Inklings #6 – Too Many Lightbulbs

It’s a regular complaint of a writer that they keep having ideas about other projects when they’re trying to write the one in front of them. It’s easy to get distracted when the lightbulbs are going off in your head, but it leads to a lot of abandoned projects rather than a smaller number of finished ones.

So, what’s to be done? There are a few options, and I’ll go over the ones I think are best here.

  1. Notes!

So you’re working on something, and there it is, another idea. It sprang into being, and now it’s running around in there, refusing to let you focus on the thing you’re trying to get done.

The very first thing I do in that instance is make notes. Whatever it is, capture the idea in whatever way works for you–pen and paper, app, document, whatever! Just write the idea down somewhere.

Of course, sometimes the idea wants to keep building. That’s fine! More notes! At that rate, by the time you get to it you’ll have it all fully-fledged and ready to go! I promise, you will never say “Oh I wish I’d made fewer notes about this story”.

  1. Share!

Sometimes, with or without notes, your best bet is to tell someone else about it! Find someone who will listen. Explain what they’re listening to and that you don’t need their thoughts on it or anything, you just need someone to tell it to.

Then tell them everything you’ve thought up.

This gives you two things. First: like the notes, it’s a way to get this out of the front of your head and settled elsewhere in your brain–preferably behind a big steel door saying “Ideas for later”. Second: you will get a reaction from the person you’re talking to, even though you’re not technically looking for it. That will help you decide how much of a good and usable idea it is.

Sometimes notes and/or sharing will show you your idea is not actually as good as it thinks it is. Then, you store it away to dismantle and put into something else, or maybe even improve, later. Never throw an idea away!

Either way, your brain should be free again for your current project

  1. Scenes!

If your story idea really isn’t going anywhere after you’ve tried to get it out of your head, one thing you can do is to write whatever specific scene or moment you’re seeing. Getting some of it down on the page will often relax the idea into knowing it will be written–at which point you can lock it behind that big steel door!

  1. Wait!

A shiny new idea is great! But will it stay shiny for a week? A Month? Longer?

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just keep working on the current thing, and wait to see if the new thing slows down. Most of the time, it will, and then it goes into notes and, once again, behind the big steel door.

If it remains shiny after, say, 6-8 weeks, you not only have had that time to try and finish your current thing, but it does also leave open the option to do this next one.

  1. Switch!

Let’s face it, though, sometimes, despite everything you try, the idea will simply not lie down for you. If the urgings become so loud that it drowns out your other project, then it might just be time to switch over.

Sometimes this means entirely pausing the first thing in order to write the new thing. How that might work for you depends partly on the length of the new thing. Stopping for a day to write a short story? No problem. Stopping to write a 100k word novel? Slightly more problematic.

But this one depends entirely on you. If you can work on two projects at once, and give both your best, then switch them out on your own schedule. Maybe day by day, maybe chapter by chapter, maybe by divination under moonlight–whatever works.

If you can’t give your full attention to two different things, then you can shelve the first one (don’t forget to make notes on where you’re going with it!), and pick up the second one.

This option does become a problem if you keep reaching this point. That’s when you have folders full of unfinished stories, because you can’t keep your attention on one of them. If that’s your problem, then you need the next tip.

  1. Focus!

If you can’t work on both, and you keep wanting to shelve things and start something new, then you have to work on your discipline. Writing, especially writing longer pieces, requires a lot of it. Once the initial shine has left your story, once other ideas arrive looking brighter, once the slog has set in or you’re not sure it’s good or you’re stuck or…whatever. If that’s when you find the new ideas come, and you shelve that older one…you need to learn to focus.

It might mean that your writing feels forced for a while. That’s fine! It’s not your finished piece, you just need to put the story on the page–everything else can be fixed later.

Try some things that try to teach discipline. Meditation, yoga, take up a new hobby or start a course on something. Find something, or multiple somethings, that can help teach your brain to focus. Give yourself a little schedule and routine to attach to your writing. All this will help give your brain a pathway to focusing.

As for me? I use Google Keep for my notes. It’s simple, I can label ideas, and I can just open up a note and scribble in something new, knowing it’ll stay there until I’m ready.

I also use Cuddles a lot as a sounding board. Mostly for stories I’m trying to actively write, but sometimes I’ll need to tell her an idea to help quiet it down.

I rarely write scenes though, I will note them but writing them out isn’t something I do. I write linearly, with notes to remind me backwards and forwards of what’s going on. When I reach a scene I have notes about, I go in at full-force and get it done.

I do switch. I am guilty of flipping over to the shinier new thing. I can mostly note something then let it be, but sometimes I’ll start writing something, ostensibly to see if it begins to pan out, but once I’m going I have a habit of dropping other things to keep on.

So I’m working on my focus! It’s going well, so far. My routine is pretty good, and I’m often sliding in the odd word at night as well. So things are moving, but I still have work to do!

Enjoyed? Buy me a coffee!

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