Idea overload

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: 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!

  1. Thanks so much for this post–I REALLY needed it! I have over 90 stories started but left unfinished, and this post was a lifesaver. Now I might actually be able to do something with all of them! I especially love the prompts! Thank you thank you thank you!!! 🙂

  2. This is the exact same problem I had! I would be really psyched on this story idea and start writing, but sooner or later, a new idea pops up and I start writing that. I have around 7 (not as much as Kenzi Anne) unfinished stories, and some plots that I havn't written about.
    The problem with me, though, is that the new ideas that pop in my head, are genres related to what I might have recently read or watched and liked it. If I recently have read a modern adventure mystery, I would think up something like that. Same thing for mysteries and fantasies.
    This post really helped. Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I love the idea of combining ideas that seem different. I think that's where some of the most interesting stories come from!

    I keep one document with small random ideas or snippets of dialogue, so that helps. But when a new idea is really, really clamoring to be fleshed out I'll take a night off my WIP to outline it as thoroughly as I can. Usually by the time I'm finished it's out of my system enough to go back.

    Writing is fun, but it's also work if the goal is to be published. Sometimes we just have to slog through the rough patch with our WIP and ignore the shiny new idea (after jotting it down of course). It's not like we're forgetting it entirely, we're just making it wait its turn.

  4. This is great advice. I don't really lose interest in my WIPs (aside from a few that just weren't that good.) . I just… work on 20 things at once. If I ever get serious about writing, I should cut back.

    At the moment, I'm working on over 15 stories… and this is after I have weeded out the ones I want to put aside! My strategy is to work on two a day (an original story gets my attention first, then after a half-hour, I treat myself to a fan-fiction. Stories I hope to publish get their own day. Aren't they special?) After I get everything outlined, I plan to choose five stories and work on those faithfully. (Each day of the week, a different story.)

    Yeah, it's going to take a while to actually get anything done. And I am wondering if the stories will start blending together into a horrible mish-mash, but so far, having this strategy is the only thing that makes writing anything seem possible. And, since I have a surplus of free time, it is a great way to keep me busy. I have long since decided that I have quite enough self-inflicted stress without pressuring myself to become a published author by the time I'm twenty-five.

    By the by, I was thinking the other day, when I am done with a book, should I publish it myself via e-book, or should I see about finding a traditional publisher? I am concerned if I publish it myself, it would be seen as an ego-trip and overlooked.

    • Whether or not to self-publish is a complicated question and I'm not an expert. You might want to read up on self-publishing and publishing in general. However, more and more people are self-publishing, and I don't think your book would be regarded as an ego-trip. However, finding an audience is a different matter. Traditional publishers are better at it, but some books – sigh – get lost among the many new books anyway.

  5. I have maybe four stories I'm working on right now. (Actually, three stories, but there is a fourth story I really should be doing.) So far they are all pretty good ideas, unique plots, new worlds, fun names and intricate characters, and I switch between them anytime I get writers block on one of them, that way I am always working on one. But the beginning of one story has me stuck. Mrs. Levine, do you have any advise for my story?
    Sapphire is the eldest of twelve princesses. She ahs a lot of problems. Her country is at war, her sisters squabble constantly, (seven of them are by one mother and the other five are by another, so that messes with them a little, though both mothers are dead.) their favorite body guard has been replaced by a cryptic new young soldier, there have been Corin spies roaming the country, (Corins are the bad guys) and the princesses are forbidden to go ANYWHERE without a guard to protect them and they are being forced to dance by some invisible foe. So yah, I've got the story pretty well worked out, but the beginning is a mess. I've deleted it and started over at least five times. She spies on her dad, who is interviewing the new guard and then goes to tell her sisters, who start fighting, and then escapes, through the rain, to a garden pavilion, where you get a little about the girls history, but it sounds so flat and overly dramatic. I need some help. So far, this story is going no where. I also have a little problem with POVs, the story switches from Sapphire, to Michael, the new guard, to Althea, Michael's magician sister. If you need, I can explain it out better. I really need it to start working. It's kinda important to me to get this one published. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.

  6. Sounds like you may not have decided what the major problem is. If Sapphire is your main character, I suggest you think about what's most important to her and focus on that, which may make everything else fall into place. Good luck with your story!

  7. Hello world! TOTALLY random question……………….how detailed is TOO detailed? I mean, I know there are some events that are just not included in stories. Like getting your lip stuck in your braces. Would you tell about that happening to your character? Or does it just not matter?

  8. Ellie, I have multiple stories going, too, but even though it's taking a long time this way (especially since I'm a slow writer to begin with), it keeps me from stalling completely. After a while, I get my nose so close to the story that I can't see the big picture and mire down in tiny decisions, that when I've had a chance to step back, no longer matter as much. By switching to one of my other stories at that point, I get that fresh story feeling, even though my focus is on an existing project. Sometimes I've switched because something I read triggers something that will help one of the ongoing stories, but that's less often.

    The only time Shiny New Ideas really hit me hard is if I've gone too long without working/thinking on one of the current ideas. Kind of like being super hungry. Trading off when I stall on one helps prevent me from dropping into that creatively hungry state. I stay actively engaged so I can move forward on something already in progress, even if it wasn't the one I intended to stick with. I still get other ideas here and there, but after I jot them down, I can go back to what I was working on within a day or two.

    I wouldn't worry too much about having multiple drafts, just work on keeping your focus on the existing ones. Remind yourself periodically what the primary issues are with each one, so that the back of your head can be working on those instead a lot of brand new independent ideas.

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