I'm a multi-tasker. Ok, I'm borderline ADD. As I write this I'm also doing laundry, working on a book proposal, and ordering a new swim suit from SwimOutlet.com. To sit still and focus on a single project is too much pressure. If I get stuck while working on the novel, I can wash the dishes while I think, but if I simply sit and try to get myself unstuck, I'll keep drawing a blank.
The ADD translates into my writing as well. Currently, I'm reworking one novel, researching and plotting another, writing a nonfiction book proposal, and writing two short stories. This is on top of whatever book review or magazine article I have due that week. The good part of this is I always feel like I'm accomplishing something. Seldom does a day go by when I don't work on some form of writing. But the question is, am I spreading myself too thin? Does the work suffer or does it just take longer to complete?
I know authors who write 2-3 books a year on top of whatever short stories they submit to anthologies. Others, write just one book a year. Literary authors (and Dennis Lehane) can take up to five years working on a single project. Is there a difference in the quality of the work? Sometimes. I don't think Nora Roberts is known for her brilliant prose and innovative ideas. But who sells more? Her or a Pulitzer Prize winner?
I read a lot of mid-list genre fiction writers who, in my mind, could stand to take a little more time with their work. A lot of writers are talented, but rush the process which leads to a mediocre novel. But there's a pressure - from publishers, agents, and fans - to produce. The majority of writers who earn a living solely from writing books are genre writers producing a book a year. Like any other job, the more you work the more you make.
If you're one of those people who can write two, brilliant books a year without breaking a sweat, well I hate you, but I still tip my hat. Most of us need time to produce quality work. Looking back on the first book I wrote, I see how most of it's problems could have been avoided if I had simply slowed down and let it marinate. The question is, if I had let it marinate and used that time to write a short story, would I have ended up with both a quality novel and a quality short story?
Most of this boils down to process. Some people write fast, others don't. Some need to busy themselves in order to overcome writer's block while others need to sit in the chair and stare at the computer. Some can take on numerous projects while others need to be fully absorbed in the piece they're working on.
Often, I need to remind myself that if I start too much, I won't finish anything. But sometimes, the multi-tasking is more effective. I'm the type of person who can easily shift their focus without letting the work suffer. In fact, I'd argue that the work would suffer more if I sat in the chair and trudged through the novel because it would come out sounding forced.
But if it's a question between quality and quantity, which is more important? Is it better to produce lots of mediocrity or a few high-quality pieces?