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.