There are either too many ideas or too few.
This week, I’m answering three questions about idea management (I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing, did you?)
How do I like an idea long enough to develop it when they all fade after a good night’s sleep?
The short answer is that if an idea fades after a good night’s sleep, it’s probably better left alone.
At least for the present.
It may be a perfectly suitable idea sometime down the road and it may even turn out to be The Big Idea when its time comes. It’s just not ready right now.
If you’re the type of person who is sometimes inundated with ideas, start a list. I have a list of ideas by one-sentence summary, a list of ideas by title, another list for ideas that take shape as a scene, and yet another list prompted by pronouns. The possibilities are endless.
Whenever an idea strikes, record it in as much detail as possible. If you wake up the next morning and the idea looks awful, that’s okay. At least you’ve written it down.
And the next time you’re looking for something to write about, check your idea lists. Who knows which one of those old ideas might be just the thing.
How do I decide what to write about when every idea looks good?
If you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer with three or four really good ideas, write a little bit on each one as often as possible. Sooner or later, they will sort themselves out. Like horses on a race track, a leader will emerge. Chances are that will be the best idea to pursue with focused dedication.
If you’re a planner, go through your planning routine in the same fashion. One of those ideas will become your next story either through a process of elimination or because it is revealed as the strongest combination of theme, character, plot, and all the other parts that make up a good novel.
Don’t throw away those other ideas, though. It may be they need to percolate a little bit.
How can I make myself stick with one idea long enough to write a complete story?
I’ll be honest with you. This is my biggest hurdle when it comes to writing. I can write like a whirling dervish up to about 20,000 words, then hit a brick wall in some form or another. That can be the end of the process if I let it be.
The key is in that last phrase. If I let it be, with the emphasis on the word if.
I still struggle with this, but will tell you what works for me.
First of all, I’m somewhere between a planner and a pantser, leaning more toward planning. I recently described my writing process as part of our How to Write a Novel series. I try to answer as many of the big questions as possible before writing begins, but when the story wants to be written, I stop planning and start writing.
So when a story hits a road block, the first thing I do is go back to planning and ask the following questions.
- How has the story diverged from the plan?
- Is it better or worse because of the detour?
- How can I make it even better?
Those questions are often sufficient to spark another rash of planning either to adjust the plan to fit the story or to plan the next few steps.
If that doesn’t work, I go back to working out the parts of the plan that were left undone when I began writing.
Do I have only a vague idea of who the character is and why he behaves as he does? Now is the time to figure some of those things out.
Did I skimp on concept? Maybe now is the right time to flesh that out.
Chances are that a few days of planning will open my mind to a previously unconsidered idea and that could lead back to another batch of story writing.
It may do the same for you, too.
No method works all the time or for everyone. These three work for me most of the time. What tips for managing ideas work for you? Add to the list in the comment box below.