Today I’m really pleased to share a guest post from fellow writer, Ari Meghlen. She has some great tips for keeping your writing projects under control. Read on to find out more…
Keeping the Rabble in Line: How to stick to one story
A Writer’s Life
I always knew I was meant to be a writer. Even in those very early years when I struggled to read and was way behind, regarding reading levels compared to other children my age. After all, my inability to read well never stopped the ideas from coming.
While I loved to draw and was not bad at it, art never seemed enough to give all these ideas life! So, writing was the only way to go.
A Rabble of Chattering Ghosts
I have been blessed (and cursed) with always having ideas. Any time I suffered writers block, it was usually due to mental burn-out or a stubborn plot-hole that just won’t play ball. It was never due to lack of ideas.
I appreciate that is something I am lucky to have. However, it does have its downside. It’s certainly hard to complete a current project when some juicy new idea pops up demanding attention.
I recently discussed the concept of Muses and how to me, my Muses were a rabble of chattering ghosts. And might I say, they’re a rude, demanding lot too!
Their chatter follows me everywhere – in the car, in the grocery store, in the shower. I am forever reaching for a pen or grabbing my phone to jot down a note. It can be anything from a character, a scene or just an abstract concept or question.
It is awesome to have so many ideas. I love that I have enough ideas to keep me going for years to come.
However, it’s also a bad thing because all this chattering is a deep distraction. What is the point of having enough ideas for dozens of books, if I never finish any?
Acknowledging Bad Writing Habits
When I was younger, I fell into very bad habits. The ones where I would drop a working project (no matter how far into it I was) to start another. I felt as if every time a new idea crept up, I had to seize it!
That entailed abandoning story after story as I chased down whatever my chattering ghosts gave me.
This is a great route for disaster as a writer. Does it sound familiar? Have you ever caught yourself doing this?
We do it for many reasons, here are just a few:
- New and Shiny – I feel like writers are a bit like magpies. We are easily distracted by shiny objects and new ideas are those shiny objects. They draw our eye and it becomes our focus… until the next shiny appears.
- FOMO – Fear of Missing Out is a big one for people. Whether you get an idea for a story that is in a trending genre and want to exploit that, to feeling the new idea would be a better, more solid first novel to bring out than your current one. Sometimes we fear missing the opportunity that might be better for us.
- Ninja Level Procrastinator – Many writers don’t realise, but story-hopping is a type of procrastination. Some people have a (often unconscious) fear of completing their work so story-hopping allows them to procrastinate and never actually finish while still considering themselves writers.
But as writers, no matter what our reason, it’s not something we should do. It is more damaging in the long run.
Exorcise the Ghosts with a Brain Dump
So, what do you do if you’re bombarded by ideas all the time?
First, you need to acknowledge the new ideas.
Don’t try and ignore them as some will slip away, and you might always wonder if it could have been something great. Others will just bang loudly on the door, constantly demanding entry and stop you from working anyway.
Second, exorcise the ghosts with a good, solid brain dump.
This is where you just get all the chatter out of your head. Open a new document, save it in an Ideas folder and then just type. Whatever they are giving you – character descriptions, scraps of scenes, plot, dialogue, questions.
The idea here is to purge your mind of all the noise but don’t expand on it. Don’t jot down the basis of a plot and then spend 3 months developing it. That’s working on the project, whereas what you want to do is just create notes.
All the while remind yourself that your current project is being delayed and you must go back to it.
Third, expect that this brain dump might not be 100% done in one sitting.
For the few days following, additional pieces of ideas may pop up. Keep your Idea file open while you’re working on your current WIP and just jump into the document to add the odd nugget as it comes.
This is JUST for the straggler ideas and should not go longer than a few days. Anything beyond that and you’re working on your new project. Be firm, give yourself a cut off.
When you’ve gotten the chatter to hush, throw your focus back at your current WIP with vigour and let the idea sit patiently in its folder. Ideas must be taught to wait their turn.
Be Firm, and Cling to Your Discipline
While writers could possibly do with some drill sergeant keeping us in line, most of us don’t have that so we must rely on our own sense of discipline (terrifying, I know!)
But if you want to be a writer, if you want to complete something and get it published, you need to be firm.
Don’t read the notes you’ve made on your new project. Don’t keep thinking about it. Believe me when you come back to those notes eventually, they will still trigger ideas and you can build on it then.
Why an Outline can help keep the Ghosts under control
There is a lot to be said for having an outline of your work. If you have a strong, detailed outline written for your current work, you will find that the desire to drift off to new projects is somewhat diminished.
This is because often writers will feel a spark with new ideas, especially if they aren’t 100% sure where their current work is going. So, rather than just sitting staring at a screen and dealing with the plot-hole or up-coming conflict, we drop it and turn to the new project.
An outline is a map, showing you the way. It reduces the need for staring blankly at a page, trying to figure out where you’re going in the story.
I was a pantser for a long time and my work has suffered because of it. I have been much better since I (with brutal reluctance) started to do full, detailed outlines.
Those whispered ideas don’t grab me as tightly any more because my focus draws right back to the next scene I need to write in my current WIP.
So, do you often find yourself swayed by the siren of new ideas? How have you managed to stop yourself from dropping one project to start another?
A big thanks to Suzanne for letting me be on her blog, much appreciated.
At the age of 8, Ari Meghlen wanted to be a pirate, because who doesn’t look great in baggy pantaloons and an eyepatch. However, lacking any access to a ship this dream was relegated along with so many others: Professional Ninja, Best Friend to a Dragon, Palaeontologist.
Yet Ari found that, in stories, she could be anything she wanted and so a great love affair started with the written word. She mainly writes Preternatural Urban Fantasy as well as more Traditional Fantasy.
When she’s not creating worlds from the screaming, shuddering recesses of her mind, Ari can be found blogging about writing on her website or indulging in other hobbies such as drawing, shooting arrows, watching movies, playing cards badly.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/writerarimeghlen