Idea Overload – Sticking To One Idea and Finishing It

It happens to all writers, regardless of the genre or type of writing: days and weeks pass until you can come up with a story or article idea that you deem usable, and then about a fourth of the way through another magnificent idea pops into your head! And guess what, this idea always seems preferable to your current piece.

This phenomenon makes sense, since instead of sitting at a desk and trying to rack your brain you have expanded your mind while actually working on your craft. You are actually writing. You subconsciously think about your writing while at work, walking around, working out, or whatever you are doing.

Is it acceptable to stop working on your current writing if you think of a “better” idea in the process? No, there is never an excuse. Even if you are published, best-selling author and write three books at a time it is still going to be more efficient to finish what you are working on. I am a strong advocate of brainstorming, researching and searching for new ideas whenever you are writing but abandoning your previous project for a new one, or claiming you will come back to it or even trying to work on multiple projects can decrease your productivity. There are a few reasons for this decrease of productivity.

  • Chances are your idea is not better than the one you are working on.
  • Changing gears decreases your efficiency.
  • If you return to your original piece the original inspiration and ideas might be lacking.
  • It’s hard enough as it is to finish a writing piece, don’t make it more difficult.

A Solution

Whenever a new idea pops into your head it hopefully is and can be something that will be a great piece, but as writers, being efficient is just as important as actual writing, marketing and experiencing the world around us for inspiration. Therefore, add a procedure to your writing toolbox whenever a new idea comes into your head. My technique may be a little drawn out but I used to be awful, when it came to not finishing my work, because of great new ideas popping into my head. Therefore, this is what I came up with. Feel free to try my techniques and let me know how it goes. If you have other proecedures or techniques for logging story ideas please let us know in the comment section. I also included a downloadable spreadsheet (the same one I use for organizing new ideas).

  1. Where ever I am, I write the idea down immediately in full detail.
  2. When I get home to my computer I open workflowy.com and type the new idea under my “New Ideas” tab. (This application is a versatile list that allows you to complete activities. I use it as my checklist. It is exactly what a To-Do list/Task list should be like, no bells and whistles.)
  3. I then punch the idea into my “Idea Organizer” excel list, so I don’t touch the idea until I have completed my previous project. If you want to try using the list that I use, click here for the download.
  4. I tell one or two people about the project I am currently working on. This not only allows a little network of people who are willing to read my work and give me feedback once it is done, but it also creates someone who is aware of your current project and will be asking you how it is going. Whenever I write for a magazine, publisher or freelance client it is easy to get my current project completed because there is someone waiting on it. By telling someone about your project, next time you see them they will ask you how it is coming along and may ask to read it. Essentially, I am creating my own little anxious fan base or “publisher” wanting to see your finished work.

See ya next time…

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About Joe Warnimont

I am a writer, marketing expert and adventure seeker. I help people write, market their writing, live truthfully and embrace their lives through creativity. You can find me riding my bike around the streets of Chicago. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Comments

  1. I literally do this all the time and I believe it is why I have yet to truly complete anything writing related. This is very helpful, thank you!

    • Glad to be of help Jasper! I have a tough time when new ideas pop into my head while I’m writing, so forcing myself to follow a procedure often helps. It can sound so non-creative sometimes, but helps spurn creativity later!

  2. Thanks for dropping by my blog, Joe. I came by yours, as WordPress always suggests, to check you out. You have some amazing ideas. Even though I am trying to cut down my email intake (get dozens every day), I am going to join your blog. If you have time I would certainly appreciate a little feedback on the Raw Emotions excerpt.

    I am a person who often flies off on another tangent, especially in my writing. I agree with your assessment of how bad this is for you and I intend to try some (or all) of your solutions. However, for me the reason I do this (go off on another writing idea) is twofold. Generally, I have hit a hard spot that I either dread working through, in my current WIP, or I don’t have a clue as to how to hop over it. Although I have a column in an online newspaper (Esterhazyonline.com – Puppy Dog Tales), nearly all of my work is fiction. Thus I am not working to any deadline.

    The other reason is something that you may have addressed, and I intend to try out the Workflowy thing…that is, that if I don’t act on the idea right away, I seem to lose the feeling of what I have in mind. Even if I make notes, when I come back to it, I can’t recapture the enthusiasm and excitement I had before. However, perhaps if I make extensive notes and start just a little bit of it to capture the tone and feeling, that might not be the case.

    I also know the solution to the first reason is just to quit being such a wimp! 😛

  3. I just use a notebook. A very pretty, spiral-bound notebook with three sections, but a plain old notebook nonetheless. I keep one notebook for each project’s notes (plot notes, revision ideas, character notes, etc), and a separate one just for this purpose. I can jot down new ideas and have a place to let them sit where they won’t distract me, but where I know they’ll be safe. I was writing notes like mad the other day on a new idea, but it’ll have to wait until I finish my current project. I’m only 1/2 way through the first draft, though, so it’ll be waiting a while.

    After that… I guess I’ll have to decide whether to finish my current trilogy or take a little break and work on the new thing. Any thoughts on that?

  4. It is an issue I know many people struggle with. I have wrestled with it throughout my career and across careers! And I suspect you are right in trying to finish what you are doing before jumping to the next thing. But finish is the notion where the trap is set. Sometimes an idea runs its course. It runs out of gas. It dies. It’s a tough thing to judge, but at those times, move on. If you find yourself always moving on before any meaningful completion, that is a problem. But you do need to pick and choose your fights, so to speak. I have many first drafts, or roughs or ( being I draw and write) book dummies that just run ashore. And I can beat on them and turn them upside down and kick them and…at some point I need to shed a tear and move on. What I can’t do is offer any good advice on knowing when you hit that point. But I have been successful at times by knowing when to move on.

  5. Thanks for checking out my blog, Joe.

    This post is wonderful for me as I seem to get very ADD-ish when I write. I have difficulty sticking to one idea and I’m not sure if it’s lack of focus or fear of completing something (since I haven’t completed a novel yet). I can come up with book ideas all day long, I just come up short when we’re talking about sticking with it.

    I will definitely try your techniques. Thank you!

  6. Wow: this explains me more then I care to admit! (So, it’s not just me?)
    Sometimes I feel like the hamster on the wheel because I’m constantly going-going-going but I never seem to go anywhere. What’s even worse is when you’re a perfectionist who goes on idea overload, lol! (You have no idea how many blog entries I have sitting in draft waiting to be finished or fixed.)
    XO