This piece originally appeared on the ACFW blog on April 14, 2016.
The idea comes to you in a flash of brilliance. The plot, the setting, the characters all jumble together like a kaleidoscope of words just waiting to be brought into focus by you. You eagerly sit down in front of the computer, fingers poised over the keyboard and a fresh, blank document open on the screen.
Is there anything better than starting a new story? All of that promise just waiting to be realized fills a writer’s heart with joy.
But what happens all too frequently is that the new idea comes knocking at the door when you’re in the middle of your current work-in-progress (WIP). It’s hard to keep plodding on the manuscript you’re with when a new love comes to town.
When that great story idea bursts upon your consciousness, here are five tips to stay you focused on the WIP—and not alienate completely the seed of perhaps your next novel.
Remember that the grass is always greener. The story you haven’t started will inevitably appeal to you more than the story with which you might be wrestling. The new story doesn’t have any flaws or hiccups—it’s pristine and beautiful to the behold, while the current manuscript might have bogged down in the middle, had an ending change or character flaws.
Remember that all stories have to grow up. The new idea is only in its infancy, in which it is cute, cuddly and without many of the problems or pitfalls a fully grown story will have. Yes, it appears quite charming now, but give it time to grow up and it will resemble your current WIP.
Remember that ideas come and ideas go. The idea you think is fantastic now might fall apart after the first couple of chapters. Sometimes, stories sound better in our heads than they do on paper.
Remember that putting the idea on paper looses its power. Take half an hour to jot down enough details to capture the essence of the idea. Once you have written down the storyline or plot points, you will be free to return to your WIP with a clear head.
Remember that finishing will help you start. The more we leave manuscripts unfinished to start a new story, the harder it is to bring any story to its denouement. Having the fortitude to finish the story—even if it’s one that will never see the light of publication—will help you become a better writer.
By allowing the idea to flourish in its proper place, you will be able to concentrate on your current WIP. And remember that the storyline will wait for you as long as it takes. That’s the beauty of ideas—they can be very patient things.