Put Up the Barriers... Or Else
by Richard Dansky
Some people like to work on precisely one (1) writing project at a time. They have good reasons for this: they can focus exclusively on that project, they can give it all of their time and attention, they can avoid distraction, and so on and so forth. It’s all very logical and admirable and various other adjectives, and I applaud those who can work that way.
Because, unfortunately, I can’t. My day job—and a wonderful, exciting, constantly challenging job it is— involves writing, and if I restricted myself to one project at a time, I’d be leaving absolutely all of the writing at the office. Which means that if I’m going to do any of my own writing, I need to find techniques that allow me to compartmentalize the various things I’m working on effectively. Otherwise, we’re going to end up with elves with M203 underbarrel grenade launchers on their bows, and nobody wants that.
Well, besides the elves.
(To be fair, I am more than a little certain that even if I didn’t have a day job that involved writing, I’d still be bouncing back and forth between projects like a mayfly on homebrewed Iowa crank, but that’s neither here nor there. For the sake of argument, let’s just suppose that we’re talking about work writing versus personal writing here, and let the hypotheticals fall where they may.)
Seriously speaking, though, I do need to set up psychological barriers between my work writing and my personal stuff, and it’s not just because of the hilarious possibilities inherent in subject matter bleedover. It’s because the work writing likes to think that it has priority, and if I don’t fence it out, it has a nasty tendency to take over every available brain cycle in reach.
So that means learning to set up boundaries. The most important thing is creating a space that is—
A) clearly a writing space and
B) not a work writing space
That means clearing out anything from my field of view that would make me think of, say, Splinter Cell as opposed to Firefly Rain, lest that one stray glance provide the mountain path around the Spartan phalanx of my creative writing’s defenses. And really, that’s just a first step in creating a work space that is distinct in every detail from the one at work. Yes, the computer’s roughly the same, but I make a conscious effort to make everything else, from lamp placement to color scheme to where I plunk my tasty compositional beverage of choice, distinct. If the subconscious gets confused as to what I should be working on, the conscious mind will follow, and then nobody’s happy. And yes, there’s a sound aspect, too—distinct playlists for work projects (heavy on the video game soundtracks and metal) and personal ones (far more likely to involve banjos, hand-modified electric baritone saxophones, or Blue Oyster Cult).
Ultimately, it comes down to making sure that you’re giving yourself the best chance to focus on whatever project you’re working on at a given moment. External distractions can be dealt with, but the better the job you do with defeating internal distractions—and the higher the barriers you put up around the individual thought-spaces to prevent those distractions from leaching across—the happier and more productive your multi-project existence is likely to be.
Unless, of course, you’re a big Blue Oyster Cult fan, and in that case, I can’t help you.
— The Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft, Richard Dansky was named one of the top 20 videogame writers by Gamasutra in 2009. He is also the author of five novels, including the critically praised Firefly Rain, and has contributed extensively to White Wolf's World of Darkness roleplaying games. You can find Richard online at http://www.richarddansky.com/.