Last month when I posted here (and actually a couple of other times since), I've was asked in the comments, "Do you write linearly or simultaneously, in order, out of order...?" So, here are a few of my thoughts on what I do.
First, note the word "I." This is what works for "me." If it doesn't work for you, for cryin' out loud, don't do it!
My wife made a serious mistake once, she asked me what I was thinking. So, I told her, and she asked me to never answer that question truthfully again. In the forefront of my mind is whatever's going on around me, usually. If you ask me a question and I look at you blinking and say, "Huh?" I was focusing on one of the other tracks in my brain. And the place that I'm probably busy multi-tracking is my books. I'm not saying I am simultaneously thinking on all the tracks below, but I certainly am thinking about each one many, many times during the day.
I work on four books at a time. Sounds scary? Then this post may not be for you. Sounds totally freakish? Then you may have a brain like my wife's, very, very smart lady, creative as hell, but certainly doesn't think this way.
My method of thinking of my writing in multiple tracks began years ago when I was a beginning writer volunteering to help organize a class in the 1980s where Mary Daheim was one of the guest speakers. She showed up for the three-day retreat bearing a thick manuscript and a slightly panicked expression. During breaks, when we were going to walks around the lake or chatting about craft, she was at a table off to the side reviewing her publisher's copy-edits of her latest manuscript (yes, it was done on paper back then). And more than once she talked about the next one she was writing and how hard it was to take a three-day break from it at the current stage that had been called for by the coincidence of the class and the copyedits.
Over one of the meals, and at a booksigning we shared later, I had the chance to talk about that multitasking mindset. She said that every author either had to be able to multitask, or they had to be willing to dump one project (even though incomplete) out of their brain, and pick up the interrupting project, and then figure out how to go back into the other.
I'm a multitasker by nature, so that is the route I've followed. For me, at this point in my career, it means I'm working on 4 books at once (sometimes more). As a demonstration, here they are as of this moment.
Book #1: Noodling
This is the book I'm noodling on in the back of my mind. A bit of story, a few characters, are they in London, Nigeria, or maybe Poughkeepsie, New York? (That's Poe-kip-see where I spent my teenage years.) I'm trying stuff on, like clothes in a store, to see what fits together. Occasionally I'll pop on the Internet for a few minutes research, or to look at some photos, just to see. Right now, this is for book #5 of my Night Stalkers military romantic suspense series. Book #4, Take Over at Midnight, is coming out in December, but #5 is due at the publisher in October, for release next August (as in 2014). So, I'm doing bits of research on current news on where the U.S. Army's Special Forces helicopter regiment might be flying. There's also been a shakeup in the cast (you'll have to read book #4 to find out what) and I need to think about how that all fits together.
Book #2: A few scenes
Once I'm deep enough into the noodling stage, I take a break and write a few scenes. These are sort of character and setting tests, and will typically end up being the opening of that book. There are actually three of these at the moment. Two Christmas novellas (1 in SOAR and 1 in my foodie contemporary romance series). I also have the third installment in the foodie contemporary, "Angelo's Hearth" series, the follow-on to the recently released Where Dreams Reside. (Where Dreams Unfold is actually really irritating at the moment because it is just screaming to be written, but I fear that, for scheduling reasons, it will have to go after the Christmas novellas, and maybe even after SOAR #5!) These each have a couple thousand words written and are now just waiting for me to get to them.
Book #3: Actual writing
I have long had a wacky fantasy series going in my head. My very first book (pubbed back in 1997 and just filled with awful, 1st-book writing) has sparked a long legacy of noodling around ideas. Right now I'm deep in writing the relaunch of the "Dieties" series, Cookbook From Hell: Reheated. It's about the Devil having a mid-life crisis. But before she can settle into a proper state of self pity, a Buddhist hungry ghost steals the software that runs the universe and it all goes to hell from there. I'm having so much fun I can hardly stand it. (It's not a romance, though there is a love story, of course. So it will be under my Matthew Lieber Buchman name.)
Book #4: Dealing with what I've just finished
This is marketing, copyedits, production madness. Sometimes there is one book here, sometimes four. At the moment, I'm waiting for copyedits on my latest manuscript from my traditional publisher and focusing on the marketing of my latest novella in my SOAR series, Frank's Independence Day and my latest foodie contemporary novel, Where Dreams Reside.