When I’m immersed in a writing project, a ton of shiny new ideas pop into my head. It makes sense. My creative juices are flowing, so to speak. But if I stopped mid-stride and gave my attention to the next great idea every time one presented itself, I’d never finish anything. At the same time, some of my best ideas do happen while I’m in the middle of something else. I have a file now titled ‘it’s not your turn‘ where I can save these exciting new story ideas. For promising concepts, I’ll create some notes and maybe even a brief outline so I don’t lose the new thoughts. Then, I’ll turn my attention back to my work in progress.
Once I’ve finished with a project though, I have to decide which of those new ideas to focus on. It’s an exciting time. The blank page doesn’t scare me. Instead, I see it as full of potential. But I still have to choose which story idea to invest in next. Here are some criteria I use to help me decide:
The new project idea is big enough for a whole book.
My brain is constantly creating scenes. Sometimes they’re just random bits of action, but sometimes a scene feels like, if I fleshed it out, there’d be a bigger story. If I give the seed of an idea some time and energy and the story arc continues to expand, I know I’m on to something.
The characters are colorful and interesting.
We writers aren’t afraid of the voices in our heads! In fact, we count on them to keep talking to us. Sometimes a character is so compelling that I just know they’re going to be featured in my next book.
I can imagine how it will end.
I don’t have to know exactly how the story will end, but I have to know I can complete the arc in a satisfying manner. I don’t have to work out all the subplots, but I do need to figure out the main conflict, and the general direction I’ll take to resolve it.
Here are a few quick tips to remember as you get started on the next new thing:
- Plan enough of the story so you know you really have a story. You don’t have to outline everything, but spend enough time with the concept to convince yourself you can build a full-length novel.
- Flesh out the main cast of characters. Give them some history, background, and personality. Think about your protagonist and what they want. Who stands in their way? Why? Again, you don’t need to go deep into their psyche yet, but you need enough to become connected to them.
- Immerse yourself in this new world. As a science fiction writer, this is pretty important for my work. I have to start imagining this new world, the rules of magic or technology, etc. But even if you’re setting something on planet earth today, you’ll still have to get into your character’s world. What does their day to day life look like?
- Remember the lessons you’ve learned from previous projects. The beginning and ending are always exciting, and the middle is always tough. That doesn’t mean you should give up on the story.
- Count on self-doubt at some point in the process. Sometime during the writing process, I have at least one moment of crippling doubt. I can’t imagine why I thought this story was any good. The ending I’ve worked out suddenly seems stupid. I’m totally lost in the murky middle. Experience has shown me that I will get through this, and further, that every other writer I know understands exactly what I’m feeling. Press on, friends!
- Finish the first draft, because you can’t edit a blank page! It’s so important to finish what you start. Here are some thoughts on that: Just Finish It! If you’ve come this far, see this draft through to completion. You can decide what to do with it from there.
A new project is exciting. As our imagination takes flight, we’re reminded that we’re storytellers. We remember the joy of creation. It can also be scary to stare at a blank page. But with some tried and true guidelines in place, you can identify your next worthy masterpiece!