I'm not talking about staggering home from the local pub, much as I do enjoy playing to the stereotype that all writers drink like fish. No, the "stagger" is one of my secrets to writing 6-8 books in a single year, and I'd like to pass it along to you.
Staggering refers to the process of maintaining multiple big projects simultaneously, making them manageable by making sure to "stagger" the different stages each project is at. For example, I might be working on 3 books at any one time—but that doesn't mean I'm writing the first drafts of all 3, which would be exhausting. Instead, by timing when the projects begin and timing my deliverables, I try to ensure that each of the 3 is at a different stage. For example:
Book number one might be in the outlining stage, where I'm putting together a comprehensive, point-by-point outline of each chapter that may end up being 30-40 pages long.
Book number two would be in the first draft writing stage, the most amazing part of doing any book.
Book number three would ideally be revision stage. The first draft would be complete, my client would give me feedback and notes about things to add or to change, and I would be engaged in making those changes and doing other rewrites.
Each of the stages represents a critical part of the process of writing a book, but each has its own demands on my time, energy, and attention. By managing the time and progress of each project I can manage those demands and avoid being overloaded.
Of course, there are limits to how much I can control. Yes a client goes on vacation, if I catch a cold, or if there's some other holdup in reviewing an outline or providing me with revisions, that can throw off the whole delicate balance. This is not a perfect system. However, staggering provides ghost riders and other freelancers with an effective way to accept multiple projects well not stretching their bandwidth to the breaking point.
What are the best ways to put yourself in a position to be able to stagger?
Exercise tight control over when projects commence. Put those timelines in your contract. Generally, the only date you'll have control over is the start date of a project, but if you establish clear guidelines for how long each stage should take, your clients may feel bound to honor those time frames.
Give clients clear deliverable dates for when they need to get things to you like comments or specific edits.
Don't procrastinate. If you're going to keep your staggered arrangement, you need to make sure you knock out the portions of work due at each stage in a timely manner.
Obviously, you need to be fortunate enough to have as many as three projects going at the same time. If you're offered such work, don't panic or decline it. Tell clients about your availability and figure out how you can stagger start dates. That's how the busiest writers get more work and make more money. Now, go write.