If there’s something I love better than reading or writing, it’s thinking up new story ideas.
In fact, sometimes I can’t stop myself.
Sometimes I’m up to my arms in work, half-way through a book that’s been flying onto the page from my fingertips, and suddenly, a new, completely different story idea flits into the room. It’s a shiny new bauble, only partially formed, but I can see how, if I moved this bit around like that and pushed that bit around like this, that I could form it into a perfect story. …and then the story on which I’ve been working so hard, which was coming to me so easily before, which was so ripe and juicy with promise, suddenly shrivels up. It no longer flows. The creative dam as closed for it.
…but for this shiny new idea, the possibilities are endless. The characters spring to life as if they were merely waiting in the wings for me to describe them before they traipsed onto the stage. The new story is so easy. It flows, almost
gushing out like like a spigot with a broken washer.
And then a new, even shinier idea flits by…
…and the faucet dries up.
How does one focus with so many distracting baubles dancing in the air? And why can’t they come along at regular intervals after I’ve finished a first draft instead of right in the middle of it.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert, gave a TED Talk in which she described how in ancient Greece, these ideas (or shiny baubles as I see them), were called Genius and each artist had one that inspired him/her to create their great (or not so great) works. (Check out her full TED Talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” for more cool information.)
In the same TED Talk, Gilbert also explains how poet, Ruth Stone described her own experiences of poems as “thunderous” and that when she felt the idea for a poem coming on, she would have to run to find pen and paper in order to “catch” the poem… otherwise the poem would move on to another poet.
I can get behind both of these ideas about creativity and the muse. I feel as if the the genius is the one behind any current story that I’m on. It’s perhaps the thing that continues to help me pull words out of thin air and put them down on the page. But after awhile, it grows week and weary. It becomes tired of it’s own story and begins to trail off at the end of each paragraph. And then at the end of each sentence. And then at each word. Until it stops altogether because quite honestly, I’m not really interested anymore anyway. I’m more involved in this new idea that’s suddenly thundered into my mind. It’s that shiny new bauble and it’s so much prettier and more intriguing than that drying up story my genius is barely spitting out nowadays.
…perhaps I’ll just switch to this new story and pick up the old when it’s done…?
Except I almost never pick up the old story. It rots in some corner of my computer files, growing moldier and less temping with each passing day.
So how does one keep from going after the shiny new idea? How does one keep putting one word after the other even after her genius is deflating with each word?
So far the only recourse I’ve found is to simply keep my head down. To keep plodding along with the old story and try to ignore that flashy, new, shining bauble. To ignore most new ideas and quickly jot down notes on the ones I simply can’t ignore, but always return to the original story I was working on so that I can at least finish that story.
Has anyone else experienced this? What do you do to finish the story? Do you write down every idea? Ignore the old and roll with the new idea? Do you ever finish stories if you’re constantly picking up new ideas?