Tips for the Multipotentialite Writer

About a year ago, I did a post about the Multipotentialite Writer, and while it was kind of useful and kind of cathartic, I was young and in the grip of a feverish writing phase. Since then I’ve…grown. I’ve fallen in an out of writing a couple of times since then, so I thought I’d share some of the new things I’ve learned in an almost year.

Writing as a multipotentialite can be difficult. It comes with a host of what most writing teachers and advice-givers would call problems. Namely, that if you’re a multipotentialite, you won’t want to write all the time. I don’t mean every day – few people really feel like writing every day – but there will be week- or month-long periods of time where you’re interested in something else.

It could be another writing project or something else entirely, like knitting or sailing or cliff diving.

And according to writing experts, in order to be prolific and write well, you need to a) write every day and, b) finish what you start before moving on to a new writing project.

I’m here to dispell the idea that we need to conform to general advice, because general advice for us in careers doesn’t apply, so why should this?

We don’t believe in sticking to one career, one passion, on interest, or one hobby forever, so why do we find ourselves feeling guilty when we dragged away from writing?

There hasn’t been much discussion about multipotentialities and writing specifically (apart from me navel-gazing, that is), so let’s dive in, shall we?

Step One

You need to make peace. Make peace with the fact that your writing process and journey is going to look different than the podcasts, author interviews, and craft books you’ve ingested. Make peace with the fact that it will take you longer to finish some projects, especially longer ones if you’re the type of multipotentialite whose interests vary quickly. Make peace with the fact that you will feel guilty for leaving projects undone, and it’s up to you to move with the guilt and the fear and the uncertainty.

You don’t walk away from fear, you walk with it.

Step Two

Figure out your system. This could be a rotating priorities board, specifically set up for writing projects, or even a simple calendar. It could be that you can hack your own interest system and schedule enough varied things to keep yourself from getting burned out on any one thing. 

Let’s say you know you like blogging, writing stories, and working on RPG design (ahem, me). So you schedule certain days for one thing and certain days for another and allow some wiggle room so you don’t feel constrained. So this week, I scheduled at least twenty minutes a day on writing my story, which comes out to around 500-1000 words a day. That’s a good pace for a novel. Then three times a week I schedule time to write a blog post or work on a longer one that needs some research or just time for the ideas to percolate. Then I make sure I work at least once a week on RPG design, to keep my creative skills flexible. 

But let’s say that one week I get really invested in my RPG stuff while my story has hit a snag and needs some time in the ol’ subconscious factory to work itself out. Do I rigidly stick to my schedule? Nah. I could, and it might be an excellent plug for willpower and self-discipline and all that, but I’m going to capitalize on the fact of my interests and make as much headway with the RPG stuff as I can. 

This all comes from one very simple idea. 

Know yourself and know your interests. 

I know that I love story writing more than any other kind of writing. RPG is definitely third on the list of my writing projects. But it’s still on there, and every now and then that bug will hit harder than the others. It won’t stick around forever; eventually, story-writing will come out on top again as usual. That’s how I operate, and I know I operate that way because I’ve been living in my head for so long. Living and observing. If I wasn’t aware of my own modus operandi, I wouldn’t know how to make this schedule. So if you’re just starting out, try out the rotating board before you make a schedule, and maybe keep track of how often you rotate. 

Step Three

Keep writing, every day. This one I keep going back and forth on whether it’s really a good idea or not, and I’ve heard so many opinions from so many people I think there just won’t ever be a good answer. Yes, as a multipotentialite we need to be allowed to let projects go and work on other things, but as a writer, I also know that leaving my writing for more than a few weeks makes me a really bad writer when I do start again. The time spent not writing is proportionate to the time spent getting back into a good writing state. My voice gets rusty, and it usually takes quite a while for me to find it again when I go too long without writing. It happened last year before NaNoWriMo; I hadn’t written anything between the Flash Fiction and October when I started prepping, and it showed. I tried writing a few things to warm up and they objectively sucked. I was out of practice and flabby. 

And the way to avoid that is to write as often as possible. So I’m going to say this, with certainty. If you want to become a professional* writer, you do need to write every day or at least every other day. Just as in any other profession. Athletes, singers, heck, probably even business people need to practice their skills all the time or they a) lose their jobs or b) lose their edge. How many Olympic swimmers take month-long holidays? 

People will still argue, so I say that you know yourself best, and you can decide (duh). But if you want to be prolific and write a lot of amazing books and hone your craft and edit like a champ…well, you need to be prolific. 

But never feel guilty for taking time off. Balance in all things.

If you’re a multipotentialite writer, where do you find yourself struggling? Like me, do you have both outside interests and other writing projects that distract you? 

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*I realize that there’s a lot of debate going around about writing to make art and writing to make money, and how they should or should not cross. It’s an interesting discussion, and one I’m eager to get in to. Soon, friends. Soon.

Writing as a Multipotentialite

A writer's artfully messy desk.
Mess. Mess. MESS. It’s fine though, I styled it this way.

You’d have thought I would realize being a multipotentialite would affect me as a writer as well. You’d have thought I would see myself jumping ship on writing projects, having millions of disparate ideas, and being constantly interested in other types of writing and say, oh, right, multipotentialite. Duh…

You can see where this is going. I didn’t see it or say that. I applied the same old toxic thought processes I’d had for myself on a grand scale, back before I found out I was a multipotentialite, and ground myself in the mortar and pestle of guilt and shame about how I wrote.

Ever find these thoughts ranging about in your head like chickens?

“I have to finish this before I can work on that.”

“I shouldn’t be blogging now – I’m in the middle of a story!”

“I haven’t blogged in months, but I don’t feel like it. God, I’m the worst.”

“I want to work on this story, but I also want to write a D&D campaign, and I want to write in my journal, and an e-course sounds fun to write too…”

ad nauseam.

Sounds a lot like what you tell yourself about all your hobbies and career interests before you find out you’re allowed to have many passion, don’t it? Hmm? HMM? Yeah, I wasn’t too smart.

The thing is -and there’s always a thing, isn’t there – we don’t hear about multipotentialites in regards to things like writing or sub-sects of our own hobbies a whole lot. I get it; the entire idea of being an awesome multipotentialite/scanner/multipod/renaissance person is fairly new, so we just haven’t seen the explosion of advice on the internet. It’s a baby in the self-help world still.

But it affects it. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s affecting painters and comic makers and sewers and other creative types as well. We’re varying our interests within an interest and it’s hard not to come down, well, hard on ourselves.

I’ll be writing a separate article about tips and tricks for writers, but if you’ve felt like me – in other words, constantly guilt-ridden over not following all the advice of writers out there – know you’re not alone. And know, just for now, that you’re perfectly wonderful and normal and you need to jump between writing projects as much as writing and life in general. Like, I don’t know, writing and professional knife-throwing. Or cliff diving. Whatevs. (Why do I assume other writers are so much more badass than I am? I write and, uh, knit. And play D&D. And wish for a cat. That’s a Friday evening for me.)

Preptober; or, the art of procrastinating by blog

Preptober is a pretty awesome time. For one thing, it takes place in October, one of my favorite months since I love Halloween so much.

Preptober is the name given to October for those of us who take part in the yearly madness that is NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month – we’re fond of acronyms, can you tell we’re wordsmiths?). It’s a time when, supposedly, we’re hard at work outlining scenes, sketching characters, pinning location pictures, and gathering snacks and rewards for the month ahead.

In practice, everyone’s preptober looks a little different. Since I started doing NaNo in Korea and did the next two there as well, my prepping was fairly limited in scope, as my job was pretty demanding. I thought about my story a lot and wrote some vague notes and scene sketches, but that was about it. I saved most of my planning for when I needed it in my writing.

This year, being back in America and with a much less stressful job, I decided to kick it up a notch.

I printed out calendars, checklists, got some rewards planned (like real ones, not just cheesy ones), and even printed off an announcement of my novel on the NYT bestsellers list, as recommended somewhere. That was fun. It’s hanging on my bulletin board, a little embarrassed, but still pretty neat.

And….it’s actually going okay. I’ve gotten further into planning than I ever have pre-November. I’m able to actually visualize and distinguish my two main characters from each other, a feat in itself, and have a solid grasp on their story arcs.

I have location notes, an overall plotline, some incidental characters, and even some useless background information.

Here’s What I’ve Learned

Preptober is never going to be as productive as you want. You can watch all the videos, print out all the calendars and checklists and schedule away, and life will intervene. In case I forgot, life happens. Oh, right.

No checklist has everything you need, and a lot of them have stuff you don’t need. Cross those off and continue. Don’t get into a check-mark-induced tizzy because you didn’t actually do the thing you didn’t need to do and can’t check it off. Just check it off anyway. Weirdo.

Organizing your bulletin board of prep materials does not actually count as prepping. Right.

Blogging about preptober doesn’t actually count as prepping either. Stop it. Stop it now.

What I Used

I’ll admit, I kind of went nuts, and some of this stuff is redundant, and I certainly didn’t complete everything, but here it is anyway. Use it well, friends.

Huh. When it’s all laid out, I didn’t use much, did I? Well, it’s still about three more things than I used last year.

To all my fellow NaNo-ers, good luck. To everyone dealing with a NaNo-er, good luck to you too.

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There was this awesome year I did this…

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…and I may do it again this year. I haven’t yet though. I mean, that one was just so perfect…

The Multipotentialite Writer: Multipotentialite Series

When I discovered I was a multipod, I realized that my tendency to pick up interests and drop them ad infinitum was not a deep character flaw but simply a characteristic.

It was liberating to realize there was nothing wrong with me.

But it took me a little longer to realize that my identity as a multipod has meaning for my writing as well.

I write like a multipod. What does that mean? Well, currently, I have several projects I’m working on; fantasy/folklore, horror, memoir, and this blog. I also have a lot of ideas for other kinds of stories in various genres.

There is an internet full of writing advice, and I’ve read many, MANY books on writing in the past few years. Most of it tends to have the same problems for multipotentalite writers as conventional career advice does for multipotentialites in life.

Finish what you start.

– Most advice

As multipods, we’re told to stick with one career, one passion, for life. That’s being debunked as we speak by awesome people like Barbara Sher and Emilie Wapnick (go Puttytribe!), but there’s been so little on multipotentialite writers.

Finish your story, even if you don’t feel like it, or it’s not what you’d envisioned, or it didn’t go the direction you thought. That’s what I read and saw in dozens of places. And it always, always made me feel guilty. Yes, I have finished stories. I think there is incredible value in finishing something, to know you can and to develop the ability to finish a story to its end. I felt hugely accomplished when I finished my first novel two years ago.

But is it always the right thing to do? Is it worth it to keep working on a story you fall out of love with? Writing advice is a bit like dating advice; you’ll stop feeling it, but you must still commit and work at it. That’s what love is. Yes, I agree. That’s what love is. Is that what writing is?

I love metaphors as much as anyone, but in this case, I don’t think love and writing match. Just like I don’t think love and careers match for multipods. The whole “soul-mate,” one-for-life kind of things works for love. I believe in monogamy. I believe in working out a relationship with someone you love, especially when the going gets tough.

I don’t believe in a career soul-mate. Not anymore. It doesn’t exist for a multipod, who will move through careers and passions and interests and must do so. 

It also doesn’t exist for multipod writers. I have at least ten stories going. Conventional wisdom would have me finish each story before moving on to the next one, or, as some less narrow views have expressed, have two projects going that are very different, so if I experience writing fatigue with one I can still keep my writing edge by working on the other. But I’m not allowed to work too much on the other until I’ve finished the one I’ve set my mind on.

It’s bad advice for multipods. It just is. As in life and all our passions, we must be allowed to move between things. We must be allowed to go as far as we need to and let something go when it’s time.

I used to look at all my unfinished stories as black marks against my credibility, but now I see them as stepping stones. There are stories inside me that must come out, and sometimes I have to circle around to them through other stories before I can get to them.

I’m circling around my point as well.

The point is; if you are a multipotentialite and a writer, you will have many projects at once, and you will bounce back and forth between them, leaving some unfinished. And that’s okay. That is natural for you, as natural as bouncing between interests is.

Once I realized what was happening, and that I was feeling the same guilt with my writing as I once did with my interests, I had a real ‘aha’ moment. I decided to allow myself the freedom to write whatever I wanted, as long as I was hitting my mini-habit goal of fifty words a day.

I made cards like the Rotating Priorities Board, one for each writing project, and taped them to my wall – there to switch around as my feeling dictated per day. Now, I can look at all my options and go with the one I’m feeling most in tune with that day or week. And usually, it’s not a case of five minutes here, then five minutes there. I really don’t think that could be productive. But I have found that some weeks I’m really into blogging, so I write a dozen or so posts. That’s great because there are other weeks when I just want to work on my story, and I have those blog posts already ready to go.

And then some weeks I just need to journal, so that’s my writing.

But no matter what, I’m always writing, and I’m fulfilling my need. It’s just not in the same way as other writers; writers who, like the one-career-for-life people we see, can dedicate years and years to a single book. We think we should look like them. We think we should have the same kind of writing attitudes and work desk and schedule that they do, and as multipods, we forget that our multipod identity extends even within our interests.

I’m here to tell you that as a multipotentialite writer, your writing journey will look different, and that’s okay.

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Writing Projects Over the Years

I posted my Annual Writing Review a while back, and it made me realize how much value there is in assessing what I’ve written.

If writing is, as John Updike says, “nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented,” then reviewing it, revisiting the old projects, can tell us a lot about ourselves during that time.

I’m not alone in thinking this. I’ve read many essays from authors on their writing, and many of them talk about reading their old work and asking, did I write that? Like keeping a journal and rereading the high school bits and being totally aghast that you were ever that dramatic. I mean, really?

I thought it would be interesting to see what novel projects I’ve kept over the years. Unfortunately, when I moved abroad the first time, I cleared out a lot of old stories, not knowing how awesome it is to receive inspiration from the past, so much of the old, old stuff is gone. I was clearing out a lot of mental clutter and emotional junk at that time, and many things that should not have been forgotten were lost (did I just quote LOTR? oh yeah I did).

Regardless, in perusing the old stuff I did have, I came across some amazing things. I mean, a lot of it is trash, of course, half-ideas and flat characters and nothing more than a few words of an embryo of an idea. But there was some good stuff in there too, surprisingly. Stuff I’d like to revisit in future.

Story Ideas

  • A story about a half-tree man, a moon child, and some boy (probably only there to be romantic, the bugger)
  • A story about the war between angels and demons and two kids caught up between them, very allegorical, very dark, very Inferno-esque
  • A girl who locks herself in a tower and befriends the dragon (original at the time, since writing it oh, seven years ago, I have seen the same idea a dozen times)
  • A story about people whose destiny is just to die – as in meaningless deaths, very nihilistic, never fleshed out
  • A story set in a crooked house that leans from a windy hill in Peru – sometimes just the image is enough to get me an idea
  • “Little green policemen in little yellow suits wave little purple guns and shout their little shouts. They pitter patter after plagiarists, creeping into their brains and stealing back stolen ideas.” I have no idea why I wrote this down. Plagiarism police? Was I messing about with alliterations? No idea.
  • A world with everyday gods, like the god of parking. This was before I read Pratchett, who has his Small Gods which are very like what I had in mind. And American Gods, of course, touches on the idea as well.
  • A story about a girl who is a phoenix. Also not original, but my opening line is pretty good.
  • A story about houses with minds, who get up and follow their owners. I still love this idea.
  • A story about a girl who is queen of the hounds, based pretty much entirely off the book Prince of Dogs by Kate Elliott. (I read the book as a teen and thought it was pretty amazing. I wonder what I would think of it now…)
  • A story about a girl who can see sounds as things (the idea got totally ripped off by a Kdrama years later. I should sue!)
  • A story about people who fish among the stars. But for what? And why? And how would that even work?
  • A story about a society lost in the present time, when things moved but time did not

Themes

As I was doing this all-around read, I noticed certain themes, images, or types of story that showed up repeatedly. At some point, I’ll sit down to go through this and try to figure out what story I keep wanting to tell.

  • Hidden things
  • Darkness
  • Sleeping beasts awakening – the darkness inside of us, like animals, waiting to burst forth from their cages and cause us to do terrible things
  • Transformations, mostly to bad and gruesome
  • Vivid images – a lot of these earlier pieces I wrote when I was also making a lot of art, and images and contrasts were particularly appealing to me. I would see an image in my mind and note it, either as a picture I wanted to paint or a story I wanted to write. The two blended and became inseparable.
  • Folktale/Myth – many of my ideas take the form of folk stories or myths. I have always loved that genre, and I feel like it’s a more joyful kind of fantasy, even when it’s dark. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe because it generally takes place kind of in the real world, but makes it magic. It has its own vitality that is of a different quality than fantasy set in new worlds. I love all fantasy, epic, folk, dark; but there will always be a special place in my heart for folklore.
  • Melancholy – a lot of my writing comes from the darker places of my heart and mind, those places I don’t get to show the world. So then they come out in stories, where I try to work them out. Most of my ideas have violence, anger, terror in them somewhere. They aren’t tragic; I usually envision happy endings, but that too is a kind of working-out of my demons. I want my own life to end up happy, so my characters must. Or at least, until I grow up.
  • Moonlight – moonlight and starlight feature in a lot of my ideas. I don’t know that there’s a reason for that, but I will say that I have always loved the moonlight more than the sunlight. Sunlight hurts my eyes (I have lighter eyes and pretty bad light sensitivity), and so moonlight has always felt friendlier.

There was a lot more. A lot more dross, a lot more golden eggs. I had more than I realized when I set out on the endeavor. You know how you make folders within folders within folders on a computer? Well, every time I started writing again I would put all the old stuff in a folder marked (old) or (archives) or something. Turns out I have a lot of subfolders within my big writing folder.

But it was nice, overall, to go over everything. It was nice to be inspired. It was nice to know that I wrote some pretty decent stuff when I was younger. It gives me hope for my future.

If you’re a writer, have you ever looked back over all the old stories?

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