Sorting the Jumble

Sometimes when you’re an artist you will find yourself seemingly bogged down by more ideas than you know what to do with. When you are a writer this can be both a blessing and a curse. Some authors find themselves putting out two, even three novels a year at times. If you are at all familiar with the publishing process you will know that this is absolutely not an easy feat. Often times when you submit a book to a publisher you’re looking at somewhere between 3 and 6 months before your final product arrives in your hands – and that’s if you aren’t asked to do an extensive amount of editing. Of course, there is the running theory among the fans of some of these authors that there is a safe somewhere housing dozens of completed documents the author finished ages ago that they just toss out and update if they’re stuck on a piece. Regardless of how you look at it, the fact is that someone who can produce that many works with that amount of regularity certainly has a gift.

So how does it work? Some people can go through life and never get a single story idea at all, so how can others produce dozens of books in just a few decades? The simple answer is that such authors and artists have found a way to not only open themselves to new ideas, but to hone in on certain ones and tame their imaginations enough to allow them to focus on the task at hand before diving into another. Personally, this area is one that I could stand to work on a bit if I hope to ever find my works on the shelf of my local bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, I can get ideas from just about anywhere, and often find myself working on multiple pieces at once, leading me to having more unfinished projects than I care to admit at times. Just in the last couple of weeks I found myself stumbling across I think four new novel ideas and one or two short story ideas, one of which I sort of started in a messy, lazy sort of outline. Before I go any farther here, let me elaborate that I am in no way complaining. I would rather have an excess of ideas than not have enough, but for some it can pose a true problem when trying to figure out how to manage the load.

So what do you do when this happens? There are two (probably more, but I’m only focusing on two) answers to this question, and they can be much more difficult than they sound. The first and preferred method for me is analyzing and looking deep into each idea that is currently on your mind. Look at these pieces, study what you already know about them, figure out what you still need to know about them and think of them all individually. Often, I’ve found, if you look at all of your ideas together and as an individual one will stand out more than the others. You may find that you already know more about this particular piece, or it may even just be that there is more urgency involved with one of them, as if this piece itself is more urgent to be written. Obviously, you take the piece that you know most about or the one that feels the most right and you run with it. If just focusing on the pieces doesn’t help clear the matter up, then you should take the step a  little farther.

If you’re the type of person who does an outline for your pieces, then try outlining them all. If you’re the type who will jot a few plot notes down and then feel ready to dive in, do that. Whichever of these two methods works best for you (and there may well be a post in that topic alone) is the one you should use, of course. Or, for those of you who  haven’t really used either but want to give it a shot, maybe try both if you find yourself in this situation. Once this process is completed for all of your works you may find that your answer has come to you in much the same way it did for those who found the first way helpful. Of course, if this isn’t the case and you still find yourself confused about which work to focus on, then just look through your outlines and/or notes and pick the one that you wrote the most about. That, I’ve often found, is the one that your brain is going to be most comfortable pushing forward with.

Now, for those of you who find that focusing doesn’t clear up the jumble and your outlines and notes are all just about the same length for every potential piece, then my suggestion is that you either take all of the knowledge that you have put on paper and give it a day or so to ‘cook’ and develop into a more solid possibility, or, if that doesn’t sound very appealing to you, then just pick the first idea that came to you (chronologically, or just for this experiment, whichever works for you) and run with it. You’ll often find that if this isn’t the right choice your mind will quickly let you know. Once the piece is settled and has asserted it’s place as the front-runner, you should be able to narrow your scope of ideas and charge into production. Of course, if you’re like me, this probably won’t stop the flow of ideas from coming. Fortunately, the methods I’ve put down here can be used as often as needed and will usually be very helpful.

One thing you may run into, however, is that your answer to the ‘which novel should I write first’ quiz may change every time, which is the issue I’ve run into numerous times. If this happens to you, don’t fight it. Follow your mind and let the story flow as you would any other time, being thankful that you’ve been given such a blessing. Eventually, no matter how many stories are on your to-write list you’ll get  to them all.  Granted, if you’re lucky enough for the ideas to keep coming right up until the day your own final page is written, maybe you have someone you can leave your notes to and they can carry the remaining pieces on in your honor!

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2 thoughts on “Sorting the Jumble

    • I was one of those “write it now” authors for a long time, but the longer I am in the craft and the more ideas I have I’m planning more and more. It seems like if I don’t at least lay out a basic plot structure it weighs me down and consumes every thought in my head.

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