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Tactics for Avoiding the Temptation of a New Idea

Posted on: 12th Jun 2013  /   Categorized: Writing Tips

I’ve yet to meet a writer who doesn’t sometimes struggle with the lure of a new writing project, and lately I’ve been getting asked more and more about how to combat this constant temptation. So when @debbiekolive on Twitter suggested I write a blog post on the subject, I thought, well, I might have a thing or two to say…

 

Here are some tactics I use to stay focused on my current WIP, even when a shiny new project comes calling.

 

 

I get the new project out of my head as soon as possible.

 

The longer a story lingers inside your skull, the stronger the temptation will be. You’ll become afraid that you’ll forget important details or that the original passion will be gone by the time you have time to write it. (Which I personally think is silly—if the idea is worth writing, it will still be worth writing when you have time for it.)

 

So that the story doesn’t hang around taking up valuable brain space, I write down the idea—and everything that came with it—into the story idea file on my computer. I note as many details as I can—character quirks, a great opening line, an unexpected plot twist, a snippet of dialogue that popped into my  head, a vibrant visual image, etc. That way, I know the story will be right there, waiting for me, when I’m ready for it. And with any luck, by the time I’m able to work on that project, I’ll have collected enough of these mini tidbits that it will feel like the start of an actual story, rather than just a vague concept.

 

 

I remind myself that I’ve felt this temptation for every single project I’ve ever written—including the current WIP.

 

When I was working on Cinder, I was dying to start Scarlet. When I was neck-deep in Scarlet, all I wanted was to move on to Cress. It’s strange, but for some reason our brains are always convinced, no matter how illogically, that the NEXT project will be more fun to write. The next project won’t come with all these headache-inducing plot holes and frustrating characters who won’t do what they’re told. The next project will be so easy and so perfect that I won’t even have to revise it!

 

But that’s ridiculous. Every project will have its own challenges. And I’m all too aware that there was a time when I felt the same way about the current writing project, too.

 

 

I remind myself that I have to finish the current WIP eventually, so it might as well be now.

 

Obvious statement alert: If you never finish anything… you’ll never finish anything.

 

Assuming your ultimate goal is to be published and/or get your next advance check and/or not give your editor a heart attack, then eventually you’re going to have to finish something. If that’s a book you’re under contract for, well then, eventually you’re going to have to finish THIS something. Every time you get distracted by a different project, you’re pulling yourself away from your goals.

 

 

I remind myself why I love my current WIP.

 

We all fall out of love with our writing projects from time to time. (Usually it happens about a third of the way through the first draft, then again when you’re half way through revisions, when you’ve just landed in the mucky middle and nothing is nearly as brilliant and exciting as you’d thought it was going to be…)

 

But remember, there was a time when you were so madly in love with this story you couldn’t wait to work on it. Remember when you dreamed up plot twists when you lay in bed at night? And when every song on the radio had that uncanny way of fitting the storyline? When your fingers itched to get back to the keyboard when Real Life pulled you away?

 

If you’ve lost that loving feeling, recapture it by listing all the things that called you to the story in the first place. That one epic scene that plays out like a movie in your imagination, that quirky side character that always makes you laugh, maybe even the first spark of the idea that made you bolt upright and think – that would make an amazing book. Write it down. Fall back in love.

 

 

I use the new idea as a bribe.

 

If there’s an idea plaguing you so bad that you simply can’t think about anything else, go ahead and make time for it in your writing schedule. Maybe Monday through Thursday you’ll work on your current WIP, but Fridays are reserved for the new project. Or one hour every night before bedtime will be spent pulling together an outline or creating an inspiration pinboard. Or plan on using the next NaNoWriMo (which comes every November) to fly through a quick first draft. Knowing that you’ll be able to work on that project during your allotted time can help you stay focused on the project you’re supposed to be working on.

 

 

All that said, a caveat…

 

I hope that these tactics will help those of you who struggle to ever focus on one thing long enough to reach The End. But I also feel like I should mention that not every project is worth finishing. Maybe you simply can’t reignite the initial love you had for an idea, or you realize it’s never going to become what you’d hoped it would be, or you discover that the concept isn’t half as unique as you’d first thought it was, or any number of other legitimate reasons for setting it aside and moving on to something else. I have at least half a dozen unfinished novels lying around, and I don’t regret not finishing those novels. With Cinder, I knew I had to finish it, because I had so much confidence in it, and I was so in love with it. I don’t feel that way about my old, abandoned novels—I learned what I could from them (including why they weren’t working) and then I set them aside and moved on. Sometimes you just have to do that.

 

Otherwise, plug your ears against that siren song and keep going.

 

10 Comments

  1. am2142 commented on:

    Thanks so much for the advice! It will definitely come in handy.

  2. H.S. Stone commented on:

    Great advice!
    I run into this with every project, and it’s nice to hear that even a successful author like you has the same problems. I’ll definitely keep your tips in mind the next time it happens to me.

  3. JessDay commented on:

    This has been driving me crazy for weeks! Thanks for the advice!

  4. Alexa Y. commented on:

    I love this post a whole lot! I used to be easily swayed into abandoning one project for the next. These days though, I do a lot of your first suggestion and just write the shiny new idea and save it for a rainy day.

  5. Cassidy Leora commented on:

    Whoa… This timing is a little creepy, but seriously COULD NOT have come at a better time!
    Every suggestion here is VERY GOOD, and I will most DEFINITIVELY be trying these methods!
    Thank you!

  6. Mark Murata commented on:

    In a workshop, Terry Brooks said to write down everything you can when thinking of a story, but when it comes to writing it, to just ignore everything you can’t recall without the notes. I don’t go that far, but if I do note things while doing another project, about half of it doesn’t seem that brilliant after all, or has to be chucked as the story changes.

  7. Mime commented on:

    I am so glad you never gave up on Cinder!!! Also, great tactics. I love the mention of a rewarding pinboard. I do that, and so does my sister… it’s inspiration, not procrastination! Great tactics, too. Thanks!

  8. Sarah Hipple commented on:

    These are very similar to the tactics that I use to talk myself back into working on my manuscript (rather than, say, watching TV or doing the dishes.)

    I actually have a weird sort of temptation – the temptation to go back and edit an older work while in the middle of writing a new first draft. This is usually because I’ve had some sort of insight or critique that I now REALLY want to implement. And because I’m in the mucky middle of my WIP.

    Thanks for telling us your strategies!

  9. Breahna Lesemann commented on:

    I feel like this is something I’ve needed. I have a horrible time getting plot lines worked out and I have a million unfinished stories that can attest to that. I came to the realization a while ago that some of those stories aren’t meant to be finished or that some of them can help me fix spots in a different story. I’ve always written these random stories down because at the time they seem so perfect and powerful, then after a few days they loose their shine. I have one story, however, that is constantly seeming to creep into my head. I know I have to finish it and I’m hoping that by putting your advice to work I’ll be able to focus better on the progression of my story.

    Thank you for your advice. It’s set out a few things plainly in front of me that had been scattered around a bit.

  10. Adele commented on:

    Siren-LOL! Sorry, but ignoring ideas just dosn’t work for me. The write your new idea 1 day a week is great! I use it as a bribe: if I do my wordcount I get to have a treat and indulge in my “new” project.

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