I’m a flighty person by nature. I am easily distracted by internet browsing, bribery involving food or fun, and shiny objects. If there is something interesting happening out in the world that seems better than what I’m doing right now, I switch focus. You can imagine that this does not bode well for my writing projects.
This tendency of mine to quickly bop from one thing to the next means that I am particularly susceptible to the Sexy New Idea. The SNI is a dastardly foe to writers. It distracts us from our current projects, and if not carefully managed, can lead us along a path littered with the unfinished scraps of many a manuscript.
One of the most common solutions to the SNI affliction is to keep a notebook where you can jot down Sexy New Ideas as they come to you. This way you won’t forget them, and you’re free to let them go and get back to the project at hand. Oh, if only that worked for me.
Sexy New Ideas that take root in my brain tend to demand at least a few scenes before I can let them go. I can’t just jot down a few notes and leave it be. I have to spend some time with it, develop it ever so slightly, and construct a couple of characters having a moment. This gives me the best sense of what this story wants to be. Otherwise, I come back to a half-cocked idea scribbled on my bedside notebook and have zero recollection of where I was going with it. I can’t seal an SNI in my memory without putting some real imaginative effort into a scene that will allow me to jump back into its world later on.
So there are Those That Say you shouldn’t pursue those pesky SNIs because of their penchant for encouraging procrastination and unfinished business. But sometimes those SNIs show up to give you a message. Maybe you’re not fully invested in your current project. Maybe it’s not working. There’s no use in struggling to finish something that may not be worth your effort.
My current project is still worth the effort, but I have been struggling mightily with it nonetheless. At first it was gentle resistance, with me passive-aggressively refusing to play well with it. That soon spiraled into outright resentment, however, and I began hating everything from my lead character’s name to its complete inability to turn into something fun.
At that point, I went back to a Sexy New Idea I had put together when I started last November’s NaNoWriMo. Though I failed early on to complete anything close to 50,000 words, I did really like my character and thought her world was loads of fun. So to distract myself, I spent some time editing and re-writing a good chunk of it and sent it off to my writers’ group with the caveat that this was, indeed, a Sexy New Idea.
And they loved it. They still love my work in progress, and feel there’s even room for them both, but they also really encouraged me to consider my SNI as a possible new current project. My SNI may have accidentally usurped my WIP. (Fun with acronyms!)
One of my group members made the point that lots of writers go back-and-forth. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one OR the other. Maybe it can be one AND THEN the other AND THEN the first one again. Given my aforementioned flightiness, I feel this may be the way to go. I’ll work on one WIP until I get bored or frustrated, then turn to the other. Or I’ll work until I get inspiration for one or the other. I think I can handle two simultaneous projects without them bleeding into each other. They are very different.
Do you have to multi-task to succeed? I do this with books as well, and constantly juggle competing reading interests so it shouldn’t surprise me that I do it with writing too. Do you read multiple books or work on multiple projects to stave off boredom? Or for other reasons? Or are you best when focusing on a single thing?