Wednesday, July 15, 2009
So Many Ideas, So Little Time
My 'ideas' file is bulging at the seams. Now you would say that's a good thing. Especially for someone who always has two or three works in progress at one time. But this sometimes presents a conflict. I can be going along just fine, hammering out a brilliant new novel. Then--wham--a new book idea.
New story lines are like new babies--you can't resist dropping everything to give them your undivided attention. I mean, they're new, fresh, full of promise. Not like that manuscript with the middle that's beginning to sag just a bit, and with that character who suddenly turned on you in Chapter Fourteen.
The question is: What do you do? Do you drop the manuscript you've slaved over for weeks or months and turn your attention to the new idea? Or do you jot a quick story note, tuck it in your 'to-be-written' file, and keep plugging away at the work at hand? I am often tempted in this way.
I swear my muse is a sadist. She feeds me an enticing story line and introduces me to intriguing characters, and just when I'm immersed in the story, she tosses me a treat. A tasty little morsel of an idea that, I swear, has been dipped in chocolate. It's irresistible. My attention is drawn away from my current work as I sniff around this new and exciting idea. What the heck, I can take the time to write out the story line, maybe identify a few characters. Oh, how about an outline. I should do this while the idea is fresh, before I forget.
The next thing I know, I have four works in progress and I'm suddenly like a ball bearing shot into a pinball machine, zinging from post to post, being flipped around and back again. I can kid myself and say it's all productive as long as I'm writing something. But I'm kidding myself. I manage to get a chapter done here and a few paragraphs done there, but progress toward those two coveted words--'the end'--is slow at best. This is where the discipline of writing comes into play. And I've never been that good with discipline. I'm much better with the 'play'.
There are times when I wish I had an 'off' switch in my head. When I could flip the switch and turn off the flow of thoughts and ideas and just focus on the one book in front of me. I know writers who hit a dry spell or experience writer's block are shouting, "Oh, shut up!" But, trust me friends, being bombarded by ideas (not all of which should become novels) is the other side of that frustrating coin.
I'm envisioning myself with a laptop filled with half-written books. So, I'm wondering: How do you, my fellow writers, strike a balance? What do you do with those brilliant ideas that insert themselves into your mind while you're working to finish one novel? How do you capture the idea and keep it on the back burner? Or do you just drop everything and run with it? If so, what happens to the closer-to-finished work that had your attention?