What’s Holding You Back?

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The moment I step away from my computer (aka, every time I stop working and give my brain a break), I get a new idea. A lot of times we find ourselves wondering why all our ideas find us in strange places: in the shower, making dinner, cleaning out the garage.

Places are full of inspiration, and there’s no doubt location plays an important role in the new ideas we stumble upon when we move from place to place. But it’s mainly the act of stopping, of looking away from a screen long enough to let in the new idea that’s been waiting in the doorway, that unites us with new ideas and starts bringing them to life.

As I’ve been working on my book the past few months (no, I’m not done yet), my workouts, and yes, even showers have been filled to capacity with new ideas for stories. Most of them stories and projects other than my current one. I’ve had ideas for short stories, songs, even an idea for a musical (it may or may not have involved coffee).

Yet I haven’t written a short story in over four years, all my song lyrics (when I remember to write them down) consist of four-line stanzas or less, and though I’ve written one T.V. show pilot (at least I think I finished it) I have never written a script for a play or movie or musical, ever.

I think an important quality of successful, influential writers is their ability to write in more than just one genre. There are a lot of stories out there, but there’s never just one way to tell them, and sometimes some stories are better told, for example, in the form of a play than they might be in the form of a book. I don’t want to just sit around and write novels: I’ve been saying that for a long time, and that’s why I write articles and occasionally write scripts for videos that may or may not ever actually become things.

But I love writing short stories and songs and plays, everything. So why am I stuck in this rut of writing a book, trying to finish this book, wondering when I’m finally going to be done with this thing, when I could easily do my daily novel writing, open a blank document and start writing something else?

Maybe you’ve been here, stuck between what you’ve already accomplished and what you hope to achieve someday. So let me ask you: what’s stopping you from taking that step, moving away from what you’ve already done, finishing what you’re doing and moving on to something else?

People tweeted about George R. R. Martin during the Emmys last night. “Please go home after this and finish the book already,” they said (or something to that effect). I wrote a really insensitive Dear John post a few months ago about the same thing, and I’ve left it up and am linking back to it now because I don’t try to hide my mistakes. To show that no matter how many posts you write, there’s something to learn from every new thing you do, whether it was a good idea or not.

I understand now, why it takes good writers longer than we’d like to move forward with their work. It takes a lot of effort to look back at what you’ve already done and decide you still want to go back and do the exact same thing, on top of everything else you still want to do before your time in this world is over.

What’s holding you back? Maybe you just don’t know what the next thing will be. Maybe you don’t even know if there will be a next thing at all. Maybe we’re just meant to do only one thing at a time, because we’re human and we can only do so many things well at the same time.

Or is it something else?

Are you ready to plow through it, to finish what you started and dive right into the next thing?

Or did you not even know you were standing in your own way of whatever’s coming next?

Image courtesy of Flickr.com.

Five Questions You’ll Ask Your Latest Story Idea

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We talk a lot about ideas here at Novelty Revisions.

Why? Because ideas are like small children, and figuring out how to handle them when they crawl into your lap can be a real struggle.

A lot of things can happen when you get a new idea. You’re going to have a lot of questions about how to “raise it” right.

Here are a few things you’ll probably wonder—maybe even out loud—when that time comes.

1. Where did you come from?

Like really, which part of your brain did this mysterious thing live before now? Because you’re pretty confident in your own general level of sanity, and this doesn’t seem like something a relatively sane person would come up with on the spot.

 2. Can this wait?

You have a thousand things going on, not to mention real-world responsibilities and things to pay for. There isn’t time to start on a new project. Especially if you’re already working your way through one. 

3. How much longer are you going to keep me awake?

It’s 2 a.m., you were already up late glued to YouTube (admit it), you have stuff to do when your alarm goes off in three hours. This is the time of day your brain is supposed to stop bothering you, not the other way around.

 4. What am I supposed to do with you?

Okay … so maybe the idea itself isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s a pretty decent one, actually. But can you make it a short story, just to give it some attention? Does it need 50,000+ words to feel fulfilled? What does it want to become?!

 5. Would you mind if I introduced you to a friend of mine?

Sometimes, talking about your ideas with someone close to you can ease any frustrations or concerns you have in response to their unexpected arrival. Working your way through your thoughts, verbally, can do wonders for your conscience.

Ideas are prone to spontaneous appearance. And they do not like to share your affection. They will immerse themselves so deeply into your thoughts that everything—working on other projects, sleeping, functioning as a relatively sane human being—seems impossible to manage.

But ideas, when you figure out how to manage them, have the potential to become the best, most worthwhile parts of your life.

After all … they’d be nothing without you.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Can Ideas Die?

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No one has really figured out how to explain to “non-writers” how writers “come up with” their ideas. But an idea is an idea. Entrepreneurs, inventors—there are plenty of forms an idea can take. Explaining how ideas “come to you” isn’t as important as what you do with the ideas you do grab hold of.

As far as stories go, ideas are just part of the process. Sometimes you don’t realize how many you come up with in a given period of time, but when you do, you certainly rarely find a reason to complain about it.

But once you get an idea—is it a forever companion?

Ideas are abstract, but it’s possible to better understand the process of creating and constructing when you use a metaphor. Here, we think of ideas as “born and developing.” It sounds a bit odd at first, but it makes more sense when you break it down.

Ideas have a sort of “growth cycle”

Often, out of nowhere, an idea spontaneously forms in your brain. We’re not scientists, so we just call this magic. And it really can be quite magical, that moment you realize something has appeared in the deep, mysterious depths of your mind that wasn’t there five seconds ago.

Ideas form, and ideas grow. The more you nurture them, the more they develop and mature before your eyes. This process continues even after your original idea becomes a finished product—let’s use a published book as an example. That book started out as just an idea only you could access. Now it has become something sharable with anyone who wants to enjoy it.

Not every idea you have will grow to its full potential 

This is, in a sense, just part of life. Not every story idea you have will make it all the way to a published book. This is where the steps of the process get a little fuzzy.

There are some ideas you will try to nurture and just don’t have what it takes to make it very far in the cycle. This might mean laying aside a project you’ve already put a lot of time and effort into—but don’t get discouraged. It does not mean you are a terrible writer, or a failure, or that your idea was “bad.”

Some ideas just try to move through the cycle in a way that isn’t working right now, either because you need to give it more time to develop, or because your idea has begun to form—but there’s a smaller piece of it that’s trying to get your attention while buried under other fragments. 

What does “giving up on” an idea really mean?

“Giving up” isn’t the best way to think of the process of re-evaluating your ideas. There’s just an overly negative connotation there, one that often makes writers feel like every project they start that just isn’t working somehow makes them less of a success.

Instead, think of setting a project aside as “giving it time to settle.” When we reach out and encourage you not to give up—what we really mean is, don’t lose faith in the great ideas you do have. Let’s return to something we wrote above.

Sometimes a great idea forms—but along with it come everything you unintentionally associate with that idea, like movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read that remind you of it. That’s always going to be there. And sometimes what stops us from being able to write a promising, original piece is the fear that we are copying someone else’s work too closely.

Strip that idea down to its roots. Separate it out into its smaller fragments. You might have a story idea about a teenager who loses his only parent and goes on an adventure in search of the other. Not so original, right? But is there another element underneath that’s really the intended focus, such as him avoiding college applications because he doesn’t want to follow in either of his parents’ footsteps?

Outline your story, if you have to. Find the part of your idea that’s really reaching out to you. It might be the missing inspiration you’ve been searching for.

So now we return to our initial question: can ideas die?

The answer: no. Like us, they get exhausted. They get worn out and distorted. Sometimes we try to manipulate them so much into becoming what we think we want them to be, their true identities seem to disappear.

But you can bring them back. Even if it means putting your current story aside and giving it time to rest, and remind itself what it really wants to become.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.