best, but I’ve never managed to write two novels simultaneously, same genre or different genres.

  9. I usually have two books in the same series at different phases (one complete with my editor while I’m drafting the next one). Only once did I have three, all in the same series. Way too stressful.

    Hope you have a fab weekend, my friend!

    • Thanks, Sue! Two books in the same series at different stages sounds like a great approach. Hope you also have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

    • That’s pretty good in my book, Patricia. I’m impressed. I have trouble at times doing even two of those simultaneously. Something I’m going to work on.

  10. Great selections from TKZ Words of Wisdom, Dale! I loved them all.

    I wrote my first three novels in sequence — one at a time. Then last year I had ideas for three separate projects, and I didn’t know which to choose, so I started them all and worked a bit on each one. Finally, one of them jumped up and said, “I’m the one!” I finished that project earlier this year and I’m working on project #2 now.

    • Thanks, Kay! I like the idea of beginning three projects and then tapping the one that calls out to you the strongest. Congratulations on finishing that book and now working on project #2.

  11. It’s . . . complicated. I’m not sure I ever wrote two novels at the same time. I tend to write one while reading another to my workshop. Or edit one while writing another. I recently wrote a monograph while working on a sonnet, which was part of a play. Or maybe vice versa. I sometimes sneak a short or two in while working on a longer story.

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