(Yes, Autumn blogged about Tackling Too Many Ideas here before. Hopefully I’m offering some fresh perspective.)
Let’s face it, good ideas are unpredictable: sometimes they trickle in and you can barely get your feet wet, and sometimes they come at you with such force you need to dam the waters just to keep from going nuts. That second one is me right now.
It feels like there have been plenty of blog posts written lately about where and how to find writing inspiration. Let’s briefly address the other problem – what to do when too much inspiration hits.
The Problem: Let’s say you’ve got a Work In Progress you’re really enjoying, and maybe another half-finished piece on the side you’ve been screwing around with for the past few months (a lot of writers I’ve met do this, even if said “second project” is only a few paragraphs long). This serves a purpose – most of us have brains that resist being too narrowly focused on one thing at a time, and that second project often allows us to blow off mental steam, if you will, and give our imagination a second place to throw all of our random ideas that have no place in what we’re currently working on.
But sometimes that’s not enough. You’re plugging away on your lovely WIP and nurturing your bizarre novella/short story/dumping ground side project when BLAMMO!!!!, inspiration for a totally different story comes along. So what do you do? Ignore it? Start another project? Run screaming down the hall, secretly thankful this is the worst of your problems?
Fear not, gentle writer: we’re here to help.
Step 1: Assess the value of the new story
Is this burst of inspiration something that will last? A lot of us get motivated by something we read or watch and find ourselves wanting to do something similar, but after a couple of days our interest fades away. True inspiration sticks with us, and I can usually tell if one of my ideas is an actual concept with merit or just a passing fancy, but it can take a bit of mental steaming before I arrive at the answer.
Sometimes the new idea is so cool you even have to set aside your current project to tend to it, or else allow yourself to manage more than one project at once…but we’re not quite there yet.
Step 2: Can I use the ideas from this new story in what I’m working on now?
This is the big one for me, and a notion that a lot of writers tend to resist. Are the ideas for this new story something I can somehow incorporate into one of my existing projects?
Most writers freak out at this idea – NO OMG MY BABY I HAVE IT PLOTTED OUT TO THE LAST DETAIL EVEN THE LADYBUG ON THE LEAF IN CHAPTER 37!!!! – but I encourage people to always consider this notion. Yes, it may seem weird if you’re writing a zombie apocalypse novel and you suddenly have an idea for a space romance, but is there something, anything about this new idea you can work into what you’re working on now?
They say necessity is the mother of invention: this is because we tend to do some of our best creative work when we have only limited resources. When inspiration for a new story comes along consider, just for a minute, the (untrue) notion that the only way you’ll get to use this new material is if you somehow work it in to what you’re doing now. Three out of every four of my novels feature some wild notions that struck me halfway through the rough draft, ideas which, at least at first, seemed entirely unrelated.
Now, this isn’t to say a new story idea will always mesh with what you’ve got going on already – sometimes things just don’t fit, and that’s all there is to it. All I’m encouraging you to do is give the idea some merit: you might be surprised with how creative you can be when trying to mash together story concepts you’d normally keep in separate rooms.
Step 3: Nope, This Story Is New….What Now?
Well, that depends on how you work. I usually have one WIP, one book I’m editing, one side project I mess with intermittently, and several ideas I’m kicking around. If I get nailed with inspiration for something new, I just make sure to keep my thoughts and notes organized.
I save everything on the cloud (I prefer Microsoft’s Skydrive, but I’ve also had good luck with Dropbox and Bitcasa). Every project gets its own folder, and everything related to that project goes into that folder: drafts, revised drafts, inspirational images, blog posts, actual cover art, different formats and, most importantly, a Notepad document that has tons of random notes. Once I’m sure the idea is going to be “for real” I create a folder (if there’s no title I just label it something I’ll easily be able to identify later) and start a Notepad file to keep all of my thoughts in. Sometimes I have to jot things down on paper or into my phone if I’m out and about when an idea hits, but I’m always sure to back that $%!t up the moment I get to my computer.
(If you like a more professional note-keeping interface, try programs like Evernote, Google Keep or Liquid Story Binder. I tend to get overwhelmed by these programs, but my wife swears by Evernote, and I’ve heard good things about the others.)
These notes don’t have to be anything fancy, but they can be vital. They should include a basic story concept, anything you want to research for the story, any character names you come up with, certain events or plot twists that come to mind, etc.. I even do rough chapter outlines once I get that far in the mental process.
The most important thing is to keep it brief: if there’s an important concept, make it concise so you’ll easily understand what you were talking about when you read the notes later. I tend to asterisk the crap out of vital stuff, because I know in 6 months down the road when I finally get around to working on this new story I’ll need my own mental scribblings to be as clear to me as possible.
(On a side note, coming back to these notes is lots of fun, and letting them stew for a bit often leads to even more inspiration once you approach them with a fresh perspective.)
Conclusion: Ideas (usually) need to percolate. Sometimes inspiration whips out of nowhere and you have no choice but to follow along, but I find that tends to leave lots of projects unfinished if you drop your current WIP every time a new idea strikes. On the other hand, it’s a shame to waste a good story concept, and whether you use it now or save it for later it’s important to latch onto those ideas, because every one of them is golden…even if you aren’t able to give them the full attention they deserve until you get that other pesky novel finished…
About the Author
Steven Montano has too many projects going at once. Currently he’s hard at work writing Vampire Down (Book 7 of Blood Skies), tossing around ideas and writing random paragraphs for The Black Tower (the sequel to Path of Bones and the conclusion to The Skullborn Trilogy), occasionally editing Blood Angel Rising (a paranormal action-horror) and taking notes for Colder, a dark mystery/thriller that’s been eating up way too much of his brainpower and led him to write this post.
Learn more about this lunatic at http://steven-montano.com/