Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So Many Stories, So Little Time

The other day I had an entire afternoon to myself and got the chance to squeeze in some extra writing. This does not happen very often.

The only thing I had to do was about two weeks’ worth of laundry (yeah, I’d sort of let it stock pile). Anyway, I was elated at the idea of having a few hours to work on my manuscript, aiming to add at least a thousand words.

Which path shall I take?
Alright, so here’s the thing: I’ve got so many story ideas locked up inside my brain that it’s hard to concentrate on just one at a time. Some of the ideas have been floating around in my brain since I was a preteen, so many are pretty well developed – plot wise – and most feel like they’re all but written, pun intended.

On Twitter recently, Patrick Satters (@Patrick_Satters) expressed an interest in having another author or ghost writer work with him to write his many story ideas. I had tweeted back, saying that I could understand where he was coming from.

The fact of the matter is that writing a full-length novel takes time. And if you have a lot of story ideas, like Patrick and myself, well, then your hands are likely too slow to write it all down. So many stories, so little time.

I used to have a lot of trouble with writing just one story at a time. It was like I’d developed a form of ADD that prohibited me from writing one story all the way to the end before another idea popped up and consumed my interest.

For some random, unknown reason the other day, I reverted to that state of mind and could not keep my mind on my Silent Destruction WiP (Work in Progress).

So instead of knocking out that next chapter on Silent Destruction as I had intended, I opened a new Word document and wrote a rather good opening sequence to another story that’s been with me since the beginning.

Now I’m wondering what I should do.

It’s not like I’m bored with the Silent Destruction WiP or anything. I’m still making progress. But now I’ve got this other story fighting for my attention, especially since that opening scene came out so good.

I’m torn. I want to keep working on Silent Destruction, keep making progress and get closer to being done. But then, the “other” is so tempting because the ideas are flowing into my brain!

What’s an aspiring novelist to do?

Later I got to thinking of the quote by Earnest Hemingway when he said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

In light of my predicament, this quote suddenly seemed to be saying: Write what’s on your mind. Never shut off the flow of words. Doesn’t matter what’s being written. When you’re in the creation mode that’s what you do; create.

Random inspiration doesn’t strike me very often, and I remember a time not that long ago when there were no words that would come to me – no words of any sort. I am scared of going back to that point.

So, that’s how I justified spending three hours writing another story rather than working on my current WiP. I saved the file and stored it away, knowing that it’ll give me a good start later on, when I am ready to give it my full attention.

So, fellow writers, I’m wondering what you do in this type of situation? Do you write whatever comes to mind as it comes to mind, or do you force yourself to stick on one project and see it through until completion?


  1. So true! At times there are just too many ideas, too many words, too many stories floating around in my head to stay focused on just one. I really try to stay focused on one story and see it through to the end- but if an idea continues to develop and I can't seem to keep my mind on the current project, then I will break and write down my thoughts and ideas. In the long run this keeps my writing moving forward.

    1. Exactly! I think it's important to just keep writing and moving forward at all times.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rebecca!

    2. Of course! Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog! Always full of great ideas and insights! Look forward to reading more...

  2. I understand your situation. I have a similar problem. And blogging doesn't help much because now I'm always getting new ideas for blog posts in addition to the ideas for other things I'd like to write. I know the solution, but it's easier said than done. You probably know it as well. It comes down to focus and discipline. We've got to make ourselves finish one specific thing and not get sidetracked. Easy to say, but usually I don't do it.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Hello Arlee and thanks for commenting! Focus and discipline, so true!

  3. Wah!! NOT something I can do. I have to stick with the one I'm on or I get myself into serious trouble. I end up just noting down the ideas in a separate document somewhere and then force myself back to the current WIP.

    Sometimes you can incorporate the new ideas into the current WIP if you just think about it in a different way.

    1. lol - thanks Isa ;) Usually, that's what I try to do; capture that idea, but then save it for LATER. We'll never get anywhere on our WiPs if we don't keep making some progress.

      Another writer friend told me to try incorporating new ideas into the current WiP when I was first starting out (10+ years ago!) but that's never really played out for me. I think it's because I've several separate story ideas and the new flash of inspiration is for one of those other stories.

      Again, thanks for commenting!

  4. You had me at the Hemingway quote! He is brilliant, one of my very favorites. I loved that you mentioned him, I think most everything he's ever said is fitting in a blog about writing. (:

    I'll tell you, I love the idea of letting your creativity flow freely. If it comes to you, just write it. I love that idea, and that it works for you. I WISH I could be the same way. But, unfortunately, I tend to be too hyper-organized with my ideas and too hard on myself to stray from my current WIP to move onto anything else.

    So, if I get another idea while I'm in the middle of something-I just jot down the idea somewhere. Usually just a brief description, never more than a couple sentences. And I set it aside, mentally, to go back and work on it later.

    Thanks for sharing this, Amanda. I always enjoy reading. I appreciate the attention and time you put into your posts. (:

    1. Hey Katie, thank you so much for sharing and commenting! I love Hemingway’s quotes; the one I used here is my computer’s desktop image, so that’s probably why it’s the first one that came to mind for this post. I’m typically really organized with my ideas too – but just every now and then, one of these flash moments of inspiration hits me and it’s like I can’t move until I write it down.

      Thanks again, and I’m glad you enjoy!

  5. Sometimes the best way to let a story evolve in your mind is to step away and work on something else.

    Yes, this gem of advice is coming from the guy who has spent more time making graphics of caribou on steroids lately than writing one of his WIPs, but in stepping away from the stuff I was working on, I developed several news ideas that my tunnel-visioned perspective would not have allowed for otherwise.

    An activity I used to do (seeing as I spent most of my youth on writing role-playing websites) was to envision a "character social" in my head (which actually was my final for a writing course once, too -- AWESOME). Basically, I take a few of my characters that would otherwise have no connection with one another, place them in a setting that is absolutely foreign to them, and let them go on a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness'esque voyage of interconnected self-discovery.

    By writing them "outside" of their world, you get a better understanding of what they will do when they go back to theirs. Have them discuss life, love, philosophy, the latest trending topics, anything. It indirectly progresses your WIP without carrying the pressure of "holy crap, this is my (bloinking) novel and I can't screw up on any part of this!"

    Hope this helps. I'm going to go consume some more coffee, finish a book cover design, play with Socrates, and procrastinate more on the writing. :-)


    1. Great advice – thanks! I’m really glad to hear about your new ideas and am excited to get to read them someday. Don’t be too harsh on your caribou on steroids either – he might pulverize you when you’re not looking! lol

      I really like the idea of a “character social” – I’m going to try that sometime! I can see how that would really help develop the characters. It would make you dig deep to find out who they are. Thank you!

      Don’t procrastinate too much now ;)

  6. Amanda,
    As always wonderful post! That actually happens to me quite often. I started "When No One Was Listening" a few years ago and although it progressed nicely I woke up one day with Losing Connor stuck in my head and in the end that's the one that I finished first. All of the positive feedback I have received from you as well as others has rekindled my want and drive to write all the time, I hope to not only get Losing Connor out there into the world soon, but to have When No One Was Listening out also by the end of summer. I started the sequel to it before I even finished the first one! So I say write what's in your head, don't dwell on one project if another is screaming to be written down. Evetually they will all get out and everything will work out fine!

    1. That’s interesting Amanda, that you finished subsequent novels before finishing the first one. I had heard/read about some writing great who said/wrote something to the fact of a story not being ready to be written until the author is ready to write it. That sounds like what happened to you here.

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re going to keep writing! I liked Losing Connor and can’t wait to read the finished book and that’ll be super awesome if you can get When No One Was Listening out this year yet too!

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your amazing story!

  7. Yes, I think many of us have been here before! I have a file folder full of stories I'm only halfway through because I stopped and started something else.

    I definitely believe that it's important to let inspiration move you. If you're inspired by a new story, write what you can at that moment. Write down all your ideas and maybe even a few scenes or the opening. Then, go back to the project you were already working on and finish that.

    Agents and editors want to know you have lots of ideas but they also want to know you can finish what you start. I like to keep a file of all my ideas so I can store them away for the time I'm ready for a new project.

    1. All great points Cindy! Thank you for sharing and following!

  8. “You have to write the book that wants to be written."
    ― Madeleine L'Engle

    Jane Austen was famous for writing stories, stopping, and then rewriting them later. Different people work in different ways. I think the key is to keep good notes.

    For instance, I keep a black box that holds index cards. I keep index cards on me at all times. When I feel inspired for a story I'm working on or a different story altogether. I write it down and file it in my box under the story it's intended for. Sometimes just writing a scene here and there clears my brain to focus on my current WIP.

    Meridienne Drake is not my first story (I have a few fully written), but it was the one intended to be published first (The others still not ready even in the near future). Meridienne Drake came easiest and felt right. While Book 2 of Drake is in the final stages, I realized I had enough notecards on a new project and will finish putting it together after Book 2's release.

    Biggest thing writers run into is making each character unique. I keep detailed character profiles of all major and important minor characters. This way, when I return to another project it is easier to write that character again, using my notes.

    A friend of mine, a writer, once told me that if you are having trouble writing, then you are forcing the story or character in a direction it doesn't want to go.

    Writing should be the easiest thing in the world. Think about it: When you are inspired, it's as though your fingers no longer belong to you. Words (not always the best ones) flow out of you as though they are keeping tempo with an unheard orchestra. It's like I can see myself typing or writing, but I'm not controlling my motions. The characters take a life of their own, and sometimes they take you places you didn't intend them to go. It's as rejuvenating and thrilling as though you are watching them truly change, grow, and learn in real life.

    When it gets hard and it does, you need to step back for a little bit until it gets that easy again. You'll find that groove. :o) Always trust your intuition. It won't steer you wrong.

    1. Wow, thank you Jessica for sharing this! I really like what you're saying here and find myself agreeing 100 percent. I love that feeling when your fingers and body aren't even your own any more. I think it's that feeling of being lost in the words that make writing feel like magic. Great advice!

  9. Only two weeks worth of laundry? I try not to do laundry any more frequently than once a month. :)

    Also, I write whatever's in my head. I'm more likely to be productive that way. I'm also not on a deadline otherwise that would have to change.

    <>< Katie

    1. Thanks for stopping by Katie! Are you able to consistently work on a project and see it through to completion that way? I used to write on a whim so much more than I do now, but I'm trying to focus my energy on getting first drafts done right now. That's much tougher!


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