Friday, April 8, 2016

“Too Many Ideas” – How to Prioritize Good Things

We all have ideas.
Some ideas are better than others, and some people have more ideas that other people.

Sometimes, people get really, really good ideas. Fantastic ideas. Have you ever had one of those? I hope so; the feeling of having a fantastic idea is exhilarating. It makes you want to smile. A lot.
Which is unfortunate for writers, because our good ideas are usually stories. And people start to worry when you spend a long period of time smiling at a word document.

So. How many ideas do you have?
I know a few writers who have dozens of story ideas, and I know a few writers who have maybe two. They’ll finish one idea, then come up with another, while the other writer has to plough through their pile of stories to be written.
For instance: I currently have nine story ideas that I’ve collected over the last fourteen months (one of those ideas is a series of thirteen books, so that’s really twenty-one novels all told). This isn’t counting those ideas which are finished (and there are plenty of those, too).

Ideas come and go all the time. Some of them we forget, some of them we remember.
What do you do with all those ideas?
Obviously, you can’t write them all right now. You could try, but you’ll burn out before you finish them. Instead, you have to pick an idea and run with it until it’s time to pick up the next idea.
Okay, that’s pretty simple, right?
Well, it is until you reach this question:
What do I do first?

Of all the questions to ask, that’s a hard one to answer. But I’ll try, like I always do, to come up with a solution that amuses you just as much as it actually answers the question.

The Very Beginning

To quote The Sound of Music, the beginning is “a very good place to start”.
So I suggest we start there. The beginning.
When you have idea, start at the beginning of the idea. Usually, this means developing it, caring for it, thinking about it, and outlining it.
I wanted to make this short and sweet little point to remind you: jumping in head-first isn’t always wise. You might find a school of piranhas waiting for you.
Sometimes ideas need to wait. Sure, your story just looks so cool and inviting you just want to jump right in. Don’t. Instead of plunging into the idea without any sort of consideration, stop and think about the idea. Some ideas end up becoming failed ideas. And that’s okay. We all have to fail at some point.
Now I don’t want you to wait so long that you never start. Even as you wait you can be preparing; as you consider the idea (especially as you consider it for clichés and plot holes), outline it. Develop the characters. And keep an eye on the time. If you spend enough time with the story, you’ll come to realize whether or not it’s worth pursuing.
Once you know that, don’t wait any long. Never wait for inspiration for your story. Instead of waiting for inspiration, wait for insight.
Insight, in this case, is the ability to look at your story and say “this is a good idea”. When your story looks worthwhile, it’s time to write it.

The “One”

No, I’m not talking about your “one true love”.

We all have that one (or sometimes two) idea that is it. It’s our big one, our brainchild. Of all our story ideas, this one is our favorite. We treasure it and can’t wait to write it. Because it’s going to be awesome. This story will be the defining moment of your writing because it is your story.

Do you ever fear writing it?
For a while before I started Agram Awakens, I was a little nervous. I knew I wanted to write a High Fantasy series that was gritty and real and deep and long.
At the same time, however, I didn’t want to ruin it. I put it off, waiting for that magical time of being “experienced” with life. A lot of people say that it takes life experience to know something well. That you have to be really old before you can write on some subjects because then you’ll be all wise and whatever.

Um… maybe not?
As I’ve said before, there’s no use in waiting for inspiration, and the same can be said of experience. If you wait until you have enough “experience”, you’ll never start writing.

All the same, it can be daunting to start writing “the one”. This is the story you don’t want to mess up. After all, you probably want this one to get published, you want this one to be your legacy, right?
Then here’s a piece of advice: don’t start with the “one”.
If you haven’t written much before, I want you do write something before you start the pinnacle of your career. If you start that high, you can’t get much higher.

Rather than being concerned about messing up your best work, start with something else, a different idea that you love, but isn’t your favorite. Then, when you’ve gotten your feet wet, start the big project.
It’s what I did with Agram Awakens. I wrote a pair of fantasy novels, a steampunk novel, a futuristic satire novel, and a half a dozen novellas before I started it. This is the “one” for me. I want it to be fantastic.
It’s going to be gritty. I tackle ideas like racism and religion and faith and love and hate and patriotism and humanity. Some of those ideas might seem “mature”, especially for some like me (a highschool senior) to be tackling.

But if I never tackle them, I may never understand them at all.

Don’t wait forever to start your brainchild story. If you do, you’ll never start and a beautiful story will go wasted.

Picking One over the Other

So this all very nice, right?
But what about actually picking the story?

All these thoughts about “waiting for insight” and “being okay with starting your brainchild” are nice, but what about the rest of the ideas?

It’s easy to look at your stack of story ideas and say “I love them all I can’t choose”.
You’re going to have to.
Because you can’t write them all at once, you have to decide which story to write first. So I want to give you three things to consider as you choose:

1) Be willing to change you list. Before you even start your list of ideas, I want you to do this: if a good idea comes your way, be willing to change the order of your list to incorporate it. Otherwise you’ll be in turmoil over the idea because it’s /fantastic/, but you feel obligated to write all these other ones first.
Don’t do it.
2) Start with those you know best. If you’ve developed one story more than another, write the developed story first. It might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating. Write what you know first, then take a little while to develop that which you don’t.
3) Whatever story you’re currently writing, take the time to enjoy it. Writing isn’t simply about finishing the story. It’s not just about getting something published. It’s about telling stories you love, the stories you want to read. As you write, take time to fall in love with the characters and the world. Let the setting and the people become wonderful in your eyes. The more time you invest in your story, the more it will show in the final draft.

When the Time Comes

Some stories have to wait.
You’re busy with writing one story, perhaps, so the other has to wait. Or perhaps you need to research nuclear physics before starting (been there, done that), so that story has to wait.
And it’s okay.

Whatever story you decide to write first, whichever idea you pick to start your list with, choose to write it well.
And the second one… I want you to write that one well, too.
And the third.
All the way down the list, all the way down as it grows and changes and becomes a compilation of wonderfully complete stories.

Related Posts:

Featured Post:
Complaint. Delete. Moving On. (Sarah Elizabeth) 

*unrelated note*
There’s a slight (slight) chance that a few of you will notice the pages (About the Forge, In the Forge, and Contact) may appear empty or odd at times this weekend. Please pardon that and bear with me as I revise them.


  1. Thank you! This came a very opportune time for me.