Tuesday, July 16, 2019

When the Writer Has Too Many Ideas

There are plenty of writers out there in the wilderness, many of them beginners, who will wail, “What do you mean too many ideas? I can even nail down one!”

pexels.com

 Others will know exactly what I mean. All the while one author is working on a novel, ideas for a sequel are percolating in the back of her mind. Thoughts pop up just before she goes to sleep, then are forgotten by morning. She’s writing contemporary crime fiction, but a historical novel picks at her brain, set in the state where she grew up and full of fictional content against events that really happened and people who really lived during the times. On the other hand, there’s that nagging feeling she’d really like to try writing romance.

William Kent Krueger, author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series, tells of that story he’d wanted to write for a long time but didn’t get a lot of encouragement from his agent or publisher. The idea wouldn’t go away, and Krueger finally wrote it as a standalone. That novel is the award-winning Ordinary Grace.

In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas that wander from person to person, looking for the receptive host. The writer has a chance to receive the idea and turn it into a creative project, but he doesn’t get to hold onto the idea forever. My interpretation of Gilbert’s notion is that a formal acceptance of the idea is necessary. That receptive writer might be open to several ideas that present themselves, and obviously, he can’t write them all at the same time.

How do we grab an idea and attach an anchor so it can’t get away? How do we care for the idea while we’re working on another project?

These are questions I’ve wrestled with lately while feeling stuck and unable to decide what to work on next. This little limbo has even kept me from doing the rewrites on my current work-in-progress. Indecision can be paralyzing.

I finally came up with my own solution while trying to brainstorm with a writer friend who also has too many ideas.

pexels.com

1. Make the decision to finish the project on which I’ve done the most work so far.

2. Use one or more notebooks to anchor those other ideas I don’t want to neglect or forget. That would include scenes that need rewriting in other first draft manuscripts sitting on the shelf. I favor the 9 ½ x 6 in. notebooks. Although my old ideas and notes (off and on since 1/1/89) were getting jotted into one 3 subject notebook, for real projects going forward I’ll use one notebook per serious novel idea with sections for setting, character, and plot.

3. Continue to add notes to each idea book as the thoughts occur.

4. After completing the current project, move to the next project on which I’ve done the most work.

5. Continue to add notes to each idea book as the thoughts occur.

6. Repeat 4. And 5. until I run out steam, which hopefully will not happen too soon. I have a lot of ideas to go.

If you’re a writer, would you say you have trouble finding new ideas or that you have too many ideas? How do you solve that problem?



Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition.

Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” will appear in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, scheduled to be released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

12 comments :

  1. Definitely too many ideas here. I can also relate to that concept of an idea moving on to someone else who is ready to execute it - I've watched a fair few TV shows (Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis, Fringe, and later seasons of Doctor Who in particular) where some aspect of an idea I had plays out during an episode or two and I'm left wishing I'd already written and published my version. I do hate feeling like a copycat, even when the idea was developed years before. Once seen cannot be unseen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This has happened to me as well, so Gilbert's notion of ideas landing and taking off again seemed on target. We need to grab the idea and run with it.

      Delete
    2. Back in the early nineties, my writing partner and I submitted a screenplay based on a story written by my partner and edited, revised, and converted to script form by me. It was optioned by a film producer in Hollywood but later rejected because, we were told, it was too similar to Dances with Wolves, which had been released a year or so before. The title of the screenplay and book was The Return of Red Wolf, and it was a fabulous action story that bore zero resemblance to the Costner film. That apparently didn't matter. It was viewed as a copycat based solely on the title and the occasional appearance of a mysterious wolf in the story. Nobody seemed to care that Red Wolf, the protagonist, was a Native American man, not a wild canine. Sadly, an arbitrary designation of "copycat" by someone who may not even have read or seriously considered a book or screenplay can deprive many readers/viewers of a great story or film.

      Delete
    3. The same thing happened to Jeff Stone's Five Ancestors series. I heard him talk about it at a conference. Hollyweird thought it was too close to Kung Fu Panda, a cartoon featuring Jack Black. Go figure.

      Delete
  2. Ideas run through my head all the time, and when one refuses to be dismissed, I write just enough of the story to retain my idea. Then I file it away on my hard drive to await its turn for completion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do lots better if I have a paper copy of my notes, Linda. For some reason, ideas and partial writings I file on my hard drive are out of sight, out of mind...forever. Regardless how we do it, though, taking those all-important notes is critical. Great ideas are like dandelion fluff the way they want to escape.

      Production companies are like agents/publishers. They do odd and unpredictable things, sometimes defying logic. Why we writers keep on trying is a mystery.

      Delete
    2. I lean toward a notebook, too, Pat. I do have some files on my computer, but often forget they are there until I stumble on one. Then I go, "Oh gosh. Maybe I should finish this story." :-)

      Delete
  3. I needed this. I have so many unfinished stories, like the one I'm working on now and went back to after putting it aside. I have one that's finished, but I took a part of it for another book. It's easily fixed. It's not ideas, it's will. I just can't seem to get my enthusiasm to drive my will. :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I thought I was the queen of unfinished projects! Actually, it sounds as if I have more of them than you do. I guess that means I win...? Hmmm. Maybe not.

      Delete
  4. The muses like to torment writers. These are terrific tips for coping with their shenanigans.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think my muse is a bit wicked. That's not always helpful.

      Delete
  5. I'm in the same quandary as you, Pat. I have three things going and other ideas have popped up. They are almost as bothersome as my cats and I just want to lock them in another room. LOL I like your approach to getting things under control. Here's wishing us both luck.

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.