How to Overcome Shiny New Idea Syndrome & Find Writing Focus
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Are you easily distracted by new story ideas?
There’s a reason it took me over two years to finish a draft of my first novel, and that reason is Shiny New Idea Syndrome. Every several thousand words into my book, I’d conjure up a new way to tell the same story and scrap everything I’d written to start fresh, convinced that my new idea was better than the last. Sound familiar, writer?
If you frequently find yourself tempted by new story ideas (and have often failed to finish a draft because of this), today is the day to break the vicious cycle. Let’s talk about how we can filter pesky plot bunnies to better find focus in our writing lives today.
Why do we struggle to finish our stories?
In the Western world, we idealize art as all-consuming. We’re meant to suffer for our work, tortured by absent muses and stubborn blocks until at last our masterpieces spring forth from the wreckage of fevered creation. But for most artists, this simply isn’t how our creative processes play out.
Art—and by extension, writing—is hard work. That much is true. But most successful writers don’t crank out stories in a matter of days or weeks. They work with measured consistency, recognizing the value of the slow and steady in bringing their ideas to life.
But because it’s no laughing matter to turn brainwaves into books, it’s easy to find ourselves distracted by new story ideas. Plot bunnies are pesky in that way, tempting us to jump down exciting new rabbit holes instead of finishing the stories we have at hand.
And because we’ve been fed the false narrative of fevered creation, all too many writers assume their new story ideas must inherently be of more value than the draft they’re currently struggling to finish. And so the cycle begins. By consequence, our half-finished works fail to fulfill our creative spirits. So how do we break the cycle?
To begin, it’s healthy to recognize that Shiny New Idea Syndrome is a common plague. You’re not in any way a poor creator for often wanting to scrap it all and start fresh. That said, story ideas aren’t pests meant to be shot on sight. If you try to suppress every new idea that comes your way, you’ll unwittingly train your brain to stem the flow of its imagination instead, effectively killing your muse.
What can we do about shiny new ideas?
If new story ideas aren’t pests, what are they? I apologize for my overuse of metaphor in this article, but stick with me. Plot bunnies may prove pesky during the writing process, but in actuality they’re the seeds of our imagination. They hold incredible promise, but if we plant them too soon, they’ll likely rise up to choke the work we have at hand.
Instead, we need to store our seeds until their proper planting season, nurturing our imaginations while pruning their output. How a writer goes about storing shiny new ideas for later use is, like many parts of the writing process, a personal choice. There’s no one right answer here. Personally, I keep a special file on my computer that houses any and all new story ideas that come my way.
If I conjure any details about these ideas during my free time, I don’t hesitate to add that info to my special file. Again, it’s not a good idea to suppress the seeds of our imaginations. That said, I also resist the urge to actively research or pre-write these new ideas in any way. I already have a story to write, and I recognize the value in honoring that.
Speaking of which, if I conjure an idea that pertains to my current writing project, I don’t immediately jump into action. Instead, I mull over that idea for several days or weeks, perhaps mapping out new arcs if I feel the idea might be worth pursuing. But in the end, I always make sure to heavily consider the change before writing a single word in that direction.
How do we remain focused on our work?
Unfortunately, distractions won’t disappear the moment you decide to get intentional about how you filter new story ideas. If your muse is alive and kicking, there’s no getting rid of it unless you want to kill your creativity in the process. And so it’s important to recognize that kicking distraction to the curb shouldn’t be your main objective.
Instead, we must learn to find the slow and steady focus that turns writers into authors. Steely resolve, here we come!
And that resolve? Well, we only begin to build it when we recognize that writing is indeed hard work. It’s okay to not enjoy certain parts of the writing process. You won’t be the first writer to like having written more than the act of writing itself. I’m right there with you. And so we recognize that writing is hard work, then find the best way to get that work done.
If an unrelenting work ethic isn’t woven into your DNA, here are a few tips for finding focus ASAP:
Tip #1: Get real about your writing schedule.
If you want to write with any consistency, you need to make writing a priority in your life. This doesn’t mean you must drop everything to build a daily writing habit. Consistency over the long term is of much more value than racking up a daily writing streak—no matter what some writers may say.
Figure out what your weekly schedule looks like. Not the ideal version, but the reality. Then search out the pockets of writing time that are currently available to you. If you don’t see any, look again. You may just be surprised to learn where your time is going. (Looking at you, Netflix!)
Tip #2: Explore Motivation Hacks.
Nearly every writer I know faces resistance when sitting down to write. The blank page can be one intimidating bastard, not to mention an 80,000-word manuscript in need of editing. If you’re struggling to overcome that initial hurdle, it’s time to employ a motivation hack or two. Here are some quick ideas:
Try writing sprints, setting a ten, twenty, or thirty-minute timer and working until it buzzes.
Work to a session minimum, such as ten minutes or 200 written words. If you find a groove, keep going!
Set a goal for your writing session, then employ a reward or punishment system. If you finish your work, reward yourself for a job well done. If you don’t, skip the reward or give yourself a “punishment.” May I suggest push-ups?
Try diving deeper into the root of your procrastination to find the right motivation pressure point.
Tip #3: Hold Yourself Accountable.
A key element of intentionality is accountability. If you don’t hold yourself to the resolutions you set, you won’t see the positive changes you desire. For some, holding themselves accountable is enough. If you know you’re capable of sticking to the goals you set, give my two-step method for finishing your novel a try today.
If you’re not so great at honoring your intentions, however, it’s time to get others involved. Reaching out to a supportive friend or family member may do the trick, but I’d also recommend getting involved in the writing community. I can’t begin to articulate just how encouraging I’ve found my relationships with other writers to be.
If you’re ready to jump in, why not check out our Well-Storied writing communities today:
Though your shiny new story ideas aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, I hope you’ve recognized the value of honing your focus as a writer. By prioritizing current projects, filtering those pesky plot bunnies, and building the resolve that will see you writing with slow and steady consistency, I have no doubt you’ll finish your novel in no time.