We’ve all been there. You’re down to the nitty gritty bits of your manuscript. You’re not quite sure how your character gets from A to B, you’ve written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out, and your enthusiasm just seems to have stalled.
And then, lo and behold, this other idea starts turning over in your mind. The more you think about it, the more your new idea looks better than the one you’re currently working on. It’s exciting and bold! You start to wonder whether you should leave your current manuscript and work on this new idea. It’s got you excited, it’s got your brain working again, clearly it’s better… right?
This, my friends, is Shiny Object Syndrome.
It’s pretty easy to see how it happens, but if you’re anything like I was (and still am sometimes) you’ve probably found yourself surrounded with a bunch of half-written manuscripts that you’ve never quite got around to finishing.
So how do you move past that dull feeling you’ve got for your current manuscript with this exciting new idea hanging in the sides?
- Take just one hour to write down all the things that excite you about your new idea
Of course, first things first, you’re worried that you’ll forget your idea if you leave it and we can’t have that. If you don’t already keep a writing journal, now is the time to get one. Take some time to jot down all the things that excite you about this idea, where you think it will go, any details that are lingering in your head.
Whenever something new comes to you, quickly jot it down in bare basic detail in your journal. Don’t write particular scenes and avoid trying to write as if you’re writing the manuscript; you are simply info-dumping. Because for now, you’re going to keep working on your current manuscript, so you need your brain space to be focusing on your current world. Get your ideas out onto the page so you know you won’t forget them, but then let that space be overwritten again with your current project.
- Go back to what excited you about your current manuscript
Once upon a time this current manuscript was an idea as shiny and new and exciting as your new one. What was it that made you so excited about it? Why did it become so important that you had to write it down?
If you’ve got a writing journal from those original musings go back to them and look over them again. You’ll realise how far that little idea has come since you first started thinking about it. You’ll also start seeing what some of the threads were that interested you most. It may help you focus your attention again. Which brings us to our next point…
- Ask yourself what’s stopping you from writing your current manuscript
Shiny Object Syndrome often hits hardest when we’ve got some form of writer’s block. Maybe it’s because there’s a problem with your manuscript that you’re avoiding dealing with. Maybe you went off on a tangent and need to come back to the main plot. Maybe there’s something you still don’t know about your characters and their motivations that you need to learn before you can take it any further. Or maybe the scene you’re writing is bringing up some pretty strong emotions and you need to put some self-care measures in place to help you cope with them while you write.
Or, and I’d hazard that this is probably the most common reason, maybe you’re afraid that your writing isn’t good enough. In which case, I’m going to share this Ira Glass quote which my friend sent to me last week when I had this very same thought:
‘Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is a lot of work. Put yourself on deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.’
Once you’ve identified the problem that is keeping you back from your current manuscript, it often doesn’t feel so hard to deal with anymore. You can make a plan. Whether it’s restructuring, backtracking, or to just keep going, once you get back into it, you’ll probably find that your enthusiasm returns.
- Use your new idea as motivation to finish the current project
At the end of the day, your new idea excites you and that’s not a bad thing. Use that excitement! Tell yourself that you’ll be allowed to indulge your fun new idea when you’ve finished this current manuscript.
The best thing about this technique is that you’ll then have something to move on to while your current manuscript sits and rests. You can then go back to your finished manuscript a couple of months later, when you’ve finished writing the next one, with fresh eyes for the first stage of self-editing. You’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t more clearly, and you’ll be able to pick out where you need to focus your energy.
So if, like me, you find yourself swayed to leave your current manuscript in favour of something new, hopefully this will help you start building up that body of finished work that you need to truly make your ambitions come true.