Distraction by inspiration…

Writing a novel takes time. Depending on your personal circumstances at any given moment it can take anything from months to years. With that kind of scope, it’s no surprise that there are often times when a flash of inspiration for another project comes along.

The question is. How do you deal with these?

The start of any new project is always a time of excitement. Everything is new, fresh and full of discovery. It’s the honeymoon period when everything feels wonderful, the hairs on the back of your neck bristle just from thinking about the idea and you just want to plunge in deep. The problem is that a few months in, when you’re struggling with that endless middle section, when the characters have become so jaded with your writing that they’re threatening a walk out and your antagonist has opened up a lemonade stand in pursuit of world domination, you’re ripe for distraction and when something new comes along it’s going to make your mouth water.

If, like me, you’re a believer in Heinlein’s rules for writing, then this is a time to reflect on them. They are:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Point 1 speaks for itself, but it doesn’t offer any real guidance when distracted – you can continue your existing project or switch to the new. Either one fulfills the directive “You must write”.

It’s point 2 that is the sticking point. You need to finish what you write. Of course these aren’t intended as commandments – Heinlein was a pragmatist if nothing else – so it’s your choice. But if you abandon projects mid-stream you run the risk of hopping from one to the other without ever finishing them. Writing is easy (okay, sometimes it isn’t) but finishing is hard, it takes real work.

Here’s what I do when this happens. If the idea for a new project is clearly fairly short and the whole idea is sparking fully-formed and can be completed in a single session, then I jump right in and get it done. This can be a nice break from a long project and refresh the creative juices when you come back from the slight diversion.

If the project is clearly larger, or not that clear, then I invest a couple of hours scribbling notes – anything that is in my mind, characters, scenes, dialog, background – whatever I have buzzing around in there. This does two things, it preserves the idea for later and also captures the excitement of the idea. Then I can come back to it later after the current project is finished. It’s also likely that your brain will keep working on the idea in the background and the end result will be stronger for such “stewing”.

You may also find that if the idea is for a short piece, that it develops into something clear enough to tackle in one sitting and so qualifies for the “do it now” approach. By tackling things in this way you avoid the whole “project hopping’ problem.

How do you manage distractions like this?



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