So you’re working on your latest project, just humming along… until suddenly, out of nowhere, lightning strikes.
It’s a SHINY NEW IDEA. And it’s the BEST IDEA EVER. But you have something you’re working on right now, and you need to get it done… but you don’t want this idea to disappear forever. I’d venture a guess that if it’s an idea you really love, it’ll stay with you even if you try to forget it, but if you don’t want to risk it but want to stay on track with your current project, what are you supposed to do?
First, find a blank piece or paper. Or a fresh page in your idea journal. Or a new, clean document in your Word processor. Grab a pen. And maybe a cookie (I find cookies definitely help with creativity).
Set a timer for 20-30 minutes — you don’t have a lot of time to spend on this, because you’re supposed to be working on your other project!
Now, bring that Shiny New Idea to the forefront of your brain, and start the timer.
1. Where does this idea take place, and when?
You probably can envision something about the time or place of this new idea, so jot that down. A quick date or a location will work to bring it back to memory later. If you see something specific in your mind, like a lake or a road leading into a city, write that down. Don’t know what city it is? Then it’s not important right now, because it won’t help you recall the idea later. Write down what you see in your mind, and move on.
2. Who are your characters?
Maybe only one person came to mind. Write down who she is, what she looks like to you right now, and everything that matters about her at this very moment, according to your new idea. Don’t develop new things about her, all you want are the key points that will help you recall this particular figure. If several characters came to mind, write down what you know about them too.
Remember: You don’t want to build them right now, just write down what’s in your idea. You have another project that needs all your focus and attention, and getting caught up in new characters could take you away from the current ones. We’re using key points here.
3. What are the stakes?
This is your conflict. Your idea. The thing that makes the Shiny New Idea wonderful.
If you’re the kind of person who starts with a character and then develops a plot, no problem — here’s where you’d make a quick observation about a conflict that your character could get into. If your New Idea MC is a dragon-hunting feminist priestess from the Order of Voluminous Tomes, she might get into physical conflict (dragons), social conflict (feminism), or religious/political conflict (priestess). You probably have some sort of very basic inkling of conflict for your characters, even if you’re not 100% there yet. That’s okay. That’s why you’re just writing this down now, so you’ll be able to recall and develop things later.
If you’re the kind of person who starts with an idea and develops characters around it, this will be the easiest step for you. Write a very, very basic & bare-bones outline of the idea that came to you. Do it in point form, so you won’t be tempted to sit there and elaborate on things.
4. Pick a genre.
This is quick. Just jot it down, somewhere on your page. If you’re not certain of the genre, pick a few and write them down.
5. Walk away, and allow your brain to get back to the task at hand… your current project.
Once you’ve written the Shiny New Idea down, you should feel a sense of relief. You’ve purged the idea from your head, and your brain no longer has to hold all these details close to the front of your mind out of fear that you’ll forget something. You can focus on your current project without worry.
You’ll probably find that something amazing happens now. Even though you’ve written your S.N.I. down, your Muse still flits back to it now and again, without you even trying to think about it. Your brain takes the idea and lets it heat up — like a slow cooker — making it better and better without even trying. Connections will be made. Conflict details will arise. Characters will start whispering to you about their favorite sweater, or what they always wanted to be when they grew up, or who they have a serious thing for.
And you didn’t even have to try. Write these things down if you want to, as they come to you, but set a timer each time. Stay focused. You don’t want to be the person that flits from idea to idea and never finishes everything! Which, admittedly, I often struggle with as well. (What writer doesn’t, at some point? )
Now you’re free to come back to the Shiny New Idea when you’re ready for it. And, for that matter, when your current project’s characters tell you it’s alright!