I’m always working on something.
There is always a project in the works, whether it’s a novel or a short story or a serial piece, there is always something on the table, and while I could write a page on how I manage all of them concurrently, today I’m going to talk about that wonderful disaster that occurs when you get a fresh idea about a completely different project.
It’s a strange crisis moment. On the one hand, you’ve got a new idea and that’s great! New ideas are good things – they motivate us, they inspire us, and so on. On the other hand, you’ve got a dozen other things to do, you’ve got your head in a different project. If you start getting involved in this new idea you’ll lose steam on the original, but if you don’t start working on this new idea, you might lose the burst of inspiration. It’s a tough spot to be in.
Just this week, while working on my novel (the same one I’d spent Camp NaNo making progress on), I was in my kitchen cutting apples for a salad I was making when I looked at my knife, which made me think about knives in general, which made me think about swords, which made me think about… well, you all know how that goes. Long story short, it made me think about a character in my greater storyverse that I’d not written with in a long time.
An idea formed. A theme, a vague plot, possibly developments, tie-ins with other stories, and worst of all a burning need to write with this character. I was suddenly flooded with inspiration and motivation. I wanted to drop everything I was doing right then and just start putting down words.
Words that had nothing to do with my current projects.
So what to do?
Firstly, in my opinion, there’s no objective best course of action here, and certainly not one that encompasses everyone’s circumstances. If you’ve got deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, then naturally you’ll have to set your priorities differently than if you’re just writing for the fun of it, so what follows are just a few methods that I use when I need to stay focused on my original projects but don’t want to completely waste that surge of inspiration.
Jotting Down the Basics
Jot down a few rough notes, a skeleton, or a simple synopsis – something that’ll let you come back to it later. It doesn’t have to be a lot (though I know the temptation to flood the page with every minute detail is strong) and could be just enough to assuage that need to tell that story, enough so that you can come back to it later and know what you what wanted. A reminder, of sorts.
This is a method I don’t employ that often, largely because it usually just distracts me more. I often use note-taking and skeleton building as a motivational activity, so this tends to be counterproductive. However, if I don’t have long to go before I can actually work on the new story this can work for me.
One of the key advantages of this method is that’s the fastest. Write it up during your lunch break, or before you go to bed for the evening. All in all you could start and finish it in half an hour, depending on how expansive your fresh idea is.
Make a deal with yourself – if you get through x amount of your current project (the thing you actually need to get done) then you’re allowed to spend some time working on the new idea. No dessert unless you finish your greens and all that. This helps tie a sense of gratification to work that might otherwise feel unsatisfying – complete A and you get to enjoy B, making A a more exciting prospect.
This is not an uncommon tactic for me, and it’s fairly effective. So effective, in fact, that I use it in multiple aspects of life to help motivate me to keep on track.
Oh, Write It!
My most common approach. I use one of my breaks to burn through the introduction of the new idea or the scene I have in my head, translating it into words so I feel like I’ve actually done something and get the need to see it written out of my system.
This is a risky approach, of course, because it’s all too easy to get carried away with a scene and find yourself even more caught up in the story than before. However, if it does work (as it usually does for me) then you’ll be able to stop with a pleasant sense of having gotten something down and the fear of losing that surge of inspiration will hopefully have subsided.
I tend to write out a full scene so that I have something that can (in a sense) stand alone for a while. This doesn’t strip me of my desire to write more, but it gives me a nice milestone to stop at. Usually, that’s enough.