Before I start the post, I want to let you know I’m going to be at the Southwest Florida Reading Festival on March 16th. Details here: http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/appears.html. I hope some of you can make it. If you come, please let me know that you read about the event on the blog. I’ll be delighted to meet you!
This is a continuation of questions from Ellie Mayerhofer that were the subject of last week’s post: Is it possible to be working on too many stories? I am working on several though there are two that I am mostly focused on (four that I am really trying to work with-there are some others but those four are what I usually work on, but there are two that I work on more than the other two). But then sometimes one of the stories I haven’t worked on in a while will pop a new idea and then there are more that I am working on. Or I will suddenly get a new idea and then leave off the others. I want to really focus on and finish some of my stories… Should I put some stories to the side and only focus on one or two? What happens if I do put everything but one or two to the side and then get another idea? Do I keep working on those, or do I work on my new idea and put off the others?
Idea overload comes up often on the blog. If I advise you to put new ideas on hold until you finish the work-in-progress, the WIP, you may not be able to. The new idea is an itch that desperately wants to be scratched.
Still, the WIP won’t ever be finished if you aren’t faithful to it. Your desire to bring a story to completion wars with the new idea. In this state, you’re a battlefield!
What I do when a new idea blasts in is to write it down in the ideas folder in my computer. I write a paragraph or so about the idea and what I might do with it and then go back to my current story, which usually takes the pressure off the itch. I suggest you try that as one strategy.
If you have more ideas than you’ll ever be able to develop and you’d like to annihilate the new one, try telling it to a friend. Explain it all, every single thing you can think of about it, all the characters, every plot point, exactly what you would do if you did write it. Rant about it. Then see what happens. For many writers, talking about a story kills off the desire to write it.
If you’re writing a blog, give any idea you don’t have time for to the world. Explain it and put it out there. If you’re interested, ask your readers to use the idea and show you the results.
It’s also possible that the new idea came along because the story you’re working on has gotten into trouble. What used to be fun and fascinating has turned into work and you’d rather dance off to something fresh.
This is a real choice. Unless you have a contract for a story, you’re not required to soldier on in misery. You can move on, and maybe the new idea will go better than the old one has. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it, too, will mire down and you’ll be gone, chasing another concept. There’s nothing wrong with this. You may need a year or two of story hopping before you figure out how to stay engaged. You’re going to learn about writing no matter whether you stick to one project or jump around.
The only true abandonment is to stop writing.
And that isn’t a tragedy either. Whether we’re kids or adults, we have a right to try things out. Writing may turn out not to be your calling. The theater may be, or particle physics, or the study of larks.
But if you really want very much to finish a story, when a new idea comes along I suggest you look at your WIP and see if your enthusiasm for it has waned. Consider what the problem might be. Are you unsure of what should come next? Are you uncertain of what your MC should do in the latest situation? Does it all seem boring?
I recommend over and over on the blog that you go to your notes and write down ideas for your current story, for how to get it moving again. I still recommend that, but maybe there’s something else you can do. When we write our subconscious involves itself and sends our upper consciousness messages in code. A new idea may be a message for our WIP. Examine the newbie side by side with the WIP. Does it solve any of the old guy’s problems? Can you use the new idea in what you’re already doing? Can you incorporate aspects of your new MC into your current MC?
Suppose you’re working on more than one story right now and you also have a list of future ideas, plus three new projects are banging on your brain – step back and look at them whole. Maybe make a chart. List all your characters from all your stories. Write down very short summaries of your plots, like “a quest to find the cure to a dread disease” or “a struggle to prove herself in a friend’s eyes” – whatever. Maybe make each story into a few frames in a comic strip, using stick figures if you need to (I would!). Let it all stew inside you for an hour, a day, a week without much conscious thought. Then look at everything. Do you see new connections? Do you see ways that your new ideas can energize your old ones?
Do you notice that you stop in a similar place in all your old unfinished stories? Can you recruit a new, new idea to get you past that point?
Going in another direction, taking a break from a WIP to try something new may just be what the WIP needs.
Here are four prompts:
• Combine elements of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” and “Aladdin” into a single story. If you think of another fairy tale that can go in too, go ahead.
• Four former winners of the lottery, each with his or her own backstory, whose lives post-lottery have not gone well, form a mutual aid society. Write what happens.
• Put these together in a story: a fairy tale prince, a despotic ruler, a fifteen year old modern girl, the killing of a unicorn in the despotic ruler’s herd, and the discovery of an ancient text. If you have a new idea, you have to put it in this story.
• Danielle has lots of friends. She’s a delight to be with, and she makes whichever friend she’s with feel like the most important, the most fascinating, the most charming person on earth. The problem is, she isn’t reliable. She’s late or doesn’t show up at all, although her apologies are irresistible works of performance art. She meets someone new, who falls for her hard. Trouble is, this new character, doesn’t know her history, is unprepared for her behavior. Put what happens in a story.
Have fun, and save what you write!