Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Getting Your Novel to the Finish Line: Resisting the Shiny New Idea (Part Three)

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

So far in this series we've talked about getting past getting stuck and staying focused enough to write. Today, we'll look at a very common distraction when your WIP gets tough. The Shiny New Idea.

The Shiny New Idea is a tempting creature, frequently appearing when we’re stuck on or bored with our current work in progress. For whatever reason, something new becomes extremely appealing. Since we’re still working on a story, it feels like we’re being productive, until we step back and realized we’ve written the beginnings to seven novels and haven’t finished a darn thing.

This type of distraction is typically due to either a discipline issue or a plotting issue. Either we don’t have enough discipline to stay at our keyboards and work, or we don’t know enough about the story to actually finish it (for new writers, sometimes we just don’t know enough about writing a novel yet to know what we need to do or what we need to ask to move forward).

Is this you? When a new idea hits you, you stop what you’re working on and go explore it. You keep working on it until another new idea hits you and then move onto that. You write a few chapters of an idea, but then reach a point where you need to know more to more forward, and you haven’t actually thought that far ahead, so a new idea feels both exciting and easier to work on. Beginnings are easy for you, and you love setting up stories and creating worlds and characters. You love the ideas and thinking about how the story will unfold more than the actual writing of that story.

Most often, the Shiny New Idea just seems more exciting and fun than what we’re working on. It has all the promise of a new book—it’s fresh, it’s mysterious, it might be easier to write, etc.—and none of the problems our current book has (at least, not yet).

In order to get past the Shiny New Idea, first figure out why you want to abandon your current project.

You’re Bored With Your Story

You loved this idea when you first started it, but now, the love is gone. You don’t want to work on it, it’s an effort to spend more time with it, and you can barely get two pages into it before you start drifting off.

Sometimes this happens when we’ve revised a lot and everything about the story feels old and tired. If you’ve started over or reworked the beginning multiple times, feeling bored by the idea is pretty common. Nothing is new anymore.

Is this you? Have you stopped telling people about this idea? Do you no longer talk about it with your writer friends? Are you feeling like writing is work because there’s nothing interesting pulling you back to the keyboard?

Getting past it: Take a break and don’t work on anything new for a week or two and see if your interest in the project changes. Sometimes once the initial rush of an idea is over we feel like we’ve done it and it’s hard to get excited again. If a break doesn’t rekindle the interest, maybe moving on is a good idea. However, if you get bored with every new project around the same time, that suggests a larger issue than just boredom.

It Has a Problem and You Don’t Know How to Fix it

You hit a snag in the story and you have no idea how to move forward. Maybe it’s something about the characters you don’t know yet, or it requires a skill that seems too hard to master right now, or the plotting or world building needs a lot of work.

Is this you? You actually want to stick with this project, but every time you work on it it you hardly get anywhere. You’re reworking what you wrote more than writing new material (often hoping things will start working again), and it’s getting frustrating. You find yourself looking for any excuse not to write, though a new idea appeals to you because you want to write. Deep down, you suspect (or know) that there’s a problem with this story that’ll take a lot of work to fix.

Getting past it: Look at the project objectively. Why are you walking away from it? Do you want to work on it but it seems like too much work? Do you feel stuck on how to write it? Analyze (or find some beta readers to help you) your project and determine what’s causing your loss of interest. Once you do, brainstorm ways on resolving that issue. If it’s a skill issue, practice that skill or find folks who can teach you how to master it. If it’s a story issue, work with critique partners or writer friends and find your way past it.

(Here's more on salvaging a half-finished manuscript)

You’re Scared You’re Not Good Enough to Finish

Writing a whole novel can be daunting, so if you never move beyond the beginning, you don’t have to face failing in the end. It’s easier to move on and write the easy parts that are fun and less demanding—and no one expects much from it or you.

Is this you? You’re scared that you’re not really a writer and you’ll never be able to finish a whole book. You have so much you don’t know (either about the story or the process) it feels overwhelming. You don’t want to share your work with anyone who might be able to help you for fear of criticism or verification of your fears.

Getting past it: Understand that we all suck at first (and not nearly as badly as we fear). It’s the nature of first drafts to suck, and even some pros with multiple bestsellers under their belts still write crappy first drafts. Until we get the story down and see how it unfolds, we can’t fix any problems. And you know what? Your first draft might be just fine. But you won’t know until you finish it, so take a deep breath, shove those fears aside, and get that first draft down. As one of my favorite authors says, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

(Here’s more on writing the crappy first draft)

You Didn’t Like it That Much to Begin With

Let’s face it—sometimes we start a project because we think it’ll sell, we want to jump on a trend, or everyone is telling us we ought to write that kind of book. But we aren’t all that enthused about it, so as soon as something we do care about comes along, we’re out of there. If you started this project because it seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe your heart’s not it in.

Is this you? A Shiny New Idea gets you excited, sparks your creativity, and makes you eager to get to the keyboard in a way your current project doesn’t. You don’t have anything against the current project (the writing is fine, it’s working, people like it) but it’s just not wowing you. You’re not sure you’d read this kind of book, let alone write it.

Getting past it: Move on to the Shiny New Idea. We’ve all started books that just didn’t work, and there’s no shame in abandoning a project we’ve not enthusiastic about. If the love for the project ever comes back, you can always return to it.

You Lack the Discipline to Finish

If Shiny New Ideas are a common problem for you, face the fact that it might be you, not the projects. Maybe you prefer the rush of the new idea, the inherent potential in a story, but you’re not willing to put in the work to complete it. No matter what you start, you won’t finish it until you decide to change your ways and focus on your writing.

Is this you? You’ve never finished a project, and every one you started has been abandoned for a Shiny New Idea. You like to talk about your ideas, but don’t dedicate enough time to actually writing them. You like the idea of writing more than doing it. Even though you like to write, it just feels like a lot of work a lot of the time. It’s more fun when it’s easy.

Getting past it: There are no easy answers here. It’s all up to you to find a process or system that will keep you in the chair writing when you want to move along. Try recruiting friends or family to help keep you focused, setting writing goals to keep you on track, promising yourself a treat for hitting your writing goals. Even when it’s hard, do what you have to do to stay put and keep writing. Make a deal with yourself to finish one novel, even if it stinks.

If you’re really having a hard time, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) could help. Find a local group and write with them to hit those 50K words. Doing it for a month might just give you the discipline (and confidence) you need.

(Here’s more on staying focused enough to write)

You’re Looking for Something “Better”

If your focus is more on being published than writing a book, it could be leading down the Shiny New Idea path. You’re always looking for the right idea to land you that agent or publishing deal, and if you read about a hot trend or see a bestseller and it sparks an idea, you chase it hoping for the same outcome. You don’t really care about what you’re writing, as long as it’s good enough to hit a bestseller list or land at a big publishing house. You’re more concerned with selling it than writing it.

On the flip side, maybe you’ve had a run of bad luck with submissions and you’re gun shy, second guessing every project and jumping on whatever you feel might finally help you sell that novel. You doubt yourself and your project, and you’re flailing to find something to help you move ahead in your career.

Is this you? You doubt your project, even if people are telling you they like it. You find yourself thinking about the marketing aspects of the book more than the plot or story. Outside influences are triggering the need for a new project, such as reading about what an agent is looking for, or seeing a novel getting a lot of good press and attention.

Getting past it: Keep reminding yourself that you can’t sell a novel you don’t finish, no matter how good or marketable the idea. Write that down and hang it in your writing area so you don’t forget it. Finish what you start so you can submit or publish it. Trust that you have the skills to do it, and if you truly feel you’re lacking a skill, then stop everything and learn it. Markets change and book trends are always years old by the time we see them on the shelves. You’re better off having a manuscript you love than a story that fits a trend that’s oversaturated and dying out by the time you get there.

(Here’s more on chasing trends)

Shiny New Ideas tempt us for all kinds of reasons, but in the end it’s up to us to find the strength to resist them.

This wraps up my three-part series on getting your novel to the finish line. You can find the first two articles at:

Have you even been tempted by a Shiny New Idea?

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Thank you! I fall into the "It Has a Problem and You Don’t Know How to Fix it" category. I'm beginning to see a pattern in my writing; the shiny new ideas come to the forefront when I'm stuck (usually in the middle) of a current WIP.

    My question: Do you think the new idea could be worked on while the current idea's problem has caused a halt?
    I know there is still a risk in not finishing a book but I hate the idea of not writing anything while my brain searches for a solution.

    1. Sure. People juggle projects, and there's nothing wrong with that (unless you do this all the time and never finish anything, and that's making you unhappy)

      You can absolutely set something aside until you figure out how to move forward.

    2. Oh, if you're getting stuck in the middle a lot, I suggest adding a midpoint reversal. It's a plot point in the middle of the book that shakes up the story in some way, and gives you something to plot toward for the first half of the middle, then something to drive the plot on the back half as you move toward the climax. It's what helped me overcome my own middle issues back in the day :)

      Here's a link to get you started:

    3. Thank you! I like the idea of plotting to certain point then changing things up. I could see this as a way to keep motivated; seeing the book as 2 or 3 miniparts.

  2. I believe I fall into the "It has a problem" category. I used to move onto the next project until the problem with the other finally came to me.

  3. There's also the inspiration demon who tempts you with a new idea when the adrenaline is no longer there toward the end of the book and you're going into withdrawal.

  4. Thank you, Nicole,this is just what I needed!