Many authors have trouble finishing a book. They start working on one project only to get sidetracked by a new idea that they’re dying to write. So they shelve their current project and start on the new story clamoring to be written. If that’s you, don’t distress. I think most writers go through this phase at some point in their growth as a writer.
I used to find myself bouncing from one story to the next, never finishing a book. I would start working on a project I was super excited about, get 150 pages in and then get distracted by another idea that I just had to start working on right away. So I would put manuscript A aside, promising myself I would come back to it later, and start work on manuscript B. Only problem was, I would write 150 pages on manuscript B and get distracted by another story idea. See the problem?
The result is a dozen half-finished books stored on an external hard-drive that in all honesty, I’ll never actually finish. And it’s too bad, there was some good stuff in there. Real magic.
The siren song of new story ideas is an ever present threat, but if you ever want to get published, you need to follow Odysseus’ example, stuff wax in your ears and keep typing.
Here are three ways to stay on target.
- Realize the danger in switching horses midstream. It seems like a good idea at the moment. You will be super excited about a new idea and eager to start on it right away, but it will result in a never ending cycle of half-finished manuscripts and regret. That alone should be enough to keep you on track.
- Do a plot outline on the new idea. This may sound like it runs counter to point one, but bear with me. When I’m working on a draft of a book and inspiration strikes, I give myself permission to start an outline in my idea notebook. That doesn’t mean I’m actively working on the project. I still force myself to meet my 1000 words on whatever I’m working on. But once I’ve hit my word count for the day, I’m free to open MS OneNote and work on the outline for the new idea, jot down ideas and make character sketches.
This method pays of in spades. Often, by the time I have finished a first draft, I’ve got three other novels already outlined. I can pick the one I’m most passionate about and get right to work.
- Realize that the idea, if it is any good, will still be with you when you finish working on your current project. Most of the time when writers allow themselves to get sidetracked, its because they fear losing the idea. They get a great idea for a story and think, “If I don’t start working on this right away, I’ll lose it and it could be my bestseller.”
The reality is that if an idea is any good, it will stick with you. As a writer, I get two or three story ideas a month. Most of them catch my interest intently for about a week and I can’t stop thinking about them. But after a week or so, ideas that I was sure would be a bestseller have cooled off and I put them at the very back of my idea notebook. The ideas that have real promise, those are the ones that I can’t stop thinking about. I don’t even have to write them down. If they have any potential at all, I’ll still be simmering the story at the back of my head three or four months after I got the initial inspiration. I have gotten to the point as a writer, that I don’t rush to jot down every idea. The ones that fade and disappear weren’t worth writing anyway. It’s the ones that won’t let go that need to get your valuable time and attention.
So don’t rush to change projects. You won’t lose the really good stories. If the story has potential, you’ll still be obsessing over after you’ve finished whatever you are working on.
Bonus tip 4. Use your inspiration for that new idea as a way to make yourself work a little faster. If I’m really keyed up to work on another project, I use it as motivation to wrap up whatever I’m working on quickly so I can get on to the next book.