One of the most difficult parts of being a writer with a day job that I didn’t realize until I was no longer a full-time writer, is how difficult it is to keep your head on your current Work-In-Progress. (Aside: This month marks one year since I started my grant time, that wonderful four months where I got to be a full-time writer with no worries). When I was writing full-time, the majority of my day consisted of thinking of my characters, of writing about my characters, opening up one story and closing it off. Now my days consist of scrambling to get little ones to day care, struggling through morning rush-hour traffic, checking office emails, making clients happy—and above all, spending most of my brain power on my day job. My escapes tend to be daydreams that mostly involve new, great ideas. Because—for whatever great-cosmically-inspired reason—new ideas require less brain power than old ideas.
New ideas “just come to me”, they “fall in my lap”, “appear out of nowhere”, “must be really good if I can already see it”, and all of these little reasons I tell myself lead to the New Idea Trap.
The New Idea Trap is the reasoning that the new idea, the one you haven’t spent any time on, is the good idea. It is the one that someone will love enough to publish and give you a large advance for. The reality is that it is only good because you haven’t done any actual work on it yet. Just like the new job you got at Burgers R Us feels like it will be an amazing career where you make lots of money until you actually have to wake up at 6 in the morning to get to work on time. Work feels easy until you are actually working. Ideas are just ideas, they aren’t a book, story, or completed series yet.
So, how do you put aside those new ideas and focus on your current work in progress?
What I do is track my new ideas. I give myself a bit of time with them. I write a few pages of background, maybe a character sketch or two, I might draw a map or write the first scene. Then, often, the fire dies down. I begin to see how much work the New Idea is actually going to be. How much of my time the New Idea is going to eat up. And I see that I’ve already put so much time into my WIP that it is better to stay that road, and move onto the New Idea once I’ve finished my WIP, once I’ve felt that sweet, sugary bite of accomplishing my goal.
But I don’t lose track of my ideas. I keep them all tidied up a few journals, tabbed with sticky notes. I keep lists of these works. And one of my favorite parts of writing is when I finish one projects, and get to pick the next one from the list. I spend time reviewing each of my potential creations, and see which one captures my attention at that moment.
And then I get to work, again. Idea book by my side, to capture whatever stray ideas cross my path while I’m sitting at my (day job) desk.