Shelves and drawers full of half-filled notebooks? Yep. Hundreds of documents of half finished stories? You know it. Easier to start something new than finish an old project? Absolutely – and that’s probably the way it should be. If I didn’t have self-multiplying piles of ideas shoved into any empty crevice then I probably wouldn’t be a writer. Coming up with the idea isn’t the hard part; the hard part is not coming up with ideas because let’s be honest – there will never be enough time to flesh out every idea. So, what do we do with all these ideas?
The easiest initial action that helps me purge my brain of distracting ideas is writing the new ones down into a notebook. I have a small 3×5 lined notebook (reserved for just ideas) that I carry with me when I’m out and it’s helpful because it reassures me that the ideas will be there when I can get back to them. If the piece/idea is bigger, dedicate a folder or binder (I also have a few of these, filled with unfinished manuscripts, ideas, and stories). The ideas you keep don’t have to be perfect – write them down knowing that they’ll be terrible. No one else has to see them if you decide you don’t want to share them. In a year or so, you can look over the pieces and pull the meat out to form new, better ideas. Then you can revise and edit.
The passion that we feel is great for starting out a piece but the piece shouldn’t lose momentum when the passion well starts to dry out. Passion is fickle and if you’re going to call yourself a writer then that work needs to be done. Passion can be lost in a number of ways: getting distracted by new ideas, not knowing how to continue to piece, no longer wanting to continue the piece, etc. Sometimes our discouragement when we don’t know where we want to take the story or piece next de-motivates and translates to a lack of passion for the craft itself. We lose confidence in our writing abilities. This can be tackled by expanding the outline of the piece or looking at the part that’s giving you trouble to see if it needs to be reworked or removed (often times, the problem is before the point where you get stuck).
If outlines aren’t your jazz (I’m not discouraging the use of outlines here, they really are helpful), then reading, watching, and researching stories, movies, and art related to your story can help as you’ll be able to study different approaches and feel as an observer rather than a creator. If you don’t consume anything then how do you expect to produce anything? Peruse your current knowledge then look to other things for continued inspiration. Even a quick Google search can help you discover new things.
The internet, however, can be distracting. Find what you do instead of writing. Do you play video games? Binge watch series? Browse the internet? Find a way to cut off those distractions and escape to a dedicated writing environment, even if that means disabling your computer’s wifi while you write. Disconnect. This may feel like work but, like before, you need to go beyond passion. The state of potential, while tempting, leaves ideas vague in the mind. Transform the ones you feel are worth following through and remember that it’s okay to let go of the ones that aren’t. Keep your end goal in mind and force yourself to write.
Your goal isn’t to create a best-selling, award-winning masterpiece on the first draft. It’s to get better at telling stories. Who cares if the premise isn’t perfect or it seems generic? It doesn’t matter. Finish the damn thing.