I did one of my rare teaching gigs last month. I taught a class called Putting the Thrill in Thrillers. In it, I make time for the class to do a writing exercise. They're given characters, setting and a plot (one of the Seven) and told off you go. It was a successful endeavor, the class scribbling madly for ten minutes, and when put on the spot, many shared their first lines. I was quite pleased and proud, because it's a difficult exercise, and they did quite well.
After, I was doing a stint at mentoring and suggested that the writer take her flash piece and expand on it because it truly had legs. I was astounded when the woman dismissed my advice, saying, "I already have a voice in my head. I can't add another."
Astounded, because I can't imagine not having a bloody chorus of characters screaming from the recesses of my gray matter, all day, every day. Right now I'm writing two novels and a short story, plus socking away ideas and building Scrivener projects for the billions of other ideas that worm their way through.
I'm used to juggling the voices, to telling one to shut up so I can listen to another. It sounds downright schizophrenic, and it is, to a certain extent. You know the dark joke I always tell - writing is simply controlled psychosis. Successful writing is being paid for that controlled psychosis.
But in all seriousness, I do remember back to the time when the idea of doing more than one thing at a time was frightening. I was working on the first Taylor novel, and the head of my critique group kept pestering me to try writing a short story. I had that same deer in the headlights reaction - I can't. I can't deviate from my Novel to try something else. I'll get pulled off track. I'll fall into the abyss and never return. I'll never finish anything. The men will come to my house and find me quivering in a corner, a trail of half eaten sandwiches strewn throughout the house.
But all that is simply resistance, rearing its ugly head. Of COURSE you can work on more than one thing at a time. And if you want to be a successful author, you'll have to master that skill. There is a constant juggling act going on in most authors' lives. Writing one book, editing another, promoting a third - that's the standard for anyone on a one-a-year schedule. Multiply that by two for two-a-years, etc. Not only writing your books, but being asked to contribute to anthologies. Blogging and facebooking and twittering and newslettering. All of this takes time, and a concerted effort to stay on track.
We are all getting Ph.D's in multiplicity. It's the nature of the beast. So do think about adding in one or two of the other voices in your head, allowing yourself fifteen minutes a day to explore what they have to say. It's excellent training for later, when you're answering to multiple people, for multiple projects. If you want to succeed at this business, you've got to learn how to juggle.