If you’re a writer, you’ve usually had more than one idea. Different characters, premises, worlds, or what-have-you all fighting for your attention. Typically, the ideas pour in when you’re deep in the middle of writing another story, and dry up when you finish it.
It can be hard to figure out where you should focus.
For me? These tips are how I handle competing novel novel ideas. (all puns are good puns.)
1. Focus on writing one story at a time
There are tons of people who fight with multiple muses, and lose. They end up leaving the scattered remains of half-finished stories and novels behind them, in their pursuit of working only on the freshest and most compelling idea.
If this works for you, have at.
For most of us, though, I highly suggest picking one–the one with the clearest story concept.
Now, if you’ve lost the story thread or have given it your honest best-effort and feel like it’s not coming together, I’m not saying you can’t switch stories. You’re not committed to finish every story you start.
But. moving on, simply because your writing starts taking effort is, for most of us, going to mean that you never finish a story. The choice is up to you.
Personally, I like to switch it up after a draft, and explore a different story and world. Then again, we all know, I’m still hopelessly devoted to my first completed manuscript.
2. Write Down Your Story Ideas
I know, it’s a stereotypical writer image — scrambling for a napkin or bedside journal to write down some stray random thought or dream… BUT DO IT!
Dreams and stray thoughts are where most story ideas come from. That, and playing a game of ‘what if’, followed by rationalized consequences.
For me, I have a draft email, that I can access on my computer or phone at anytime (because I’m a bit attached to my phone. One might say I’m addicted) and I write down my thought or concept.
I find often, so long as I record the concept and imagery, such that I feel confident that looking back on these notes will remind me of the idea, that I can return to my current work in progress, knowing this idea is waiting for me.
And usually? My ideas are small snippets that need more exploration and growth before they can become a full-fledged story. That’s why I read them over every so often and see if I can add details to them.
Where do I read them over? That brings me to my next tip.
3 – Organize Your Idea Notes
The biggest problem with tip #2 is finding all those little ideas when you’re ready to start your next story. If they’re all on different scraps of paper, random pages in twenty journals, scattered throughout the places you go in your daily life, it’ll be hard to look them over and decide your next move.
So, consolidation is KEY.
For me? I have all of my story ideas in one email draft, so I can see them in one place. Plus, by being electronic, I can re-order the collected ideas, so that similarly-themed ones are grouped together. I don’t know about you, but oftentimes, I have ideas that overlap with ones I’ve had in the past. Probably because certain themes and concepts just appeal to me strongly and I like exploring them.
4 – Re-read and Build On Your Notes
I’ve already alluded to this, and I know it feels a lot like tip 3? But, when you organize your ideas, often times they grow and change.
When you revisit your idea notes, this is when you can see if any of them have been percolating in the back of your head, sprouting from a story seed. (Any more metaphors I can toss in there?)
Sometimes? I delete ideas. Either I’ve already used it, lost the thread, or realize the reason I haven’t done something with this idea is that the concept seemed novel, but doesn’t really work for me.
I’ve been known to write a page or so as a story sampler, trying to find a voice and setting for the concept. Just be sure to keep it someone searchable and label it!
Managing muses can be hard. It can be a struggle to focus on one, when there are so many ideas fighting for your attention. This is writing, not math, there is no definitive right answer. Only you can decide which story to focus on today.
How do you manage your story ideas?
Any tips of the trade that I missed? I love hearing from y’all.