One of the most important things to a writer is simply an idea. A place to spark their next story. An inspiration. A gift from a muse. The shinies we see and chase instinctively in a need to capture and create with them. Ideas are the life, blood, and magic of the writing process; without them, there is no story.
However, as good and important as ideas are, they can also be dangerous distractions. They can lead us to lost time on our works in progress (WIP) as we daydream about the new idea, create Pinterest boards, write new outlines for new stories, or even start writing new stories themselves.
And what happens to the WIP when that happens? It starts to stagnate. It lies forgotten in the dust, that story that was also once a shiny worth chasing. It slows, and in many cases, it dies on your hard drive.
For years, this was how I operated. I would get a new idea and dive in head first, starting the new story with impatience while allowing the old one to sit half-finished forever. Because of this model (and how I only wrote when inspired… but that’s a story for another day), I never finished anything. In the years between elementary school and college, when I’d started to write my own stories, I finished two. And they were never edited or looked at ever again (they can probably stay out of the light of day, honestly).
But that all changed in the last five years or so. I still get new ideas all the time that want to pull me away from my WIP, but I manage to finish what I’m writing before moving on to the new story. I’ve learned ways that work for me, that keep me productive and motivated and entertained.
How do I manage these distractions and finish what I’m working on? Three simple tricks:
- WIP has priority. That’s right. That simple. Set yourself a goal on your WIP, and make sure you complete it before you let yourself do anything with any new ideas. For example, if I get a new idea, I set a daily goal of 1000 words on the old project before I allow myself to work on something unrelated to my WIP. The trick here is you have to keep yourself accountable and disciplined. You have to do the work to get the reward, not just reward yourself for no reason. Writing trackers can be very helpful and motivating for this. I personally use Writeometer on my phone.
And speaking of the reward…
- Make the new idea your prize. Use it to motivate yourself to finish your WIP so you can indulge in the new idea. Write your WIP goal for the day, then turn on Pinterest.
- Don’t start writing until your WIP is finished. Unless you think you can keep up your enthusiasm for the WIP while starting the “more exciting” story in your head, just avoid beginning the writing at all. Instead, start doing the background research, create your mood boards and inspiration boards, create character sheets and plot outlines. Do whatever prep work you need. Just don’t start writing it. Writing the story is the ultimate prize for finishing your WIP… treat it that way!
So there you have it! It can be very difficult to keep writing a story, especially in the muddy middle or if you’ve been working on it for a while, and especially when a new, shinier idea comes around. But with a few changes in your routine or how you think about the new idea and your WIP, you can still finish your stories and enjoy your new ideas.
What about you? How do you manage your new shinies while writing something else? What suggestions do you have for focusing on your WIP? What methods do or don’t work for you? Tell me in the comments!