It's amazing how many times I can come to the same conclusion over and over again, and still feel like it's something new every time. A few times a year I realize that routines and strategies do not work for me. Or, to be a little more accurate, they work for a short period of time, and then they gradually become less and less effective.
Several months ago I decided that sending chapters to a group of alpha readers would keep me moving along at a steady pace, with the bonus of getting feedback that might help me with subsequent chapters. That strategy lasted for two chapters before I abandoned it for NaNoWriMo, thinking that it sounded like a rewarding and productive experience, and then I'd have all sorts of material that would only need revision before I could send it off to the alpha readers. Well, NaNoWriMo was productive and rewarding, but most of what I wrote that month remains unrevised and my alpha readers have seen nothing from me since late October.
Next I decided I needed a more detailed outline, and set to work on that. I got most of the way through it, and then decided that the last remaining questions would not be answered until I wrote my way through them. I began to write parts of the story I had neglected during NaNoWriMo. Very soon, I was stuck again.
Seeing the pattern yet?
During all this time, I thought I needed to finish the story at hand before I could start coming up with some new ideas. I decided to finish a complete draft of the novel and then let it rest while I wrote some short stories. A couple weeks ago, frustrated with the novel, I decided its temporary retirement should start immediately instead, and I started brainstorming ideas for short stories. I came up with an idea I liked, made lots of notes on it, couldn't decide what direction it needed to take, and soon I was writing poetry instead.
This week, I read a book that did lots of things wrong. It gave me lots of concrete examples of what not to do in a fantasy novel, and before I knew it, I was thinking about my novel again. Today I went back to work on it, so far with success.
The moral of the story is: I can't set my writing strategies in stone. It seems like just about every time I say I'm going to put something aside, I get a new idea for it. So I'm not going to work exclusively on the novel, or the short story idea, or my poetry. Writing seems to go much better when I just follow my impulses wherever they're trying to go. At the very least, switching projects is far more productive than sitting at my computer in frustration because I can't figure out the next scene. There's a difference between working at writing and trying to force it when it just isn't ready. I think the trick for me will be figuring out the difference.