“New Ideas Are Like Shiny Jewels,” by Dave White

Oh, sure, everyone wants to know where a writer gets his ideas from. Ideas are great. They must come from this magical little place inside your head. Or a box. A box you keep under your desk. No one else gets ideas like this. Writers must love getting ideas.

Wrong.

Guess what?

Ideas are both the best and worst thing about writing. They can be fantastic when you’re stuck. And they can be hell when you’re busy.

Case in point, I’m flush with ideas right now. I’m a teacher, so I get a lot of my writing done in the summer. This summer, with no strict deadline intact, I decided I’d try something different. Knowing that I have writer’s ADD (Ooh look a flashy thing.  Hey, wait! What’s up on Twitter?) and can only work on one project at a time for about 2 hours, I thought that I would revise the manuscript I’m working on in the morning. In the afternoon, I’d start a brand new manuscript. I have strong ideas for what needs to happen to both, and it seemed like a good way to keep myself writing every single day. And it’s been working great so far. I’m making major progress on the revision and I’m getting 1,000 words down consistently on the new piece of work.

This is great, I thought.  I’m on a fucking roll.  By the time school starts, I’ll have enough done that I can wrap up my revisions first and the move right into the next project, which will be at least a quarter of the way done—first draftwise. I was loving this. Feeling really, really productive. Feeling like a writer.

Then something weird happened last night. No, not that kind of weird. Get your mind out of the gutter. Just… weird. Writer weird. I don’t have enough time for all of this stuff in my head weird.

Shut up.

Anyway, I was sitting around thinking about my favorite TV shows and movies and the way the best shows, movies, and books twist your expectations. They come up with a great hook and get you to speculate about what’s going to happen for the better part of your watching or reading experience. They get you excited about what happens next right from the start. And I was wondering how I could do that with my own books. Especially the ones I was working on.

And then…. Oh crap… I had a brand new, fucked up, great freaking idea for a new book.

This is the sort of thing that halts writers in their tracks. New ideas are like shiny jewels in a display case. They always look better than what you have. Their perfect, something that’s going to sell a million copies, win you awards and get made into movies. They want you to look at the piece of crap your working on (And it’s usually only a piece of crap because you’re in the process of making it a lot better.) and toss it out the window and start anew.

That’s not a good thing. (Yes, I can hear you. “Oooh, the big writer man is scared of shiny new ideas.” Just keep reading.)

If you stop to work on your brand new idea, you’ll never get anything done. You’ll never finish a manuscript because you’ll be starting all over. A writer has to know what to do with a new idea when he or she’s working on something already.

There are two things I usually do. (Hey, what’s new on Twitter? Wendig is shouting again… sigh.) One is put the idea away and save it for later. I have about three good ideas to start novels and one really good idea for a short story put off the to the side waiting for me to write them. I might get to all four, I might only get to one of them. I don’t know.

But they’re sitting around waiting for me. If you write ‘em down, you won’t lose the ideas, and—even better—the ideas may have a chance to mutate in your mind and become something even more solid.

The other thing I try to do is incorporate said new idea into what I’m working on. It’s happened about 16 times in the manuscript I’m revising. It’s as if my subconscious knows the book needs something and keeps trying to add to it. Your subconscious knows why it’s coming up with these ideas and where they belong. It’s up to you, the conscious writer, to figure it out. (Yes, writing isn’t magic. I know. I was sad too when I heard this.)

But the most important thing is, don’t let it slow you down (Hold on, Twitter check again). If you want to be a professional writer or a published writer or whatever the proper term is these days, you have to finish. So, occasionally you have to put an idea away for later.

No matter how shiny that jewel is behind the case. No matter how green the grass is on your neighbor’s lawn. I like my neighbor’s lawn too, but if I had it, I’d still have to mow it. (I think that metaphor works. Or am I mixing metaphors. STOP CHECKING TWITTER!)

I digress.

Anyway, I guarantee you this, once you buy that jewel and start to wear it, a new prettier one will show up right behind it, and you’ll want to wear that one as well.

Dave White is the author of the e-book exclusive WITNESS TO DEATH (criminally underpriced at $0.99, says Chuck, so go buy it), as well as the Shamus Award nominated novels WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO.  He lives and teaches in New Jersey.

13 comments

  • I have a good…*counts* …half dozen (maybe more?) novel ideas in my head since I started writing. They’ve been in there for so long that they’ve solidified plenty and new ideas are not coming as frequently due to lack of mental space.

    I’m very good at not starting a new project. I’ve made a personal rule that I can’t start a new one until I finish the first one. …Which is why after 2 freaking years, I’m still working on the same project…

    I may have to rethink my strategy.

    Thanks for the post! Glad to see I’m not the only one who is possessed by Twitter addiction.

  • Hit the nail on the head. Idea factories are great but they pollute a lot of works in progress.
    I know some writers eschew notes- Stephen King says good ideas will always resurface- but I write them down. Then when you return later, if they sound like you’d been huffing gas from a can of Pam cooking spray, you forget them.

  • My grandfather and uncles got distracted by cards before milking the cows every night. The cows were suffering because of it. In fury, my grandmother swept the cards off the table and dumped them into the woodstove.

    That was one of my father’s stories; he was a little boy when it happened.

    If distractions are ruining your life, burn them up. Or catalog them. Or something…

  • Yah, write them down. If you’re a blogger like Dave or the Penmonkey, put some in your “Possible Posts” list.

    Let the stir around all you want. Review them every so often. Stick some into your current work’s outline. Just don’t keep adding to your current work so much it screws it up.

    Now go write something great.

  • I have to write ideas like that down- at least a page or two, other wise they jump around my head and don’t give me any peace! I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  • This happens to me all the time. It happened earlier this week, in fact. The new idea was so shiny, so impossibly bright, I had to work on it. *sigh* Not the smartest idea. But, I did get several pages of notes down for a short story or novella (we’ll see what it becomes) and my mind feels clearer to work on my novel again. The grass is always greener, and all that.

  • It’s funny that I ran across this right now. I just found a synopsis and novel plan for a really good book I came up with last summer, but didn’t have the time to write. Now, I’m in the middle of revisions on the first in a series, planning out that sequel. I see a lot of promise in the other one, maybe more “mainstream” success than the series.

    I dunno. Maybe I’ll magically have enough time to write them both and start on the paranormal detective novel I quite 18k into by next summer. *runs off to bed snickering at his own ignorance and naivete*

  • That’s very true…It’s exactly like women and pretty jewelry.

    I think it probably helps to be a plotter in this situation. When I get a new idea, I wait for it to solidify and then map out the plot. By that time, and by forcing myself to go through that instead of just plunging into chapter one with the enthusiasm of an impulse-buy at Kay’s, I get a sense of how long it will be, how complex it is, and whether it’ll actually work outside of my head. If it won’t, I scrap it (with maybe a character or a plot point to be salvaged for something else later). If I think it’ll work, I file it away with the other outlines and try not to completely forget about it.

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