January 5, 2023 @ 6:20 pm | Filed under:


a small barefoot child stretched out on a sofa, reading a picture book

Selvi gave me the keyword “stone” for my media-library game. My book Across the Puddingstone Dam popped up several times, but this long-ago pic of Rilla won the day.


When I said yesterday that I’m not a single-tasker, what I really meant was that I’m not a single-project-er. I can hyperfocus like a champ. It’s one of my greatest strengths and biggest struggles, depending on whether the thing I’m hyperfocusing on is the thing I ought to be hyperfocusing on. For instance, I never care about the state of my closets until I have a book deadline breathing down my neck, and then I’ll care about closets FOR HOURS.

But one project at a time, in an orderly fashion, finishing one before I start the next? Not possible. Not how I’m wired. I’m most creative and (to use a word we’ve all come to loathe, for sound reasons) productive when I have an abundance of projects to move between. A dozen hyperfocus opportunities at the ready, is what I’m saying.

Thus the half dozen stitching projects in various stages of completion scattered around my studio, and the comically long list of books marked “currently reading” in my Goo Dreads (to borrow a very young Rilla’s misreading of Goodreads many years ago—I’ve never not seen it that way since).

Of course this means I’m horribly prone to option paralysis. A pocket of free time can be an occasion for distress. Suddenly the thing that was the only thing I wanted to think about while I was working loses its allure, or at least seems no more or less alluring than any of the other creative projects I was yearning to dive into, or the stack of books I was aching to read, or the poem I was burning to fiddle with. As for the closets, I’ve forgotten they exist.

I’ve learned that in this state of curious misery, I have to pick up any book, any embroidery hoop, any drafts notebook. It really doesn’t matter which. If I can stick with it for sixty seconds, I’ll be consumed by it for hours.

A fun thing about being wired this way is that once or twice a year, I’ll realize I have a whole bunch of projects that are all pretty close to the finish line. Then I go on a finishing spree, which is super satisfying.

How about you? Are you a one-project-at-a-time person? Is anybody a one-book-at-a-time person?

    Related Posts


8 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Selvi says:

    The thing that stands out in this description is how comfortable you seem with all of it, your particular wiring, the complexity and open-endness, leaving things lie while you do other things. Not just comfortable joyful.

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      I sometimes get frustrated with the indecision piece, but if I remember to treat it like a puzzle to solve (boy do I love puzzles!), I can usually get it to shift into the thrill of the chase. I leave little lists for myself, menus of fun, and sometimes I just have to choose at random to get un-stuck. 🙂

  2. mamacrow says:

    My husband is a one-book-at-a-time person, or I wouldn’t believe that they exist!

  3. Amy says:

    “Goo Dreads” – love it! I think your next book should be all the funny kid-isms from your children. My kids and I love to reread the ones I’ve written down over the years from my own family. 🙂

    My husband is also a one book at a time person. To be fair, he is an extreme “one thing at a time” person in general, so it makes sense. We are complete opposites.

  4. Tabatha says:

    A “finishing spree” sounds amazing.
    I am not sure how I work enough to describe it, haha! When my kids are around, I am a “dealing with whatever is today’s stuff” person. When we are empty nesters, I throw myself into different projects. But we have only been empty nesters for a semester so I don’t have major patterns yet. I did make enough stuff (pendants, wee books, dried flower wall hangings) to have “Mom’s Homemade Shop” open at Christmas so the kids could go “shopping.” It was a lot of fun for me, and also the most exclusive boutique around (as it is only open for 1.5 hours a year).