Too many ideas! 5 ways I decide what to work on next.

There’s been many a moment during the past 5 months of this pandemic craziness where I have felt stuck, unable to write. I would go to work (thank the goddess I still had a job), come home, watch Netflix, exercise, and go to the supermarket a couple of times a week. Lots of my energy was spent cooking and eating.

At other times I have felt an overwhelming urge to let my creative juices escape the confinement of my head, as they bubble to the surface and threaten to drown me in their tempest. This, of course, has created a new dilemmas for me (and us writers are all about our internal dilemmas!).

Dilemma – with lots of ideas in my head, how do I choose what to work on?

I’ve developed a few strategies to address this common conundrum. Feel free to use them or take them as a springboard to develop your own strategies.

  1. WIP – Work(s) In Progress

This strategy is about prioritising my works in progress, and focusing my energy on the most important ones.

Currently I have two works in progress. WIP1 is a novel, of which I have written about 40% of the first draft. WIP2 is a novella idea (or potentially a series of novellas), of which I have written 0% but have started an outline.

In this strategy my novel is my top priority, and when using this strategy I remind myself of this, praise myself for what I have achieved so far, and set a short term target for what I want to achieve next (e.g. 2000 words, complete a chapter, etc).

This is the main strategy I use as I have made a commitment to myself to completing this novel within a certain timeframe.

Which brings me eloquently to strategy number two.

2. Deadlines

I am really good at writing plans, developing structures, making notes, and setting personal goals. I am really crap at following those plans and achieving those goals. I’m the type of creative with a wandering mind.

Except when there is a deadline.

This closing date for entries to a writing competition, or for submissions to a magazine. Or a deadline set by someone commissioning a piece. It doesn’t matter where the deadline comes from, as long as it is set externally, i.e. not set my me!

This approach to writing works well for me, and I have never missed a deadline. I find external restrictions help me focus my energies and channel my creativity into a finished product.

This probably also has something to do with my desire to please people and not let them down, but we’ll leave that conversation for my therapist.

3. Distraction

Ah! My favourite strategy for deciding what to write next.

This is one of the simplest strategies, whilst simultaneously being the most procrastinating. It involves writing whatever I want, regardless of what I should be doing.

This strategy ignores priorities, deadlines and expectations. Instead it’s all about instant gratification. What do I want to do right now?

This may sound negative, but distraction has it’s place. Writing a short story or poem can help explore a new style, get an idea out of my head and into a format I can work on later, or be a strengthening exercise.

Regardless of the purpose of the distraction, I still take pride in the fact I am writing. Which, after all, is the point of being a writer.

Sometimes, a good distraction is exactly what you need to get back on track.

4. Inspiration

This strategy is about harnessing creativity. It is aligned to the concept that ideas come to us from the ether. Let me give you an example.

Last week, while sitting on the train on the way to work, I looked out the carriage window and saw the empty streets and dull buildings whooshing by in the grey morning light. Everything was deserted and depressing.

Objectively I knew this was because the city was in lockdown due to COVID-19. But creatively, this scene, and my relationship to it, inspired contradicting whimsy and melancholy in me that inspired a poem.

I immediately took my notebook out of my bag (I never go anywhere without a notebook for this very reason) and started scribbling out the poem as it flowed into my head.

This is inspiration. It’s like creativity is passing through me from some external mystical source, and I am being given the opportunity to capture it and turn it into something of my own, something I have created.

For me personally, this strategy takes priority over all others. When inspiration strikes, I just really want to get something down on paper. I may not work on it again for days or weeks, or never, but in the moment it feels like the most important thing to do.

5. Learning

As a writer constantly looking to improve my skills, I regularly enrol in courses that spark interest for me. Currently I am enrolled in two online course – one focusing on dialogue and one focusing on point of view.

When working on my WIP or another piece, I may find myself feeling stuck, or questioning what I am doing or how to express myself. If the scene I am writing is related to the course I am doing, I may choose to stop writing and do a couple of modules or look back through previous modules, to clear my head and bring confidence back to my work.

All the courses I do have practical elements where you are given opportunities to complete a short writing task to practice what you are being taught. These exercises, and continued learning in general, are good ways for me to maintain focus on my writing, and keep myself motivated.

So that’s it. These are the five strategies I use to decide what to work on next. This blog post, for example, was a combination of strategies 3 & 4. Now it’s done, I can get back to my novel and finish that chapter!

Happy writing, y’all!

Published by davidmckwrites

I am a writer from Melbourne, Australia. I am currently working on two writing projects. The first is a contemporary gay novel about a man experiencing growth and change after the end of a relationship. The second is a collection of novellas following a private detective in Sacramento as she solves missing person cases with the help of her four spirit protectors. I also write poetry, short stories, plays and film scripts.

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