Writers, like all creative people, hope to never run short of ideas. Unfortunately, focus problems plus an abundance of ideas add up to distraction. There are several terms for this, including but not limited to the more popular two: Shiny Object Syndrome and Plot Bunnies.
When these distractions arrive, two lines of action are possible. You can abandon the current project to begin the attractive new idea with all your effort, or you can continue your current project and shelf that new one in the to-be-addressed queue with the others. Neither are easy, but you can only be typing on one project at a time. Even juggling both ideas, which is the choice of some, means the writing time available is split and progress slows down.
As with most common creative issues, there’s no one right answer for everyone. Instead, consider the motivation for both options and make an informed decision based on you, your purpose, and your projects.
Artistic Worries: Catching Butterflies
The biggest threat would be forgetting that gem of an idea. Simple solution would be to write it down, but to what extent? Where is the limit between just making a note, sketching an outline, or starting the draft? That would be a personal line to draw.
The next concern would be a quick loss of motivation to start the story. Maybe it won’t sound nearly so exciting by tomorrow? Perhaps you’re not motivated to write on your current work in progress (WIP). Then that new idea may be the only hope of getting any word count at all today? Side projects and short works can refresh the mind when used to ”massage the muse”, but the bigger concern is whether this new thought, with all its energy and inspirational fire, will mean putting the WIP aside for a considerable length of time. This could possibly kill it completely.
Many authors like to let an idea age before really dedicating work time for it. An idea for a large work should sweeten with time, growing in depth and complexity until there’s an abundance of material for the actual draft. The spark for a short work should retain interest over a period of time as well, whether it’s a particular image burned into your mind or a phrase that demands to be explored. Setting that idea down and letting it rest for a while doesn’t always translate to never getting to it. Instead, it could be a test to see what’s left after the sparkle wears off. You don’t want to invest in a rhinestone when you thought you bought a diamond.
Business Concerns: Investment and Risk
Speaking of investing, the greatest resource for a writer’s work is time. This is work time, the hours available for dedicated typing, scrawling, revising, editing, etc. Whether writing or pursuing some other hobby/art, know your desired payout. If you write for fun, then the question of whether or not to jump at the more interesting idea isn’t really a question. If it’s more fun at the moment, then go for it! However, if you’re writing to share your projects, finishing what you’ve started is a higher priority.
Writers hoping to sell their work have a cost/benefit issue at stake when deciding which project to tackle. A few concerns include asking if the work is marketable, will it appeal to the current publisher, and how will it reflect the developed branding. These aren’t easy topics to answer, but they make far better business sense than panicking that the idea will just flutter away unless it’s brought in out of the cold.
There’s also a high business concern about the WIP. How much time has already gone into the project? How does that translate to money? If the current project is abandoned, there’s going to be a long-delayed or non-existent return. The work has been done for no gain. Though the skills developed over the course of the writing may be useful, that’s far from a check in the bank.
Even if the quality of the draft tanks at some point in the draft when your interest wanes, editors and test readers often help revitalize the revision process with their experience with project. While you may be sick and tired of the characters, world, or some other element, others will be seeing them for the first time. That excitement and curiosity is an excellent boost for flagging interest.
Having a lot of excellent ideas is a wonderful thing! Complaining about having a distracting new project is, to some, like whining that your wallet is too fat, or your dessert too delicious. The real struggle is weighing why you want to leave your current project, and what you plan to do when this new one loses its shine too. Write on, and finish up!
Shiny Object Syndrome | Passion for Business (excellent in that this addresses the same problem across industries)