BALLS OF STEEL: Juggling Projects

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When I first started screenwriting years ago, I was orderly. I worked on one project at a time. I wouldn’t start a new one until the other was finished. It’s hard to drop a ball when you only have one in the air. I was in complete control.

Translation: I was a miserable control freak.

I sat my frustrated self down with a producer and lamented my stress over the latest script. I spent so much time on it that the mere sight of the zillionth draft made me want to vomit. He advised I push it aside and write something else. In fact, I should write as much as I possibly could and hit the streets with a stack of specs.

Learn how to juggle.”

Some of the best career advice I ever got.

Years after that heartfelt talk, I am blissfully happy in my writing career. Why? Because by juggling like a circus clown, I have grown as a writer. The only control I seek now is the quality of my craft and choosing projects I love.

Currently, I’m rewriting the Slavery by Another Name (SBAN) adaptation, as well as writing a novel, a short film script, a comedy feature, and on the writing team of a new TV series. Beyond writing, I’m producing a friend’s short, gone Elvis.

I got this juggling thing down… most days.

Balance is the key. Here’s how I find mine:

First step is finding what hours in the day your creative juices flow. If you’re going to juggle projects, you need to carve out time to write every single day. For me, my creativity is most electric in the afternoon. I guard those hours for writing. During the morning, I catch up on emails, tweets, research, and Scriptchat business.

In order to keep track of my various projects, I have a physical file box and notebook for each one as well as computer files. On my Mac desktop is a “TO DO” document where I organize my weekly goals. Every project makes the list, even if the goal is to let that draft simmer. If I don’t see the goal in front of me, it doesn’t get done, which is probably why my desk is a disaster. I should post a picture of it to make you all feel better… or not.

When I get writing assignments or offers to enter into new writing partnerships, I spend time deciding what projects excite me. But that is my nighttime task, as being tired makes me less likely to say “yes” when I should say “no”. I admit this is one area I have not mastered because I’m blessed with a talented group of friends who I would chop my arm off to work with. My cup runneth over.

A variety of projects helps me pick one that fits my mood – one heavy, one light, one cerebral, etc.

For the last couple of years, SBAN has been my heavy hitter, that’s why I chose to follow it up with a comedy. As my current cerebral project, I’m producing a short film called gone Elvis, which explores the challenges of a homeless female veteran. Raising money and awareness while learning the behind-the-scenes skill set of a producer has indeed changed my writing. When you create not only as a writer but also as a businessperson, the end results benefit.

Only you can decide how many balls you can juggle at once. You might ultimately take on five, a different one for each weekday, but start with two and work your way up. Be advised, if you spread yourself too thin, nothing gets accomplished. “No” isn’t a dirty word.

It all comes back to balance.

As much as one may want to write 24 hours a day, you must, I repeat must, live your life. It’s in living life you find story ideas and learn about your characters’ motivations. It’s how you regroup and reenergize to be able to create.

Above all, don’t be afraid to drop a ball every now and then. Failure won’t kill you. In fact, you might learn more from watching a ball bounce across the floor than from keeping them all in the air successfully.

I dare say, if you can keep all the balls in the air, maybe you aren’t challenging yourself enough. Just a thought.

Since I’ve given up being a control freak, the comment section is all yours to share juggling tips of your own. I’d love to learn some new tricks of the trade!

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22 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Juggling Projects

  1. Tyler

    Another great article Jeanne. As far as the juggling goes, my maximum is three at a time (plus that nasty thing called life). They’re all in different genres, for different media (ah, the life of a transmedia guy) just to keep it interesting.

    My trick? I never think of the fact I’m juggling. Just juggle and keep the balls in the air.

  2. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Great ideas, everyone!

    One other tip I used this weekend was having my Kindle read to me while I cleaned and did laundry. I’m researching for the TV series that’s in development and having that time to just “read” while I was still being a productive mom saved me!

    Gotta love a timesaver!

  3. Sean Ewington

    Sometimes my time management reminds me of Nixon in Frost/Nixon: “I cut off one arm, then I cut off the other, and I’m not a good butcher!”

    But I work at it. I will keep this blog in mind.

    Possible butcher tips: Pooping and driving (respectively) do not command your full attention, and are wonderful opportunities for additional time.

  4. Mya K. Douglas

    Loved this! I am finishing my 2nd novel and working on my first script. I usually like to juggle 3 projects at once. But it’s different stepping into something new. So for me, a script and a book is enough balls 2 juggle! Also, might I add, that thing about dropping a ball is refreshing. I thought I was crazy 4 writing a treatment 4 an idea I had. This new ball I’ve picked up (different idea that burned inside of me for months) is MUCH lighter n my hands. Makes juggling easy!

  5. GREG

    You once again wrote a GREAT piece Jeanne. I’m currently juggling 4 scripts. If I have a script that has a deadline it IS priority. Otherwise I write whichever story I get an inspiration for at the time. With my young kids I have to write when I get the chance. I will sometimes write a line or two and then don’t have a chance to get back on the laptop for a couple hours before I can add more to the scene. Late night writing is a must.

  6. Jeannie

    I’m editing a script, writing another, editing the first 100 pages of a novel for an editor request and taking care of five teens and a man. Oh, and I have a real job, too. How do I handle it? Better living through chemistry, I always say!

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    I just went for a run and was digesting Vivi Anna’s advice on carving out time to write on several projects a day, even if it’s just one hour. While some may think “what good is an hour?”‘, I assure you any progress, even small, is still progress. When I wrote the first vomit draft of my novel, I did it in 30-minute spurts, challenging other writers to what we call “word wars.” We’d set a timer and write our asses off for 30 minutes, nonstop. We could easily get 1000 words down. In 19 days, I had 50,000 words, all done in 30-minute bits. Baby steps.

  8. Vivi Anna

    I juggle at least 4-5 projects at all times. I have to or I go batty.

    If I am on a book deadline, which I usually am, I will set time slots for each project every day.

    For example: Today I will devote 2 hrs to my book, 1 hr to my script, and if I still feel like writing, 1/2 hr to my next outline.

    After the time is gone, I will stop even if on a roll and move to the next project. It trains my brain to work when I need it to.

    This has been working for me for the past 6 months. this way I’ve been able to finish my book, a script, an outline, notes on 4 other scripts, and still have written 2 query letters and done all my other stuff I need to do like promo.

  9. K.Rowe

    Considering I’m still active duty Air Force for a few more months (til I retire). I juggle with my work schedule. Up at 0525, shower, breakfast includes eating, checking email, FB, Twitter, and replying. Then to work, where at lunch I have my netbook and I’ll either be writing or editing while I eat. Once home, get out of uniform, transfer files I worked on at lunch, go back to work. Type and eat dinner. Work until 2100 or so, then off to bed to do it all over again the next day. I usually have 2-4 projects going- normally writing one, editing one, publishing and promoting. Currently I’m pretty much doing novels, but after much badgering from my fans, I’m going to start adapting to screenplays.

  10. Jaclyn Abergas

    I use different notebooks for all my projects so it always feels like I’m working on brand new projects. And it keeps me focused on the specific story at hand. I try to put any new ideas that come up in the right notebook so as not to mix them and still stay organized.

    The only downside is I have four notebooks in my bag all the time when I’m out because a new idea might suddenly present itself in the middle of nowhere. But it’s a problem I like to have. 🙂

    I like Nikki’s strategy though, working on projects for a week then working on the next one a week after. I’m gonna try that.

  11. Nikki

    I feel you on this. I have to juggle so the projects always stay new and fresh. But I split mine up into weeks. One week for the feature film, one week for the series, one for another… and so on.

    I’m currently working on 5 various stages of completion and this helps me focus solely on one thing without thinking I’m neglecting something else because I know I’ll be work on it in a week or so. Plus, I can write notes for other projects and put them aside until the week I’m working on it without detraction. This also gives me a bit of flexibility because I can shift project weeks around based on deadlines and inspiration.

    Thanks for the article. Love reading Balls of Steel.