Why You Need Two WIPs

Saturday, March 22, 2014
Each month my fifth grader’s class gets a “big project”. Last month it was to write a poem. A rhyming poem. And, as luck would have it, my son’s topic was squirrels. Nothing rhymes with squirrel. Have you ever tried to pull a poem about squirrels that rhymes and makes some sense from the brain of a ten year old? It’s safe to say no one was happy during this project: my son, my husband, me…I think even the dog ran away to hide around the third stanza. But somehow he managed to create eight lines for his first – and I was pretty sure his last – attempt at being a poet.

Until last week. He was working on this month’s project when he looked up at me and out of the blue said,

“The squirrel jumped in an acorn pile,
And looked at me with a great big smile.”


“For my squirrel poem. It just popped into my head. Wouldn’t that be great?”

My son is living proof of a writing belief I’ve always held –that you should never be working on just one project. If you spend all your writing time musing on one WIP you can become overwhelmed. Going over the same problems or weaknesses in the piece, in the same way, it seems almost impossible to find solutions or new ideas. the answer isn't to toil away until you puzzle out the solution. The answer is to start another project!

If you’re working on two projects, many time as you work on one an idea for the other will pop into your head. Trust me, it’s happened to me (and apparently my son). I believe that even when you’re totally focused on something some small part of your brain is still working on the other piece. Strangely enough, this phenomenon work best for me the more divergent the two pieces are: a humorous essay and a dramatic scene in my novel or an article and a children’s story. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon have even done studies on the subconscious continuing to work on one problem while occupied by another totally unrelated problem. So it’s official – never stick to just one WIP!

Have you ever found the perfect snippet of dialogue or essay ending while working on another piece?

Jodi Webb is still toiling away at her writing in between a full-time job, a full-time family and work as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. Right now she's looking for blogs to promote Sue William Silverman's memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club and Barbara Barth's debut novel The Danger with Words. You can contact her at jodi@wow-womenonwriting.com. For Jodi's take on reading and writing (no 'rithmetic please!) stop by her blog Words by Webb.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Jodi--Is two the magical number? What if we're working on three or four?

I often have several pieces that I'm working on. Granted, they're not three or four novels and they differ in their level of completeness. One might just be the first paragraph or even just a few lines, but I agree with you and your "squirrely" son. Two is much better than one.

Perhaps he could suggest that to the teacher, and she can assign two at once, and when the first month's assignment is turned in, she can assign the next, so they are always working on a couple at the same time...

It makes sense to me.

Margo Dill said...

Me too--I try to only have one big project (Like novel length) going on at a time, but I usually have smaller things I'm doing too. :)

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