One of the first things that many writers get asked is “where do you get your ideas from?” Some authors get so tired of this that they come up with amusing answers like “K-Mart, twenty-five dollars for five novel ideas, they have a sale on, better get going!” Perhaps the people that ask are wondering if writers pull these ideas out of thin air, or have some elaborate ritual involving the sacrifice of a non-reader (my husband better watch out, since he limits himself to the instructions on a can of Chef Boyardee). Or perhaps writers get together every year and go on an African safari type trip, hunting down the wild idea, armed with only notebooks and pencils.
The fact is every writer is a bit different. New ideas may straggle in a bit at a time, the last bits like late party-goers who shrug and say they got stuck in traffic, or they may bust into your mind fully formed, intrusive and demanding your attention.
Personally, I tend to get the latter, and though I love being absolutely pumped to begin writing, I face a very difficult problem – one I've heard other writers complaining about as well. Imagine you are sitting at your desk typing away, the book you’re working on is almost finished – or maybe it’s only halfway – and then suddenly…wham! An idea hits you like a smoking comet.
Good, right? You can jot it down, put it aside and work on it after you’re done your current book. Or…you can try. You put the notes into a drawer and turn back to your work, but something seems to be in the way of your computer screen. Oh, it’s that genius idea that keeps popping up, hopping around like a ferret on caffeine, eager to tell you that it would be way better than the story you’re writing now. It would be more fun to write, it would make more money, and your agent (or the agents you are querying) would like it better. There are a million reasons you should stop writing that book and start on your new book.
This has happened to me twice now, and what I’ve realized is this: if I give in to the urge and put down the old idea, and pick up the shiny new idea, it’s immediately gratifying (it is, I gave in once). However, if I continue to act in that pattern, it stands to reason that I will NEVER FINISH A BOOK AT ALL.
So the next time this happened, I wrote down the idea, stuck it in a drawer and then shoved the insistent thing to the back of my mind (quite violently I might add). From there, I continued to write my book, finishing the rough draft. I thought that when I’d done that, and told myself firmly that I was NOT going to be starting that other story, that somehow the idea would cease to niggle in the back of my brain. That it would lie down like an obedient little doggy and go to sleep until I needed it. It didn't. It continued to wag and bark and run in circles, nails clicking on the tiles, tracking mud over the insides of my brain. It was driving me crazy.
For those of you that suffer from SNIS (Shiny New Idea Syndrome) there is hope. You have to power through the first draft of your original (and the current idea will stay shiny until at least halfway, until three-fourths of the way if you’re lucky) and then when you’re finished the first draft, you have that time, the time where you put the rough draft in the drawer in order to gain a little perspective. Most writers do this anyways, those that don’t have the symptoms of SNIS. We leave our work unread, sometimes for months, so that we can come back to it with fresh eyes. The good news is that when that manuscript is sitting in the drawer becoming more and more foreign to you, you have the opportunity to break out that shiny new idea and finally use it.
I am beginning to learn a number of coping techniques, or ideas that will help me ignore that shiny idea for just a little longer while I finish the last bit of my current story. Writing every new facet of that new idea helps, every bit that comes to you, make sure you write it down. I believe that a part of what makes writers itch to begin it immediately is the fear that they might somehow lose it. I'm scared the ideas might slip away and never return, leaving me bitter and confused.
So write it down, power through the first draft, keeping in mind that you WILL get to use that shiny new idea, but have patience. Remember that the story you’re working on NOW was once a shiny new idea, try to remember what you felt for that idea when you first had it, the enthusiasm. Rekindle the romance, don’t dump your old idea for the handsome new one. Not yet.
What about you, do you have any tips for powering through and finishing the old idea? Are you a sufferer of SNIS? If so, how do you cope with it?