What do you do if you get a better idea for a novel while you’re writing the one you’re on? Should you go write the new one, or should you show a little persistence and finish the old?
Ron posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
After months of research and Snowflaking I started writing my first novel, an action oriented spy story based on true events with a lot of twists in the plot. I enjoy writing it, but a new story has emerged in my head and it really wants to get out. It’s about a recently divorced father trying to get a grip on his life, but falling in love with his teenage son’s girlfriend. No exploding helicopters here.
Though I’m neither teenage nor divorced, I really enjoy snowflaking this new story and all the Powerful Emotional Experiences I can put into it.
My dilemma and question for you is: should I finish my spy story first or should I go for the second, possibly more inspired story?
Randy sez: There are a couple of factors you should consider here before you abandon Story #1 for Story #2:
- Author readiness. Just how close to getting published are you? (You might want to read my article on the publishing roadmap before you answer.) If you’re a Freshman or a Sophomore, then your first novel is very unlikely to get published. So there’s no real point in switching to a new novel. Save it for later and finish the one you’re on now.
- Story quality. Just how much better is this new idea than the one you’re working on? It sounds like an interesting idea, with shades of American Beauty and various other movies and novels thrown in, but unless it is staggeringly better than the story you’re writing now, I’d say you should stick with the one you’re on. You don’t want to get into the habit of abandoning every good idea you ever have as soon as a new one comes along. If you do, then you’ll never finish anything. Finishing is always a good idea unless you’re working on a story that you already know is hopeless.
So Ron, unless you’re an advanced writer AND this new idea is amazingly better than the old one, I’d say to put it in the bank and save it for your next story. That’ll give you some motivation to finish the one you’re on.
I have an “idea file” that has several different ideas for books in various stages of composting. This guarantees that I’ll never run out of ideas.
What do my Loyal Blog Readers think? Have any of you ever abandoned one novel for another? Why did you decide to switch? What was the result? Post a comment here and tells us all about it.
I’ve been out of town twice in the last two weeks. The first time I went to Houston to teach a one-day conference for the Northwest Houston RWA. The second time I went to Denver to do a similar one-day conference for the Heart of Denver Romance Writers. Both weekends were great fun and I met a lot of new people. I got to hang out with my friend Margie Lawson and I met several of my Loyal Blog Readers. So it was wonderful, but also exhausting.
I’m glad to be home now for the rest of the year. I don’t foresee much travel during the next several months. Which means I’ll have a bit more time to blog. August through October are always my busy season.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
I often leave one story for another, well let me clarify. When I hit a rough spot in the project I am working on I usually need time to figure things out so I work another project. However I do have roughly two possibly three projects I switch between. In the shifts I make huge progress, but the way I do my work it takes between. I am working on making changes.
I would suggest not jump to another project unless you have something that is causing you to not work around a problem writers block, or something.
I’ve been in a similar boat recently, though my muse is trying to get me to jump ahead and start working on the sequels to my current project. So in my case I have to follow Randy’s lead and tuck them away in the “idea file” as they pop up.
But at this rate I’ll have the next five books ready to go by the time I finish the first of the series!
Kaj Sotala says
It’s been my understanding that lots of authors have several book projects that they’re working on at once, so that if they get bored with one project, they’ll just switch to another. When they get bored with that one, they can switch back.
That strategy sounds good and intuitive to me: were I in Ron’s position (and I have been many times!), I’d consider switching over, with the provision that I wouldn’t be abandoning the first story, just leaving it on a break.
I also keep a couple idea files on my computer. When the scenes or dialogue come to me for these futures books, that’s where I put them. I already have ideas for four more books after I’m done with the series I’m currently working on.
The nice thing about that is when you’re finished with the book you’re on, you won’t be sitting there twiddling your thumbs, wondering what to do next. You just pull out a file and start working on that one 🙂
I agree with Randy. It’s always good to finish what you’re writing before starting something new.
If you’ve only been planning and haven’t started writing yet, I don’t see much harm in switching projects.
The “idea file” is also a terrific idea.
Jonathan Cain says
I don’t know if this is true for anyone else, but I feel like at this point in my writing, I am more focused on ideas than anything else. I just can’t make myself sit down and write a story about one of them, because I invariably feel like the idea isn’t “fleshed out” enough to be worthwhile.
This makes me think of my idea file kind of as a “quilt” and each idea I have, whether it is for a character, a theme, or maybe conflict as a “patch” that I use to build my quilt.
It’s working for me so far, but I still haven’t gotten to the “Once upon a time I had a complete story” phase of my writing yet.
Davalynn Spencer says
I’m polishing a story that is finished, fleshing it out, going through it and applying snowflake tactics, etc., etc., because an agent asked for a full manuscript. But while all this is going on, I jot down ideas, scenes, questions, and character traits for other stories that pop into my head at inopportune moments. I have several computer files under working titles for other books, and I drop those ideas into the appropriate files.
In the meantime, am determined to finish this current novel (for the fifth or sixth time) because I’m nearly sick of it. Does anyone else end up foundering on their WIP before it makes the final cut?
By the way, great conference in Denver, Randy.
Randy sez: Hey, Davalynn, it was good to finally meet you in Denver, after seeing your name as one of my blog regulars for so long! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with killing a story idea that just isn’t right. But I believe pretty strongly that you should finish the book you’re working on if it’s a decent idea. I know a lot of published novelists who hit the wall about 30,000 words into a novel. They moan that this book will be the worst piece of shlock ever published and that they can’t get out of it because they signed a contract. Then they buckle down, finish the book, and discover that it turned out a lot better than they thought it would.
I’ve been doing EXACTLY this since I started writing over 10 years ago.
In the first few years, I completed 2 children’s novels by hand … but because I had rejections for those 2 novels, I started to doubt my ability to write. So as I started a new novel, I’d have these doubts, then I’d put the novel aside and start another one that I thought was a better storyline, then I’d put that one aside and start another… this went on for years until in the last 2 years I reached a dreadful situation where I would begin a story, and within a few days I would begin another, and then I’d put that aside I’d begin a new novel in another genre; and then I’d stop and start another one with a new writing system …
Sounds crazy right? It has become a most dreadful habit that has expanded into other avenues of life – I’ve begun an English degree, abandoned it; begun learning a new musical instrument, abandoned it; begun formal studies in Mathematics, abandoned it; begun studies in Ancient History, abandoned it … But thankfully my desire to write and be published has not gone – just has been put on the shelf whilst I started and stopped these other ventures.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my “stop and change” habit is directly linked to the internet. I basically mimic the manner in which I surf the net … it’s as if my daily life has become a mirror for “surfing the net”
I came back to the Snowflake system only recently because I recall Randy saying that he’s spent thousands of dollars in books and courses learning to write and has basically condensed his learning into the one system that seems a most logical and all-encompassing manner to write a story. Well after spending quite a lot of money myself and become so steeped in debt that I cannot possibly spend another cent starting anything else, I’ve yearned for the innocent days when I wrote by hand and submitted in hope.
These last few weeks I’ve been mulling in my mind a story idea that I’m going to snowflake but this time I’m putting my computer and internet in the other room as I work the guts of it. Identifying the “start & change” habit has cost me years of honing in on the craft of writing and I won’t make the same mistake again. When you’ve clearly identified the problem, you’re able to solve it.
I often find another idea pops into my head while writing the current book, so i keep the idea alive as no good if you have a blank page when the current WIP is done and sent off.
The conference round sounds great, Randy.
I did MuseOnline and it was really great meeting so many people, but tiring
Lois Hudson says
I’ve had ideas since I was a pre-teen (many moons ago) and I saved them all, first in handwritten notes on scraps of paper, and through the years entered into computer files.
I’m currently in the process of interweaving characters from four completely different stories into one small town in order to have a series. So, yes, as I place them “on the map” and into the lives of each other, I occasionally switch back and forth.
I realized I couldn’t go ahead and finish current WIP
without knowing how the other characters might impact the story. But rather than full-blown writing, I often just write snatches of scenes or dialog or interaction that can later be woven into any of the stories.
I’ve always had the full stories in mind for all of these, but connecting them has been a great exercise.
Slower progress, perhaps, but more complete overall.
This always happens to me. Before, I always used to abandon the old novel for the new one, but eventually I used to run out of steam for both and be right back to where I started. (I have so many novels in my folders now that are anywhere between 1000 to 20,000 words done) Nowadays, new ideas still come but are put into a particular word document that begins with the line, “To truly stay one step ahead, you must have your next idea waiting in the wings.”
I know how you feel. I’m in the Freshman stage of my writing- well really I think I’m just visiting the campus with my parents looking forward to my freshman classes. Anyway, I used to keep a journal with my ideas. I’m snowflaking (never thought I’d use snowflake as a verb)one story now but I have a bunch of story ideas in my journal. The problem- I rarely go back to read it and my notes are generally stream-of-consciousness, which some writers can pull off, but I’m not one. I can barely read the stuff myself.
But, I have found a solution. I’ll give you a hint so I don’t seem like an obvious brown-noser. You can get it on this site, it comes discounted if you buy a Dummy book, and its very PROfessional. Ok, so it’s Randy’s Snowflake Pro. I’m currently working on a story now, but when I have an idea, I just open up a new file, type in a few notes, and there you have it, waiting for you to update as new ideas come. So if my current story folds, or better yet succeeds, all I have to do for the next one is open up the file, and I have an idea, some plot lines, and some characters already waiting for me.
Shirley Corder says
Thanks for the headsup but here’s a warning to all those who want to go for it. I went to the Kindle site and sure enough it’s marked as free. I then clicked on it and discovered they’re still charging $11.89. I clicked to the next page (DUH!) to see if it corrected the price, and it promptly put the order through . . . at $11.89. I’ve written to complain but you may want to check that out as well.
Sigh. Okay, so the book is for dummies, right?
I’d have to agree with you, Randy.
I’ll be working on this story, that I once thought was so amazing, but then I get an even better story idea, and I’ll abandon story #1. It’s been so difficult, as I’ve gotten in the habit of doing this. It seems that every story idea that I get is always better than the one I’m working on.
I Worked on my first novel for two years, and had many other ideas while working on it. I just put each into a word document and any time a brilliant twist or character jumped into my head I would go there and write it down. Then get back to my original.
Now that said I got to a point in my first novel where I am done the first draft but am so frustrated with it and the amount of editing it needs from rookie mistakes that I have shelved it and started my second novel using both snowflake pro and writing for dummies, going thorugh step by step to avoid those mistakes.
That said when I get to the point where I need to let this manuscript rest prior to editing I intend to tackle the first one again. Most likely keeping only a few key scenes, but won’t know for sure until I look at it again with fresh eyes. So I haven’t truly abandoned one for the other. I love and intend to finish them both. If you like your first one I would tough it out and finish it. You will learn alot just from getting it done. I know I did!