On April 9, 2010, maybeawriter wrote, …what should you do if you have too many ideas, and can’t seem to finish any?
And on July 7, 2010, Alex wrote, My brain runs a lot faster than my hands can type (think race car to horse-and-buggy), and I often change my ideas as I write. I become bored with one idea, get another one, start work on that, and then become bored with the new one. In other words, nothing ever gets done and I have folders overflowing with unfinished work and abandoned stories. I can’t remain true to an idea or story for long, and it’s so annoying! Is there a way to make myself keep working on a story, and stop losing interest in it?
This isn’t one of my problems, but I have a few theories about what may be going on.
You may not have written enough stories to have found one you want to stick with, or you may not have developed the skill to keep yourself happy with a story you’ve started. The story may not yet live satisfactorily on the page. I mean satisfactorily for you, no one else. The solution is to keep writing, new stories, old stories, abandoned stories that you’ve returned to and may abandon again. You’ll get better and be able to carry a story further, maybe not the very next story, but gradually.
Or the difficulty may be self-criticism masquerading as too many ideas. The story you’ve begun sours on you. It’s not going the way you’d hoped. You suppress the thought that maybe you’re not much of a writer and leap into something new. That suppressed doubt is there, though, and needs to be brought out into daylight and then slapped around. Shut up! you have to tell it. Story judgment day hasn’t arrived. I’m just getting started. I’m exploring this story, and I’m learning how to write (as every writer is, no matter how experienced). Then soldier on with the original story.
It’s also possible that your story idea isn’t big enough to take you very far. What interests you may be just one thing, and once you’ve written that, you’re done. The story isn’t finished, but you don’t know where to go with it, so you hop onto something else.
Think about whether that something else can fit into the story you dropped. See if you can meld the two into a larger framework that will accommodate many new ideas. Suppose, for example, you want to show how one of two sisters always has the upper hand in their relationship. You write an argument between them, and you prove your point, but it’s just a scene, and you don’t know what to write next, and up pops an idea for a story about the last dinosaur.
Well, what if you put the two ideas next to each other? One sister finds the dinosaur and the other gets involved somehow too. You still have the sisters’ problem relationship, but now you also have a dinosaur to broaden the difficulty. The dinosaur can have its own personality and may prefer one sister to another, for instance. You’re tootling along with this until it peters out too, and a forest story beckons you. Can you bring the sisters and the dinosaur into forest? Maybe this seems like a rambling kind of story, and it may not work in the end, but you’ll still have a longer piece than you usually get. Then again, it could develop. Our minds are good at making connections. While you’re writing the forest part, your subconscious will be putting pieces together. It remembers a detail from the first scene – a promise the sisters made to each other at the end of their argument – that completes everything. Or you may think of an even larger story idea to unite the threads.
Here’s another possibility: You’re happily writing when a new idea arrives. The first story is going well, but the new idea is so shiny and thrilling that you can’t resist it. If you keep a list of story ideas, as I do, you can jot the idea down including all its wonderful aspects in a paragraph or two, without writing the story itself. Then return to your first story. The itch and the tingle are likely to go away because the new idea is satisfied that it won’t be forgotten. You can do the same thing with your next idea and your next. The benefit is that you’ll have a long list of great ideas, plus a finished story.
Notes may help, as I’ve written a zillion times on the blog, notes about your new ideas (as I just suggested), about where your old story might go, about how bored you are and how frustrated. I find complaining in notes enormously satisfying. Also, in notes you can explore an idea before you start writing to see if you think it’s one you’ll want to stay with. But don’t use notes to criticize your ideas or deep six them without giving any a spin. Don’t let notes choke off your creativity.
This may help too: Imagine an ideal reader who adores your work and can’t wait for the next installment of The Tale of the Lost Dinosaur or whatever. As you write, think, She’s going to love this. Concentrate on what she might enjoy next. And if, in spite of everything, you drop the story, your perfect reader won’t criticize; she’ll simply be eager for your next effort.
Along similar lines, you can talk to a friend about a dying story and see if he has any thoughts that will breathe more life into it. Sometimes a new perspective will show you your story’s potential.
You might try NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month, link here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/hownanoworks. You commit to writing a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and 30th. It’s free, and the commitment might keep you going, plus the support of other participants. If you succeed, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. If you fail, you get much credit for trying.
I don’t think it ever works to chain yourself to a story you can’t summon any more interest in. If you’ve reached that point, move on and don’t beat yourself up.
In the end, nothing matters if you keep writing, because eventually – but only if you keep writing – you’ll finish something. I’m sure of it. And meanwhile you’re living a writing life, that is, a thoughtful, creative existence loaded with deeper meaning.
To people reading the blog, if you’ve had this problem, please weigh in with how you solved it. If you’re still going through it, you can commiserate with maybeawriter and Alex.
The prompt is to go back to an old story, at least a month old. How does it look now? Do you have a few fresh ideas? Have you been working on something since that you can combine with it? Write at least one new page.
You can also use my ideas about the sisters and the last dinosaur and the forest, or parts of them, as a story starter (the last thing someone with too many ideas needs!). Have fun, and save what you write!