In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I get story ideas, and I loved hearing from all of you about your sources of inspiration!
For this post, my question is: what do you do with all those ideas once you get them? How do you choose which one to focus on first?
I tend to be pretty good at recording potential stories. When I was younger, I got so excited whenever I got an idea that I didn't bother much with planning ahead. Instead, I'd jump right into writing the opening, whether by hand or in a Word document, and maybe make some rough notes about how awesome my character is. (Sadly, that was usually as far as I got before I got stuck and moved on to a new, similarly plotless idea.)
Now, I keep track of story seeds in OneNote, which allows me to organize information in a hierarchy of notebooks, groups (which I treat as folders), sections, and pages. I have a separate folder for each story, and that's where I jot down my plot, character, and scene notes. Sometimes I'll find myself daydreaming about a particular story and adding to it that way; other times, I'll think of something cool and then find the story it'd fit into best (or, sometimes, start a new story folder).
So I guess you could say I like to brainstorm for multiple stories simultaneously. That's my way of dealing with the Shiny New Idea Syndrome: start a new file and add bits and pieces to it when inspiration strikes. It's fun to have different stories to think about, and if I come up with a concept I love but is totally wrong for my current project, it's satisfying to be able to find it a home elsewhere.
I like having lots of ideas, but I know it's important to pick one story to prioritize; my goal is to finish a manuscript, and that means choosing one idea and seeing it through to completion. Which brings me to my second question: how do you pick?
I wish I had an answer that was rational and helpful to others. The way I chose which idea to focus on is probably the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do. I mean, most people probably choose the idea they're most passionate about, or is the most developed, right? Here's how it works for me...
How Linda Chooses a Story Idea
1. Inspiration strikes! I have an awesome story idea! Yay! :D
2. *Starts developing plot and characterization, and dreams up a few scenes*
3. OMG it's going to be the BEST STORY EVAR! I even have a plot! So exciting! :D :D :D
4. Oh wait, I've never completed a novel before.
5. First novels usually suck, right? So if I want this story to turn out decent it can't be the first thing I write. :(
6. What to do, what to do?
7. No problem, I'll just have to become a better writer first so I can do my AMAZING STORY IDEA the justice it deserves!
8. *Stashes idea in folder labeled STORY IDEAS FOR WHEN I SUCK LESS*
9. *Thinks up new story for practice novel*
10. *Writes character studies and begins plotting*
11. Wow, I adore my MC! And her love interest! This is so fun! <3
12. Oh no, I like this story TOO MUCH. Argh, this is not supposed to happen! >=[
13. My awesome MC should totally have her story written by someone who knows what she's doing.
14. I guess that means I don't want this one to be my practice novel either. Hm.
15. *Stashes idea*
17. *Digs around in old files for another one*
18. *Blows off dust on old idea*
19. Ooh, this one seems interesting. I think it can work if I add in this one bit from that idea over there and this other thought from a few months ago.
20. Uh oh. The pieces kind of don't fit together.
21. What was I thinking?!
22. Ugh. I'm so stupid! Stupid stupid stupid.
23. *Brainstorms some more*
24. Wait... wait... omg I think I just managed to get them to make sense!
25. YES! I'm brilliant! This is going to be so amazing! Can't wait to write this!
26. But what if I ruin this story with my lack of experience???
27. *Pictures self inadvertently mangling lovely story idea*
28. *Bites nails*
30. *Glance furtively at stashed ideas*
31. *Takes a deep breath*
32. No! I will NOT repeat the cycle! I'm going to write this story even though I'm hopelessly in love with it and terrified of messing it up. I know it won't match up perfectly to my vision, and that will hurt, but it's ok. The important thing is to move out of this story-choosing limbo, get something finished for once, and learn from the experience.
33. Plus, my story will be awesome!
34. Ok, maybe not. But I'm sure I'll come up with more ideas later and probably adore those, too, so I shouldn't worry about ruining or using up my precious ideas. I can always improve the story later, if, after writing other projects and getting better, I still think it has potential.
35. Whew. I guess this one's the winner, then.
36. That wasn't so hard, was it?
37. Oh wait, I think the hard part will be actually writing...
So there you go, my lovely 37-step process for choosing a story idea. It's a bit ridiculous that I kept coming up with new ideas because I loved the other ones too much and didn't want to ruin them, but at least I've put an end to the cycle. And now I don't have to worry about not having any ideas!
But since my method is probably not too helpful to anyone else, here are some recent blog posts on the topic by other writers:
- Kate Ellison at Southern Scrawl made a super cute cartoon about idea hoarding and why it's better to use great ideas than to save them.
- Jennifer Hubbard tests whether ideas have staying power by drafting 10 pages or so.
- Patricia C. Wrede reveals her thought process for choosing a novel idea to work on next.
- Allison Winn Scotch tends to work on one idea at a time, but for those with multiple ideas, she suggests fleshing out each idea to make sure there's enough for a novel.
So, what about you? Do you work on multiple ideas simultaneously or just one at a time? How did you decide which idea to focus on? Feel free to leave me links to other blog posts on the topic!