So, my writing friends and I spend a lot of time commiserating about the “stray idea.” You know, that idea that shows up on your doorstep when you’re right in the middle of a deadline on the book you HAVE to get done by next Wednesday? The idea that demands to be fed and won’t leave you alone. The idea that keeps you up at night with it’s whining, “Feed me! Pet me! I want attention. I’m waaayyy cuter than that idea you’re working on now!”
Most of us tell ourselves that we can’t work on the new idea until we finish with the old idea. In theory, this is great. After all, if we wrote each new book as the idea for it hit us, we’d probably never finish a book at all. We’d have 15 first chapters (or worse, 15 near-complete-but-not-quite, wasted-three-months-of-my-life books) under our beds.
So, what do we do when a good idea shows up unannounced, making demands…tempting us? Do we put it in the “idea pound” like an unwanted stray dog? I’ve found that’s not such a great idea. Taking an idea to the “pound” usually means we forget about it. Don’t go back for it. Three days later it’s euthanised by the Society for Humane Idea Treatment. SHIT for short. (Damn! I didn’t see that one coming! snort)
So, anyway, poor idea, gets left behind. We forget about it. SHIT puts it out of its misery and sends it to idea heaven to be reincarnated for someone else. You think I’m kidding? How many times have you thought of something that sounded great and ignored it, only to find that someone else “thought” of it later and wrote about it?? Thoughts are energy and energy just floats around waiting for anyone to pluck it out of the sky. Seriously. But that’s a whole other blog.
What can we do to avoid this happening? Can’t just stop writing whatever we’re working on every time we think of a new (read: fresh and WAY more exciting than the frickin’ idea you’ve been working on for the past three months!) idea. We have to find a way to manage our new ideas. Keep them safe. Give them just enough attention to keep them alive.
Robin D. Owens, in her blog this morning, says this: “You NEVER turn down inspiration unless you’re at a place where you can’t write or dictate or jot a note.” She wrote the beginning of one of her books before a memorial service she was attending.
That really hit me! NEVER TURN DOWN INSPIRATION! That sounds a lot different than the way my friends and I bitch about this new idea that just won’t leave us alone, and we’re on deadline, and we can’t start a NEW book, because we haven’t finished the old one, even though the new one sounds so cool right now, and so we’re going completely nuts trying to hush this new idea up, and why can’t we just write faster, and why do we have to finish the book we’re on, because it obviously sucks if our minds are coming up with new ideas…. Sigh.
I read once where every desire (or every idea, which is really a desire wishing to be born) is a gift. It is given to us to, in some way, fulfull a desire. Inspiration is a gift. What writer wouldn’t completely freak out if they thought that the last idea they had was THE LAST IDEA THAT THEY EVER HAD? Doesn’t that mean, then, that every new idea is a gift? One that no writer should ever turn down?
Not that that means they’re easy to handle, or shouldn’t be managed carefully. A deadline is a deadline, and you can’t just set it aside because you’re tired of this book and the new book idea sounds so much better. Trust me, if you’re a newbie to writing, it may seem like this (growing bored with a book) could never happen, but it WILL. The book that once was so wonderful as to be called the book of your heart, will become the bane of your existance after you’ve read it a thousand times, edited it until you’re cross-eyed, and analyzed it until your characters are like psychiatric patients instead of dear friends. Trust me on this.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t finish that book. It doesn’t mean you can dive into the next idea. So what do you do? (Shut up, Shannon, and give us some practical advice, why don’t you??!)
1. Jot down the new idea so you don’t forget. I cannot tell you how many times I have forgotten something “so fantastic” I was sure I’d never forget it in a million years. It usually takes about two days. Again, this is the one that was euthanised by SHIT, and I will see it on the back cover of a book some day and think, “Damn! I thought of that once and forgot all about it!” Just write a quick blurb about it, with enough of the good details stirring around in your mind to spark you interested when you read it again later.
2. Write a chapter of it…or a scene…or whatever part is playing in your mind and exciting you so much. I have a folder in my file cabinet I call “Snippets” where I keep memory joggers I dashed down on paper. I have a “Future Book Ideas” folder on my computer, where I keep ideas for books I may want to write in the future. Some of them have entire chapters written. Heck, when I went to write up the YA proposal I turned in to my agent last week, I pulled the idea from this folder on my computer, and I had 24 pages written, as well as part of a synopsis and all character sketches! Usually you don’t have to write down much. Most of the time I find that I THINK I have a lot more of the new book idea in my mind than I really do. I can take the time to write down a scene or a snippet of dialogue or the back cover blurb, without being too damaging to my work-in-progress.
3. If it’s really bugging you to write it, see if you can allocate yourself a certain portion of your writing time to work on the new idea. Some people don’t like working on more than one book at a time, but as I join the soon-to-be-published ranks, I see that that’s going to happen whether you like it or not. You can just get used to it and work with it, or you can let it drive you crazy. I’ve read of some writers who have a 5 day writing week…4 days for the project they are “really” working on and 1 day for the next project, or the project that invades their mind and won’t let go. Sometimes that is something risky, that we don’t want to devote all our time to, like a romance writer suddenly having an idea for a horror story they aren’t sure they can write. After working for 4 days on the “old tried and true” format, the final day is a bonus, a play day, a day where you give yourself permission to do something different. You never know, it just might work out great…and it might inspire you even more.
4. Remember that it’s always possible this new idea isn’t that great at all. Sad to say, but sometimes, what sounds wonderful right now (especially if you’re in the throes of current-manuscript-not-going-so-well angst), might not be so wonderful when thought out more thoroughly. I have lots of ideas in that snippet file I once thought were awesome, but which will never see the light of day (or the ink on paper). Don’t worry about it! If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You tried, you gave it your best shot, and chances are, that idea didn’t die of neglect, but because it really wasn’t that terrific in the first place. If it was great, it will still be great a month from now. Trust me on this.
But, the most important thing, as Robin said…NEVER turn down inspiration.
Anyone else have any ideas on this topic?
Off to get ready for a phone appointment with my editor…talk to you soon!