New Story Ideas Distracting You From Your Book? Find Out What You Should Do

New Story Ideas Distracting You From Your Book? Find Out What You Should Do

Sometimes inspiration is dangerous. One of my best recipes for “dreamzoning” is a campfire and music on a moonbright summer night. The good part? My story senses inevitably start tingling and I always come away with dozens of fabulous new scenes for existing stories. The bad part? Sometimes–like last week–I come away with brand new story ideas.

Dreamlander NIEA FinalistIn this instance, I walked away from that hour-long campfire with ideas for three new books. (And for those of you who have been asking for it, there is now officially a Dreamlander sequel in the works!)

This is not, of course, actually bad in any sense of the word. In fact, it’s totally awesomesauce.

But new story ideas can also be overwhelming–and seductive. When a new story is singing siren songs in our ears, beckoning us to new and exciting playgrounds, it can be downright difficult not to look a little bit distastefully at the trenches of our current work-in-progress. We’ve already seen what this current story has to offer us. We want new! We want shiny! As Wordplayer Susie Finney wrote me on Facebook this week,

I need to finish revisions on my first book, working on a 1st draft of my first novel now, yet I keep getting ideas for a trilogy which I probably can’t work on until at least a year from now! #writerproblems

Tell me about it. With the addition of these new book ideas, I won’t conceivably be able to finish writing all my current story ideas for another thirty years.

Wowzers. Can somebody please send me a patience pill right now?

But while I’m waiting (impatiently, of course) for the mail to arrive, let’s consider a sensible plan we can all enact to keep ourselves sane and steady in the face of alluring new inspiration.

Be Logical About Your New Story Ideas

Before you turn up your nose at your comparatively lackluster work-in-progress and go running after glittering new ideas, take a moment to consider the whole proposition logically rather than emotionally.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to quit your current story in favor of the new one?
  • Because the old one is hard? Boring? Not working? Too familiar?
  • Because the new one has you all jacked up? Is better? Is more marketable? Will take agonizingly long to get to otherwise?

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. But acknowledging your reasons are important. Once you’ve hammered it down, ask yourself:

  • What are the actual advantages of stopping the old story to write the new one?
    • Is changing books mid-page going to make you a better writer?
    • A happier person?
  • What are the disadvantages?
    • Is wasting the time and effort you’ve already put into the current book worth it?
    • Will it inculcate bad habits of not finishing stories?

Be Patient About Your New Story Ideas

If you haven’t guessed from my rather leading questions, I’m going to point it out: My advice, when faced with sterling new story ideas, is to be patient. Nine times out of ten, the wisest and most productive choice is going to be staying the course on your current story.

Starting stories is easy. Frankly, as valuable as good ideas are, they’re also a dime a dozen. My having enough story ideas to last me thirty years is the writerly equivalent of my winning $3,000,000. Baby, I’m set.

It’s finishing stories that’s hard. Never be hasty in abandoning the work you’ve already put into an existing story. And never take for granted how important it is to instill in yourself the priceless habit of learning how to see a story through to the arduous end.

Organize Your New Story Ideas

While you’re waiting to finish your current story, you can still be putting this interim time to good use in getting yourself ready to write those future stories. Assuming you have more than one good idea, the first step is simply to organize yourself by figuring out a conceivable order in which you might write those future stories. Particularly, you want to get  handle on the next story in line and and start planning for it.

The best way to figure out which story you should be writing next is simply to ask, which idea are you most interested in? Always follow your heart. That burst of excitement you’re feeling about a new idea is the perfect divining rod for identifying your next project.

But it’s also worthwhile to ask which ideas are going to be most marketable. Most of the time, I send my new ideas to wait their turn at the back of the line. But since this latest batch includes a host of sequels, I have to consider that they might find their best readership if I bump them to earlier in the schedule.

3 Ways to Prepare Your New Story Ideas

Just because you have to wait to write your new story ideas doesn’t mean you can’t work on them.

I gotta be honest with you: this is actually my favorite part of the whole process. I love the period in which my ideas get to live nowhere but in my head. This is the only time in their existences when they will be perfect. I will never capture that perfection on the page, and I know it. So I savor this period–even as I consciously use it to evolve my ideas into their best form for the page.

My pre-writing routine for unborn ideas goes something like this:

1. Simmer

Although my conscious brain is definitely capable of coming up with some pretty great stuff, my subconscious is the boss. My best scenes and stories ideas are always those that emerge out of my subconscious. I don’t create them; I just watch them unfold. And that takes time and patience. So I use this period to let my ideas simmer on the back burner. I watch them, enjoy them, see where they take me. The longer I wait, the more good ideas I’m likely to come up with for any given story.

2. Wait

And I don’t just mean wait until you’ve finished your work-in-progress. I mean wait a bit before you write down anything about your new idea. I find that if I try to capture a baby idea in any kind of conscious way (i.e., by writing it down) too soon, then I lose some of that early magic. I wait weeks, even months, sometimes before I’ll make notes of any kind on an idea. There just comes a point when my gut tells me the idea is solid enough to start capturing it–just a little bit. Too soon and I lose something precious.

3. Record

Only once my gut is giving me the green light do I make notes. I used to have the well-meaning but entirely naïve notion that the only story ideas worth telling were the ones I could remember without writing them down. Fast-forward past dozens of great ideas down the drain and lots of forehead bruises from headbanging my keyboard, aaaaannd–nope, I no longer recommend this. Definitely write notes. I prefer to keep mine very sparse, so I don’t overthink myself during this formative stage. But I also keep them specific, so I don’t have to look back over them and wonder, What in tarnation was that supposed to mean?

Title

I start with the title. For me, a title is like the handle on the suitcase of my story. I can never quite get a grip on an idea until I have at least a working title for it. Usually, the emergence of a title is my signal that the idea is “whole” enough for me to start making deliberate notes about it.

Characters

Same with characters. I can’t fully understand or inhabit them until they have names. If their names don’t magically appear along with them (and please oh please oh please let them appear), then I will consciously go searching for the names at this point. Usually, I know of only a handful of characters during this pre-outlining stage, but I keep a list (with brief descriptions if necessary), so I don’t forget who’s important.

Tagline

Sometimes a brilliant tagline–like you’d see on a movie poster–will come to me. I’ll always write that down, both since it might help encapsulate the essence of the story I want to tell and because taglines are darned hard to come up with and any effort I can save in the marketing department is always worth it.

Logline

My loglines at this stage usually aren’t too well structured. Again, I don’t want to consciously brainstorm the story at this point. But I will sometimes start out with a basic premise sentence just to help me remember the heart of the original idea.

Summary

By the time the story has swum around in my brain long enough for it to gel into something with heft and direction, I’m ready to write a short summary. At this point, I need to know the main characters, the setting, the antagonistic force, and the main conflict. I’ll write up all this info into back-cover-copy-esque summary–both because it sounds more fun and interesting that way and to hopefully save myself some work later on when I actually need a back cover copy. The summaries you see on my author site in the “Currently Writing” section are almost exactly the summaries I wrote up for these works-in-progress when they were in this nascent, subconscious, pre-writing stage.

Story Notes

Finally, I keep a notes section in the same document as the summary. This is where I write any and every good idea that comes to me. I keep it brief–just enough to capture the basics of the idea, so I can recall the feeling of the scene or character later. Sometimes this will include snippets of dialogue, but nothing more descriptive than that.

Research/Worldbuilding Notes

Research is hard and time-consuming, so if I happen to be reading something pertinent during these interim years, I’ll always make a note of it. Some of my research files for future stories are already very hefty. My notes for a Tudor-based fantasy trilogy I want to write is already twenty pages long, and I haven’t even started seriously researching or brainstorming it.

Images

Casting characters is one of my guilty pleasures and favorite tricks. As soon as possible in the conception stage, I try to figure out likely faces to go with my new friends. I keep these and any other pertinent imagery either on my harddrive or on Pinterest. I rarely go consciously looking for people, places, costumes, creatures, vehicles, or weaponry during this stage–but I always save anything that looks like it might have future use for a specific story idea.

Although it will always be tempting to chase after gorgeous new ideas, get into the habit of adding patience and diligence to your writing repertoire. Use this period of waiting to your advantage, so you’re able to do those sparkling ideas even better justice than if you were to dive into them right now.

Remember: “too many good ideas” isn’t a problem. It’s a tremendous blessing!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is your usual reaction when new story ideas start distracting you? Tell me in the comments!

New Story Ideas Distracting You From Your Book? Find Out What You Should Do

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. You wrote this post for me, didn’t you? 😉

    Haha, this is a huge problem for me. I have too many ideas at the same time. I’ve learned to create a folder, type up the story idea, go to Pinterest and add some photos to my novel inspiration board, and then try to return to my wip as fast as possible!

    My biggest problem over the years has been growing bored and impatient with revising a wip, and wanting to move on to creating a new story. But when I stop myself and return to the earlier story, I think, “Wow, I really like this novel, it’s great!” So it’s not my novels that I dislike, but…

    …I like the creative part of writing much more than the revision part…

    I often say that if I ever become fabulously rich, I’ll have an excellent editor on staff…;-)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think the majority of authors prefer creation to revision. But there’s joy in every part of the process. I always try to focus on what I enjoy about each part of the process, knowing the other parts will come back around on the circle sooner than not.

  2. Hi K.M.,

    I found this post very helpful. I also wanted to ask you a question about a first draft I have going right now. I’m about a quarter of the way through the story (which I’m projecting to be about 50,000 words) and I’ve come to a halt, like I’ve just lost interest in it. I think it’s because I focused too much on the theme and other details that I really should have left for later drafts. I was wondering about just starting all over from scratch again, but now I’m thinking it will probably be best to just pick up where I left off, and leave any revising for when this draft is completed. Would this be best?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      When this happens to me, I always find it vital to identify *why* I’ve lost interest. Because I dislike the way the character is turning out? Because my gut instinct is telling me the story is headed in the wrong direction? Or because the story just plain isn’t working? Depending on the answer, I’m usually inclined to stop and rework the beginning to get everything in line before continuing. But that’s just me. If you struggle with perfectionism, you may find that finishing the story–and then going back to edit–may be a healthier choice for you.

      • OK, thank you. I think I’ll try and keep on going, because I can be a perfectionist and I’d like to not get stuck in circles. I don’t think the story itself is the problem; rather, I think I tried to do too much in the setup stages of the story and bogged myself down in little details. If I keep on going, I think I’ll be able to keep going without much problem. Again, thank you. 🙂

  3. Yes. THIS! Thank you!

  4. I’ve been waiting for this post. Thank you! I have dozens of notebooks filled with ideas, many of them coming while working on a project. I often write them down and let them be for a bit, but you’ve given me good steps to try going forward.

  5. Catherine H. says:

    Ha, yes. I know from personal experience that if I start another project I will never get the first one done. For me, short stories are awesome when new ideas come calling. They don’t take long to write, you can see whether your idea works on paper or not, and it helps tone down that initial ‘I HAVE to make this into a novel’ feeling. Plus I know that I can finish short stories and still keep working on my WIP.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Shorts can also be a great way to “practice” to prepare for the big game of writing a novel.

  6. I currently have two shiny new ideas bugging me, but I’m 2/3 the way through writing book 3 in a 5 book series. My reaction to the new ideas is to make very brief notes on the characters and broad plot (no more than a page), then walk away. They’ll still be there when I’ve finished this draft, and they’ll hopefully be better fleshed out and ready to tackle.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That *is* the big problem with writing series. On the one hand, you get to spend all this time with characters you love. But on the other, it takes forever to get to the new ideas!

  7. I have more than enough story ideas to last me a lifetime, I am shoulders deep into the (final) edits of my completed wip and…of course!…a new story came whizzing in to sweep me off my feet.

    I am lucky this time. Usually a story arrives like this: “Hi, I’m (name of hero). Come with me.” And, of course, I do! This time when he came, he sat quietly, told me just enough to make me want to start building his world….but he DIDN’T give me his name. Until he does, no story.

    Whew. So I wrote it all down, as you suggest. I can use spare moments to noodle through a few of the obvious world building issues and I can continue to do what is best right now. I complete my wip and begin the process of sending it out into the world.

    When this new one is ready…he’ll tell me his name. And I will go with him.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What a great way to describe novel inspiration! My problem is often that I’ll chase my characters down the rabbit hole *before* they tell me their names. I’ll have such a deep sense of them that it makes it harder than ever to find the names that fits them.

      • I can totally understand the appeal of chasing that idea…and down the rabbit hole is the perfect description 🙂

  8. Usually when I get a good story idea, I let it sit for a day or two. This just lets me know if it’s really something I’d be excited to work on, or if its a boring premise and my excitement was just the heat of the moment.

    However, if the idea is a keeper, my brain will be charged all day thinking of characters and scenes and cool twists and stuff like that. Once I have a basic idea of what it will look like, I fill out a short sheet that just summarizes all the plot points and I put it away until I have more time to work on it.

    Right now, being patient is one of the hardest things I need to learn to do since I have a million stories floating in my head, but I need to focus on revising the first book in my series, and plotting the second for NaNo (because I learned last year that following nothing but a summary will lead to a lot of junk and stress during November). Thank you for this post. It really helped at a time like this.

    ~K.A.C.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s great! And, yes, I, too, had to learn the hard way that lack of preparation only causes more stress. And writing can be stressful enough as it is!

  9. Super helpful. I am also constantly getting new ideas. Unlike you, I feel the need to jot them down right away–I’m afraid they’ll be gone if I don’t! I used to carry around a notebook, now I just keep everything on the Notes section of my phone. I have a “Future story ideas” section with everything from quotes I like to characters I like to paragraphs of a plot idea.

    When an idea DOES start getting bigger in my head, I set up a separate notes section for it, then whenever I have any thought on it whatsoever, I jot it down. This can be on my commute, while I’m working on my current project–whatever. Then when I’m finished with what I’m doing, I can look at all my notes and decide what to actually start writing. This is how I came up with my current WIP and I dare say it’s a big improvement over my previous work.

    Thanks for the post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Bigger than my head”–that’s a good way to describe it. In the beginning ideas are small and need nourishment and care, but if they end up being one of the good ones, they always end up getting too big to live just within us. That’s when we know we have idea worth writing and sharing.

  10. I have a project board which keeps me on track. One corner of the board is dedicated to new ideas. I get snippets of story ideas constantly. I’m now throwing them on a post-it note and tacking it to the board. During the week I’m updating my progress on the board. I review the new idea section as well. If the idea still sounds good, it stays. If it was just a fleeting moment, I get rid of it. I’m currently working on 5 projects. New ideas can’t take over. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Whoa, five projects! You’re Wonder Woman. I think I would go insane if I tried that. Literally. :p

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This was so great to read. I’ve launched into the actual writing part of my first book and have been struggling with the thought that I’m doing it “wrong”, which consciously I know I shouldn’t be worried about but subconsciously….that’s hard to remember. My process in the beginning was very similar to this so it’s very encouraging to know I’m on the right track! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve yet to write a book where I didn’t go through at least a phase of feeling like everything about the process was wrong. But it’s a process that has seen me through so many times. I’ve learned to just trust it, keep working, and eventually everything falls into place just like it always does.

  12. Steve Mathisen says:

    “And for those of you who have been asking for it, there is now officially a Dreamlander sequel in the works!”
    Woo-Hoo! Happy dancing!

  13. You must have been thinking of me when you wrote this. I am plodding through my next novel with distractions of ideas for other works appearing either side of me. After watching The Purge 2, Anarchy, I have come up with an idea for a third one. So, I wrote the basic idea down in a blog and maybe someone from Hollywood will see it and pay me lots of money for it. In the meantime, I’ll keep hammering away at my present work.

  14. I agree with most everything you shared, except the part of waiting to write down your idea. I find if I don’t jot down my idea in some form or another, just a sentence or a title, I’ll lose it. Doesn’t mean I have to act on the idea, but at least I’ve written something down so I won’t forget it. I’m awful bad about forgetting stuff.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As I said in the post, I’ve evolved my thinking on that too. I used to resist any kind of writing down for a long time. Now I don’t trust my memory nearly as much! But, for me, I definitely find that I do better when I rely on the emotional sense of the story for at least a while before corralling it in the physicality of ink and paper.

  15. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Very true, and it’s the ability of each us to perfect that approach that helps us reach our potential as writers.

  16. Thanks! Now if I could only get through a draft as fast as ideas flow out I’d be going places.

    Now I will admit not all of them are great ideas but I write EVERYTHING down. You never know where it will lead.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s true. One idea leads to the next. I find that I need two or three ideas coming together before I have something really worth writing.

  17. Such an inspiring post. I’m on novel four. The first three are first drafts and collecting age-old dust bunnies. I hope I can finish the fourth. Finish meaning, revise, edit, and query.

    Right now I’m bogged down on the rewrite of novel four. I’ve been looking for a method to editing that I can wrap my head around. An hour of rewirtes before the day job is too short and now I’m lost. Today I went out and bought different colored index cards and will rewrite all the scenes on these cards.

    I’ve also started keeping a calendar just for writing where I give myself stickers to show my progress. Rewrites in the morning and, free flow writing in the evening without too much concentration.

  18. Hits the nail right on the nose!

    I like the way your approach is “top-down” rather than “left-to-right”; it finishes the outline before starting the detailed writing.

    I have (an outline for) a WIP that doesn’t really fit the Hero’s Journey mold. It is based on a community of people who have an odd hobby. None of them stands out as a protagonist. So I grafted a protagonist onto it and now I’m struggling to create the other hero’s-journey elements. I have an acceptable way to get the protag into the Special World but — What is the protag’s goal? What is the ordeal? What is the Second Act Midpoint? What is the antagonist (most likely a psychological force such as the protag’s desire to control others, but the choice of this kind of antagonist depends on the goal)? There are plenty of conflicts within the community but the protag “doesn’t have a dog” in any of those fights. So I am inventing a psychological inner journey for the protag, but I’m not sure it goes anywhere.

    Question: How far has a novel departed from the Hero’s Journey model and still been successful?

    One of your articles (or someone’s) said that a protag must want something, and want it enough to do something, otherwise there is no driving force. I can imagine a protag who is too lazy to really do anything but thinks he is causing every event, when in fact every event is caused by someone (or someones or something) else, and the protag is delusional. Maybe an L Frank Baum character (“See my pretty brains, you can see them working”). So I think this rule can be broken as long as there is some other story element that takes up the slack. I suspect most rules are the same!

    Basically the story is: Guy reads interviews and makes phone calls and meets people and does interviews until nobody wants to talk to him anymore (he is rejected by the community).

    All the action happens in the past; the action is what the interviews are about. (I know this can work because “Frankenstein” is written as an interview with Dr. F who is in the Arctic pursuing his monster, and the actual story is told by him to his interviewer. But in “Frankenstein” the protag is telling his own story in the interviews, whereas my protag is the interviewer.) I think the conflict is between sanity and insanity as he can’t figure out whether what he is being told is true or false and he starts to doubt everything. Or it’s between freedom and control as he wants to control the people he’s interviewing.

    So anyway, as I read articles about “Is your protag a Do-er or a Be-er? Does he change or remain steadfast? Does the story end when protag runs out of options or runs out of time?” — I realize that my story in each case fits the most boring choice.

    How can this not-quite-a-story grow into a story?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      First of all, it’s worth noting that what we call the Hero’s Journey is basically just a positive-change character arc. Many successful stories also have characters following flat arcs or negative-change arcs.

      That said, the reason a character’s goal is important is because without a goal, there is nothing to be stymied by an obstacle. No obstacle=no conflict. If there’s no conflict–if the character already has what he wants or acquires it easily–then there’s nothing to push the story forward into the *next* goal (and therefore the next series of scenes).

      Sounds like your character is definitely causing things to happen via his interviews. He has a goal of performing an interview. So you can start by looking there and figuring out why he’s doing what he’s doing.

  19. Stephanie says:

    I feel that this process is a sound way of dealing with new ideas. It’s not something I have ever considered, but I really like the idea of letting it just sit in your head for a while. I have a tendency to rush in and just start writing every little tidbit down, worried that I won’t remember it later. My situation is a little different, though. What do you do if you don’t have a work in progress and you just want to start a story? Maybe the process is the same once I actually choose an idea to work on. I try to stay with an idea or a ‘feeling’ for a story long enough to actually get it to a point where it could be written, but I always feel drawn away by another feeling, or another sort of genre. I don’t even have plot ideas. I feel so stuck.

    • So, Stephanie, you’re telling me that while some authors have “too many” ideas, others don’t have any?

      Sounds like a job for DIVISION-OF-LABOR-MAN!!!!!

      You’d have to come to an agreement about who owns what and who will receive what, but isn’t there some way for you to develop someone else’s “excess” ideas?

      Someone started a business for busy businesspeople who want to write a book without spending so much time on it: an interviewer interviews the client for two hours and then the writers work up that interview into a book.

      Here it is: http://bookinabox.com/

      • Stephanie says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, however I don’t think that process is really for me. I /want/ to write a story, I don’t want someone else to do it for me. I have the time to write, I just get bogged down in lots of little ideas for characters and scenes and allow myself to be pulled away from them in favour of new little ideas, so I don’t get anywhere. I’m sure bookinabox is just what some people need. I don’t think I’m one of those people. 🙂

        • Well conversely, if you want to write books but don’t have ideas of your own, maybe you’e like to work for Bookinabox on someone else’s ideas?

          Maybe I misread the situation, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be “stuck”

          • Stephanie says:

            Well, that’s an interesting idea!

            You got me thinking about my problem, and what is at the core of my lack of commitment to ideas, and I think a big part of it is the feeling that anything I write isn’t good enough. That I’ll never be able to write amazing stories like the ones I love to read. It’s something that’s always there, and it’s blocking me from writing. I think that’s the core.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            We all have to start somewhere! Don’t let fear hold you back. Just start writing, have fun with it, and see where it goes. Your writing can only improve if you’re actually writing. As for deciding which idea you want to write, you might find this post helpful: 7 Ways to Decide Which Story Idea You Should Write Next.

  20. robert easterbrook says:

    Dear Ms Awesomesauce, I pretty much do most of what you’re suggesting I do. Where do I get my ideas? All over the place! Even when I’m reading someone else’s story. haha What do I do with my shiny new story ideas? I write them all in my Ideas Notebook, that’s I what I do. What do I do with them? I let them gather dust. No, not all of them! I will give them a WiP title; maybe a few outline notes; maybe a few characterizations; maybe a setting and a few scenes. And depending on how saucy the story is, I’ll slot it in my schedule of Stories to Write Next. Then set them aside and get back to the work on the current WiP. I’m so disciplined.

    Unlike you, Dear Ms Awesomesauce, I don’t think I’ve got the next 30 years covered! Just the next few years, at the most. I guess the advantage for you is, that you at least know what you’re doing for the next 30 years! $3 Million Dollars isn’t a bad motivator, is it? Man, I just get giddy thinking about it. Having ‘two years out’ covered is almost nauseating enough as it is – the pressure, the pressure. And that’d be Out Patience medication for me because I’d have to medicate on the go. 😉

    Anyhow, thanks for letting play in your awesomesauce.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The fact that you don’t have the next thirty years covered could also be due to the fact that you probably write faster than I do. Most of the world writes faster than me. 😉

  21. As a sufferer of chronic idea overload, I loved this post. I’m always coming up with new ideas, and yes, forcing myself to stick to the story I’m working on can be difficult.

    Thanks for the tips and suggestions, Katie. They will definitely help me sort through the muddle of ideas I have and make sense of my process and direction. Having so many potential stories vying for my attention is hard, but having read reading this will help me sort out which ones to push to the front of the queue.

    Great stuff as always. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  22. Terrific, Katie. I love how you give us a discernment process on when to pursue those new, shiny ideas and when to resist. I’d never thought about WAITING to write down the ideas. I’m always afraid I’ll forget my amazing, blockbuster ideas if I don’t.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think this is largely a personal thing. It’s just something that *feels* right to me, and, obviously, it won’t feel that way to everyone. But I’m glad it resonated with you!

  23. New story ideas would always distract you. Thanks for the tips!

  24. This is a great post! I wrote a similar post on my blog a couple of months ago, but this one is way more detailed – and offers more practical help than my rambling post does. 😛 I recently started working on a new book – but didn’t drop the current WIP. This may or may not have been a wise decision, but so far I seem to be making it work, and I just sat down and wrote out a schedule for myself so that I wouldn’t let one project fade in favor of the other.

    Thanks for the awesome post about how to keep the value of Shiny New Ideas without letting them rule you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I know quite a few writers who successfully juggle multiple projects at once. I will often work on two projects that are in different stages (e.g., drafting and editing), but I just can’t get my brain around two active narratives at once. But that’s just me!

  25. I always find it reassuring when my processes are confirmed! This is very much how I treat new story ideas, basically because I’m worried about the “starting but never finishing” trend. I know that would be me. But I’d never put it in words like this.

    Last week, I finally began a notebook for a story idea I’ve had for over two years. I’ve imagined scenes, gotten to know the characters, made mental notes of plotting issues and character development problems, and brainstormed backstory with my husband. Now the story is taking shape, but since I won’t be able to write it until February, I have several more months of having fun getting to know the story and the people.

    Thanks for outlining the waiting and developing process!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly, that “getting to know the story” part of the process is my unabashed favorite. Everything is so wild and fun during that part and there’s zero pressure.

  26. K.M., thank you for your prompt answer.

    I’m trying VERY hard to think outside the box here.

    First question, has there been there any successful story that doesn’t have one (1) protagonist? Can there be zero or two? Can the protagonist be something other than an individual?

    Second question, what’s the protag got to do with the conflict? I know a few possibilities, but I don’t know that I have a complete list. For example I know the protag can “take sides” in a conflict of will against somebody else. I know there can be conflicting desires within the protag’s mind so the protag must make a decision. But are these the ONLY possible relationships between protag and conflict?

    I know that one way to “push the story forward” (into the next scene) is for the protag to have a goal, which is stymied by an obstacle and so on. But is there truly no OTHER way?

    Back in the box, my protag is in a foreign country and can’t believe what he is hearing. Do people really do such things? Is that normal in this country? If not normal, just how widespread is it? So, first motive is curiosity. Second motive is a desire for justice, as he thinks maybe somebody is wronged in the stories he’s hearing; but as our story goes on he learns that his sense of right and wrong is maybe not very well developed and — primitive version: he “shouldn’t judge” (he is, after all, a guest in their country) — more sophisticated version: as long as all parties involved have freedom to walk away, they are participating voluntarily and are not wronged, no matter what he may think. So the crisis point, the turning point, is when he realizes this. So he goes from trying to control others to letting them have their freedom.

    I don’t think that’s an Act II Midpoint because it’s too close to the end. It removes one of his drivers.

    Anyway, his goals are to discern truth and to see justice done. Anti-forces are: difficulties in communication, difficulties of doing investigative work, gaining trust and so on, his own obtuseness, difficulties in spotting liars — normal human limitations. Or maybe he’s abnormally limited.

    How does he overcome these obstacles? Or doesn’t he?

    I want ambiguity so he never truly gets to the bottom of it. So he fails in his primary goal (discern truth) and gives up on his second goal (see justice done) but succeeds somewhere else (learn the value of other people’s freedom).

    • An anti-force could even be a past trauma of his, but then I’d have to come up with one

      P.s. The story begins when his mail-order bride (his reason for going abroad) jilts him; during story he asks one or more women to marry him but they don’t want him, so failure there too; hidden success somewhere?

    • OK, I get that instead of a Hero’s Journey it might be a Coward’s Journey / Loser’s Journey, or a Zen Journey.

      But can there be a plot driver other than the protag’s continual efforts? Can it be a Statue’s Journey?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Hah! Honestly not a bad way to put it. 😉 A story (in the classic western sense anyway) has to be *somebody’s* journey. If your protagonist is doing nothing–if he’s just an observer–then it might be he is functioning more as a narrator while another character (whoever is creating the action) is, in fact, your protagonist. I’ll be posting about that next Monday.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Answer #1: I can’t think of any story with zero protagonists (which doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t one), but there are many stories with multiple protagonists.

      Answer #2: Story conflict must be driven by *someone*. If it’s not the protagonist, then he’s not a protagonist. He may, however, still be the main character–which is the distinction I will be posting about next Monday.

      Honestly, it sounds to me like your story has plenty of action (in the sense of characters doing things), goals, and incumbent conflict.

      • Thank you for that.

        Or a series of people can take turns being the protagonist, as in the movie “Slacker.”

        The interviews are sort of like a series of short stories glued together by the “wrapper” story. Each of the sub-stories has characters, conflict and action but not necessarily any of the other elements of a complete story. (I might say it’s sort of like a soap opera but I don’t know much about them.)

        Next question, if you don’t mind: My protag’s “low point” comes when he is in the nuthouse, maybe isolated in the middle of the night, maybe when talking to the other “nuts.” I want him to make some kind of psychological breakthrough. Many stories do this by having the protagonist remember a past trauma (“Shutter Island”), or give up on a goal (“Twelve Angry Men,” maybe “Labyrinth”). In “Alice in Wonderland” it’s when she realizes her enemy is nothing but a pack of cards.

        I said that the turning point is when he realizes he shouldn’t try to control others and that he doesn’t know best after all, but it’s just not quite coming together: “how” does this happen?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Sounds like maybe that one is more a question for a psychologist than a writer. :p I would start by putting yourself in the character’s shoes. What would it logically take to bring you to that moment of recognition and realization?

          • Ironically, my protagonist is a psychologist!

            I am reminded of the old joke: “Why not complain to your Congressman? – That wouldn’t do any good. I am my Congressman.”

            But yes I will try to find an Ask-A-Psychologist website.

            There are sub-questions here: What does the pivotal moment look like? What events and conversations lead up to the pivotal moment? And although I say the subject matter of the pivotal moment is about control and letting go and that he doesn’t know best, his goals are about other subjects: discerning truth and seeing justice done. How does his pursuit of these goals teach him the lessons that lead to his pivotal moment? It is like taking tennis lessons so you can pass a math test. Something has to be adjusted.

            If the stories aren’t true then there is no step 2. So his “discern truth” goal only drives him to collect more data. It has to be “see justice done” that drives him to learn “stop trying to control because you don’t know best” — i.e. Stop trying to see YOUR VERSION of justice done and let them have THEIR version of justice.

            So his experiences need to show him that he doesn’t know right from wrong better than they do. And even if he does have a better sense of right and wrong, he’s impossibly poorly placced to try to apply or impose it.

            I was thinking the interviews would teach him the lessons that lead to his pivot, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The interviews just confuse him. (Confused people tend to latch onto the first apparently solid piece of information and give it undue/undeserved/disproportionate weight.)

            So the “other nuts” teach him that he doesn’t know best, that his version of justice might not be just after all, that his sense of right and wrong may need to be adjusted or expanded, and that given his normal human limitations, he shouldn’t try to be “the decider.” Now, how do they teach him that?

            Ironically, this is the first time this psychologist has spent any time with “crazy” people.

          • How does the pivotal moment look? He could be alone staring at the ceiling or at the room or out the window; he could be having a dream or a hallucination; could be talking and realize how foolish he sounds, or that he sounds like someone else who is known to him to be wrong; another “nut” could ask him a question that stumps him; another “nut” could make a speech or tell a story.

            Best of both: he could have a dream, following the key “other nut(s)” conversations, during which it all comes together.

          • Also I am thinking of a sequel, and I ought to save some of the heavy-duty stuff for the sequel. So for volume 1’s pivotal moment, his only realization will be that his chosen method of trying to get justice is no good.

            That’s called “kicking the can down the road.”

            What do you call a trilogy with two volumes? A bilogy? Or with more than three volumes, a multilogy?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Duology. Four is a quartet. More than that is a “saga” or just a “series.”

  27. robert easterbrook says:

    Writing faster than you probably doesn’t equate to better writing than you, you’re published! 😛 But you also read at faster-than-light speed, that I can tell, and that just embarrasses me. 😉 I don’t know anyone who reads as fast as you do – you’re a marvel comics character with superpowers!

  28. I definitely needed this reminder. I’m dragging myself through the middle of this novel I’m working on. I really want to skip to something new, but I know this story is good and worth writing.
    I’ve been taking mini-breaks to work on short stories (and prove I can finish something), but I won’t start a new novel until this one is done.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sometimes first drafts are hard–even when the stories are really, really good. Sometimes they’re hard *especially* when the ideas are good. It’s worth keeping that in mind as we battle the daily slog. There’s never any guarantee the next idea would be any easier or more fun than this one. And finishing is *always* fun!

  29. What a great post. My biggest writing “problem” is too many ideas and the distractions of so many bright, shiny new possibilities.

    I’ve always been of the opinion that writing down every idea, even if it’s just a note, is key. But I also know that lots of my sparkly new ideas tarnish within 24 hours, so I like your process of letting them simmer for a while to be much better.

    One question: How do you define tagline and logline? I have understood these terms to be synonymous.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      A tagline is just a teaser snippet, like my personal favorite from the Gladiator poster: “What we do in life echoes through eternity.”

      A logline is a complete, one-sentence pitch for the story’s plot. Gladiator‘s (as per IMDb) is: “When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.”

      For guidance on writing loglines, I recommend Finding the Core of Your Story by Jordan Smith.

  30. I’ve never finished a novel. Considering the content of this post, you can guess why. 😛

    Thanks for the tips. I’m getting better about it, but I’ve still got so far to go in my current WIP, and so many tempting detours along the way. This will definitely help me stay focused. 🙂

    “Get in line, ideas.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s right! You be the master of those ideas. Don’t let them be the master of you!

  31. When I first started out writing, I had this problem. But the older I got, I just started keeping a notebook of ideas. Eventually, I’ll get to them I think. There were some really good ones in there. LOL

  32. So, a tagline would be on a movie poster, and a logline would be in TV Guide?

  33. P.S. See what I did here? I made a complete, exhaustive list of ALL the possibilities (for the pivotal moment): he’s either talking, listening or doing neither.

    Well, I did leave out one possibility: he might be doing both.

    I recommend this practice: when you’re wondering , make a list of possibilities as complete as possible, so you have a menu to choose from.

    I used a little piece of ligic called the “excluded middle” that goes back to Aristotle: Either he’s talking or he’s not talking. Either he’s listening or he’s not listening. These can be combined four ways (you can make a little table): both, one or the other, or neither.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Totally smart. Finding the right answer is all about first being able to ask the right question. We have to clear out the clutter of our confusion about our story’s problems, so that we can listen to our gut instinct.

  34. I know what happens to the can after it’s done getting kicked down the road. Anyone curious?

    The protag (at great sacrifice to self) arranges an escape for one or more one of the supposed “oppressed victims” and discovers they don’t want to be rescued.

    Or one of them escapes from the situation AND COMES BACK — demonstrating that their situation, no matter what the protag may think of it, is better than the alternative — in the eyes of the supposed victim — the only eyes that count.

    Lesson to protag: The damsel in distress, not you, is the best judge of whether she needs rescuing. A situation is to be evaluated, not as “good” or “bad,” but as “better” or worse” THAN THE AVAILABLE ALTERNATIVES.

    Knowing that, I can possibly even foreshadow it — though it’s a complicated thing to foreshadow.

    Now I’m sure I want more than one book, should I outline the sequel(s) before drafting the first book? I’d say yes, for the same reasons we outline the final chapter before drafting the first one — so that everything will fit together smoothly. I might even be able to foreshadow, in book #1, events in book #2. How cool is that?

    To anyone out there who isn’t yet a believer in outlining: Can you imagine figuring all that out at the prose level, without thinking about it at the outline level?

    Everybody, develop your outline to 500 words (or cut it down to 500 if it’s currently longer) by next Thursday (Aug 27) and register for Katie’s webinar
    http://www.writersdigestshop.com/outlining-your-novel-create-a-roadmap-to-storytelling-success-live?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wds-sjb-inst-150826-kmwwdpromo

    • and Katie will personally critique your 500-word outline.

      If I had just written from the beginning, the protag’s experiences and then gotten to his turning point, I would now have to re-write the experiences to fit the my new understanding of the turning point. Do an outline and save all that rewriting!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks for shouting out the webinar! Sounds like you’re on the right track here. As for outlining sequels, my take (which I’ve yet to put into practice myself, having never written a sequel) is that it’s worthwhile to figure out major plot points of subsequent books, but to only outline them in-depth one at a time.

      • AND check out Katie’s sample outlines for books you know and love, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Christmas Carol, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, and movies such as Alien, Driving Miss Daisy, Fight Club, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jurassic Park.

        http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/book-storystructure/story-structure-database-index/

        ==================================
        One week to write a 500-word outline — think of it as NaOuWrWk.

        Maybe we could designate the first week in October as NaOuWrWk, then there would be three weeks to rest and fiddle with the outline before starting on the novel itself!

      • robert easterbrook says:

        I did this for the sequel in my ongoing Lledumar Saga, otherwise I don’t think things would have worked out as well they seem to have. Still waiting for betareader feedback and an agent’s impressions.

        And believe it or not, I wrote the sequel after I’d written the prequel! When I’d finished the initial book in the Saga, Book 2, I was told it needs a prequel by my betareaders, so went for it, as they say, and wrote a prequel. I’m told it strengthens Book 2’s antagonist’s justification for doing what he did.

        Book 3 had so much history to draw on; so do we call it the postshadowing? 😉

        According to my editor friend, who edited Book 1, it was well done. At least, I can feel good about achieving that much. 😉

  35. I have the exact same thing! I get ideas for new stories all of the time, and I always go straight to writing it, but this article has REALLY helped! Now, instead of dropping another book midway through, I’m going to use these tips. I’m so glad you wrote this, it was almost directed right at me. 🙂

  36. I often go through this sudden surge of inspiration, random ideas invade my mind – some of them are surprisingly exciting, but thankfully I do have enough patience to not jeopardize my current work. I record everything I think of, dialogues, scenes, concepts, anything, and let it wait for its turn, which sometimes takes years. I don’t intend on giving up those projects because each time I re-read them, a burst of excitement takes place and tells that I’d better not waste the potential I hold. Doesn’t matter how long it’ll take, but I will definitely work on them one by one.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Patience is a valuable skill for writers. And time *is* on our sid. We can write all our stories if we’re patient- and as long as we get in the habit of finishing manuscripts.

      • Yeah, that’s what I need to do, actually finish something. I have so many ideas and I just need to focus on one. Sometimes being a writer and having these story ideas can be fantastic, but other times, getting them is a curse, because they are so distracting. I DEFINITELY need to work on patience and focus.

        • Sometimes you have to get radical in order to move forward. Feeling overwhelmed is a widespread problem that requires RUTHLESS focus. Every now and then I open MS Word and swear to myself “I’m going to get this one thing done, no fooling around on the net, I won’t go out to buy the groceries I need, I won’t do anything else until I finish.”
          I don’t remember who said something among those lines: “the hardest part is not writing but actually sitting down to write”. I experience this regularly.
          Also turn off all distractions: social media, website articles, books (no matter how fascinating they are), YouTube… the internet is fantastic but also the biggest source of procrastination nowadays. Discipline and self-control are paramount.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Totally agree on the Internet. My preference is to completely turn off my router when it’s writing time. My mind is more at peace when I can remove even the temptation of distraction.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I think there’s a saying about how too much of a blessing can become a curse. :p I like to cling to the blessing side. How horrible would it be if all our ideas dried up? Just keep putting those ideas in a well, so you can draw on them when the time comes.

  37. thomas h cullen says:

    Story “stigma’s”. . I think that this could be an idea for a post Katie: how authors can deflect unwanted notions or images from their fiction.

  38. Me on the other hand, is still struggling with lots of ideas floating around in my head and all so exciting. But the amount pf time each will take is what is bugging me.
    Let’s see how it turns out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Just focus on the now. The story you’re writing *now* will always be the most important one.

      • On it… One thing I have learned that, as much as we are inclined to, leaving stories in the middle aren’t easy either.
        I know my epic fantasy, I got tired of it. Left it, tried to move on.
        But that thing just doesn’t stop haunting me. Whenever I sit down to write, something whispers in me the name of that story. I know that sound cheesy, but we writer kinds *insert a big, cold sigh*

  39. Excellent post! Full of helpful advice for the others of us that like to chase shiny objects (new stories) leaving the half finished books to gather dust on the sidelines.

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