I don’t know if all writers are like this, I suspect many are, but I can never read more than a few pages of a good book, fiction or nonfiction, without discovering some idea for one of my own stories. It’s not that I want to copy it, there’s just a trigger, something that fires my creative neurons and I have to stop reading and jot down a note.
The first rule of writing is to write.
There are a bunch of other rules about how to do it.
The last rule of writing is, to write.
I know I am not alone in suffering from the Shiny Object Syndrome. I have told myself often when I’m working on an outline, or sketching scenes for a new work, that I’m just getting my ideas down before I forget them. While some of that is true, largely it is an excuse to spend time with a shiny new object.
I discovered recently that I had so many works in progress that I needed to set goals and due dates for those goals. That resulted in a schedule and a checklist which became my writing to-do list. That worked well for several months but then I stopped to think about the ultimate due date for any work. When would it be finished? I am a slow writer and given my time-sliced method I found that it would be nearly two years before the first work was finished.
The solution I found is really simple, and I may be the last to figure this out, but what I needed to do is trim the number of goals and the number of projects being worked on concurrently. Now I have a goal that equates to a single task: complete first draft of novel X by May 30th. I’m taking the 31st off.
There are probably many advantages to this but there are three which matter most to me. First, I can focus all my creative energy on a project. I am resisting the inevitable, “I’m not feeling this story today” syndrome and remaining focused on a single large work and a single short work until each draft is complete. The second advantage is that I get a completed draft sooner. Rather than have three or four drafts finishing within a month or two of each other—three years from now— I get one at the end of a few months. Hopefully.
The final and perhaps best advantage is this: my work will get better with each project. By working serially each project will be better than the one before. It is inevitable. Under my old way of working I would end up with three novels at the same level of craft and three years later another three novels that are a little better. By the time I get to my sixth novel I want it to be much better than my first, not just a little.
The shiny objects still pop up from time to time but I deal with them quickly in the form of notes and get back to the current project.
Write. Write to completion. Edit. Submit. Write again.