This comes up on a regular basis in a couple of the writing groups I belong to. The question is a variation of this:
“I am halfway (or more) through my work in progress, and I just got a brilliant idea for a new story. I’m trying to ignore it, but it just keeps bugging me. I want to stop what I’m doing and start this new thing now!”
And they ask how others deal with this problem. Usually, there are a lot of sympathetic voices. “Oh, I have that problem all the time!” “I know what you mean. I have six different stories started, and a new idea just came to me today.” And so on.
Buried in the avalanche of commiseration is often one or two sensible replies. They are the ones that tell everyone to finish that thing you are working on. Don’t let the new ideas distract you. They are absolutely right.
I get those moments, too. I start something, and it’s all awesome and shiny and going along great. Then comes the wall. It could be a plot point that I’m stuck on. It could be a character whose motivation or personality is murky and undefined. It often comes in the middle of revisions, when it’s all little details and tweaking, and can feel like slogging through a mud field. That’s when New Shiny Syndrome is almost guaranteed to hit. I’m tired of working on this current project, and, Oh, look! That is one great idea that just flew by. Maybe I should drop this old, tired thing and get into the new one. It’ll be much better, and go so much easier, right?
Wrong. I promise you, you will hit that point in the new story, too. And then another new idea will jump up. Give in to that, and another one will appear. Pretty soon, you will have dozens of things started and nothing finished. If you plan on doing anything as a writer, you have to finish something. Better, you have to finish lots of things. As Neil Gaiman said: “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.”
But what to do with that new idea? Of course, you don’t want to forget it. Write it down. Make some general notes about it. Enough that it will jog your memory when you come back to it, and then get back to the work in progress. Many times, letting a new idea sort of simmer in the back of your head while you work on something else allows your subconscious brain to work out more of the details than you would have known if you’d started it immediately.
Is it difficult to put aside an exciting new project to continue to work on one that has lost its glitter, and perhaps become a bit tedious? Yes, it is. But writing is as much discipline as it is creativity. You have to train yourself, sometimes force yourself, to stick to one thing until it’s done. It takes willpower, but it can be done.
I’m not saying you can’t work on more than one thing at a time. I usually have two projects, in different stages, going at once. I can use one as a break from the other to let the subconscious work out some kinks. The danger is in having too many, and jumping into each new idea as it occurs.
New ideas will come. They had better, or you will end up writing only one thing in your life. Just don’t let New Shiny Syndrome derail you. Finish your stories. Those ideas will be there, when you are ready for them.
Six of One: A Collection of Short Fantasy by M.A. Kropp is a set of short fantasy stories. Meet wizards, imps, gangster angels, and frogs in this group of varied tales of magic and mischief. Escape from the everyday into worlds of fantasy with Six of One: A Collection of Short Fantasy.
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