There’s a small part of your brain that controls creativity and it is like a child. If you ignore it, it’ll stay quiet–out of sight, out of mind. But indulge it too much and it becomes a spoilt brat, demanding attention and sneaking extra toys into the shopping cart when you’re not looking.
The creative mind (and temperament) can be…mercurial. One day, you’re laid out across your couch, languishing in the malaise of a creative wasteland. Tumbleweeds roll through the dusty emptiness under a whisper of an idea. You hope it’ll become a tornado, but it fades into nothing like the dozens before it.
Then the next day, you’re sitting at your desk furiously typing, buffeted from every direction by idea after idea, each as powerful as the others. Characters, plots, dialogue, themes, symbols all battering you while you’re trying wildly to catch just one with your bare hands.
Both of these things can happen over and over in a single week, that’s not uncommon. The best feeling is when you catch one. It can be a small one, weak and weedy, with barely a flicker of life that you have to nurture to health; or a wild thrashing beast that needs to be tamed. Eventually, they both can be worked into a well-behaved and well-trained, workable idea that moves along with little or no effort on your part.
But then the worst thing happens. Another one shows up. This one comes out of nowhere; robust, glowing with the vitality and vigour of a fresh new idea. Everything is in place. The characters are perhaps a little undercooked, the setting a touch muted, maybe the dialogue is slightly stilted and the themes a bit forced. But that’s easy, it only needs a firm guiding hand to get that baby in peak condition.
God, you want it. But what do you do with the one you already have? The one that took so much work to get where it is. Do you cut this one loose to fend for itself, to perhaps wither and die; or do you let the new one pass, and hold onto the memory of a really good idea as hope that there could be more out there? Or do you steel your nerve and attempt the impossible: write them both?
It takes a braver and stronger soul than mine to tackle that challenge. What I typically do because I am weak and impulsive, is chase the new idea. I find that there is wisdom to the notion that inspiration is fine when you have it, but you have to train yourself to write when you’re not inspired. That’s the difference between having a career as a writer, and writing as a hobby. That being said, I have to be in love with the idea, to stay interested. If I lose interest in the idea (not the routine of forcing myself to write), then it’s gone and it’s unlikely it’ll come back. The inspiration in the idea is what forces me to come back to it, day after day, even when I’d rather be doing anything else.
So what do you do when you’re still in love with one idea when a sparklier one come along? I have a couple of solutions to this:
1) NaNoWriMo is your best friend.
NaNo is the perfect time to explore those ideas in a safe, short-term environment. You have a month to see if there’s anything workable there, or if it was just a passing fancy. In the November event, you have to set aside already-started projects anyway and work on a brand new one, so it helps to have a backlog of ideas to choose from so you’re not scrambling on Day One.
On the other hand, NaNo makes a perfect time to say good-bye to a project you’ve cooled on. In the summer events, you can choose your wordcount goal and you can work on things you’ve already started. Get it all out, all of your ideas of where it was supposed to go, character arcs, the funny lines you were saving up to lay down as they became relevant. Write it all down. Then, later, if you choose to come back to it, you have everything saved and you can start fresh.
2) Write it down
If you’re between NaNos, that’s a bummer. But it doesn’t stop you taking a day or two as a palate cleanser. You probably need a break from the Big One, especially if you’re losing interest. Take a step back, write down all of your ideas for the New One, then set it aside and let it mature, and get back to work on the previous one. That way, you’ve not lost the new idea, and you haven’t given up on the old one.
Go back and forth between them, focusing more of your energy on the first idea, but working on the newer one when you need a break. This is especially helpful if you’ve reached a roadblock. Sometimes you write yourself into a corner and can’t figure out how to get out. Obviously, the first step is to ask a friend. Sometimes it helps to give the situation to someone who thinks differently than you. But it is definitely a help to step back and get some perspective and come back to it with fresher eyes. Also, in case you haven’t heard this advice a million times, you should wait at least a month before attempting to proofread your manuscript for the same reason. You’re much too close to it.
So that’s my wisdom. I’m currently in the throes of it right now. My previous project (Gaslamp) sustained me for all of October, even inspiring me to put my extremely amateurish drawing skills to use to try to illustrate my ideas. November 1, at the stroke of midnight, I instantly hated it. The first week was a forced march the likes of which I haven’t experienced in a while. I was resigned to finish because, hey, the outline was complete. It may be artless, but it would make sense.
Then BAM! One night, I was gifted with a dream in which I told this fantastical story to my mother, and which she encouraged me to write. When I woke up, I remembered the whole thing, verbatim, and on my way to the living room, the final detail fell into place. I told my mother, ‘I’ve got this new idea, and I know you’re going to love it because Dream-You already told me.’ It is much more me, and it’s practically writing itself.
So the next blog post will be about my new idea: The Chosen. That is, of course, assuming that another, shinier idea doesn’t gallop past me while I’m trying to work!
What about you guys? Do you find it easy to stick to one idea, for better or worse, to the bitter end? Or do you fall prey to every new intriguing possibility? What are your solutions to this dilemma?