Idea Suppression: What Is It and Why Does It Happen?

I’ve found that when I focus hard one one writing project at a time, I don’t come up with new ideas for posts, articles, etc. as often.

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Don’t worry. This is not a science-y, filled-with-big-words kind of post. The nice thing about being a writer, and a blogger, is that I can make things up (I AM NOT A SCIENTIST, but I will never give you facts that are not true). I can create metaphors for things that can help us understand why writing is sometimes a total pain, and how to deal with it.

It’s for the greater good, of course. This all started with the fictional personality phenomenon and sort of just keeps happening to me. I am not a psychologist. So when weird things happen with my brain, I figure, there must be an explanation. Even if I have to create one.

Have you ever walked away from a stressful situation or project, thinking you were free, only to realize there was something – or many somethings – waiting for you in the shadows?

Ideas. I’m talking about ideas. Abstractly. Again.

Because as you know, ideas have a way of appearing at the most inconvenient moments. Unless you learn to hold them back until it becomes convenient.

I’ve found that when I focus hard one one writing project at a time – which, I am learning, is a better method for me to keep track of all my thoughts – I don’t come up with new ideas for posts, articles, etc. as often as I do when my work load is a little lighter. And sometimes, the moment I finish something and file that away, HELLO! Brain rush. Yesterday I wrote down about five new ideas for articles in less than five minutes. IT JUST HAPPENS.

But why?

It’s the same word I used above: focus.

Idea suppression is, when it comes down to it, a side effect of the kind of focus many writers take years to develop and refine. The one problem with being disciplined, after all, is that it’s possible to be too disciplined. Focusing on one thing, and one thing only, makes it nearly impossible to switch between projects and come up with new ideas, which is why it can take so long to get good at it. There is a time and a place for new ideas, but when you’re on deadline and you need to not think about new things until the old things are closed out and over with, you have to say “no” to that stream of ideas begging to rush in.

I don’t consider this a bad thing, and it happens to you, you shouldn’t either. Suppressing our ideas, temporarily, for the sake of very narrow and determined focus is probably a lot easier than having to stop writing every few hours to write down a new idea. There does need to be a healthy balance, of course – periods of idea generation followed by periods of development and production. If we constantly come up with new ideas, we’ll never have time to actually work on them.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of RESTING. Which I will admit, I am not always good at. But you HAVE to rest!

A rested brain, it turns out, is a better functioning thought-generating organ.

How, you might be wondering? HOW do I keep my ideas away until I have more time to work on them?

That, my friends, is for another post.

Until then … get back to writing!

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

What Is an Idea Journal, and How Is it Going to Change the Way You Write?

You cannot be inspired to develop an idea that does not yet exist.

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Putting ideas into words. It’s more than just a tagline for a blog about how to strengthen your skills and experience as a writer. It’s a broad description of what the writing process actually entails: taking an idea and writing about it.

Though we often venture beyond that step of the process, there’s something I haven’t really talked about as much as I would have liked to. Coming up with ideas really isn’t that hard, because most of the time, it happens unwillingly. You’re standing in the kitchen chopping carrots or whatever and then BOOM. New idea for a novel.

But … then what?

Ideally, you would take that idea, sit down and start writing. That doesn’t always happen though. There’s another step in between those two things. Generally, you get an idea … you are inspired to focus your attention on that idea … and THEN you bring that idea to life.

As I discuss in this month’s podcast, it isn’t as easy as going out and looking for inspiration to write. Because this actually ends up taking time away from writing. I need inspiration to write, so I’m just going to watch this movie about a semi-related subject really quick. Yeah … no.

The thing is, the inspiration you are looking for to work on your ideas is closer than you think. It comes from those ideas themselves.

That is why you need an idea journal.

What is an idea journal?

It’s nothing fancy or formal: it could be a spiral notebook, an MS Word document, even a Tumblr page or something similar. All it is, is a place where you dump all your ideas. I have a Google Doc that lists out all the ideas I have. No one else can see them. But when I have an idea, I immediately put it there. Nothing else goes in there. Just my ideas.

Now here’s why that’s important. You have some free time (just pretend for a minute). You think to yourself, “I should write something.” You stare at a blank page for awhile and then decide, “Maybe I’ll just look around the internet and see if anything inspires me.” Then it’s two hours later and you have accomplished nothing but pouring through 300+ cat videos.

Nope. The moment you say, “I should write something,” you don’t go to a blank document or even a project that already exists. You go to your idea journal. You pick through the ideas in that journal, pluck one out, move it to a new place, and start brainstorming. Outlining or drawing or writing: however you let your ideas start to form (there is no right or wrong way).

And before you know it, you’ve written 2,000 words and have to force yourself to take a break.

This is going to change the way you write

The key here is to separate out your idea generation time and your writing time. The thing I’ve noticed, both in my own writing process and that of others, is that we try to cram these two things together. We don’t give them unique attention. When we are motivated to write, but don’t know what we want to work on, we go looking for inspiration and never end up working on an idea.

Instead, we have to go straight to where our ideas are. We have to narrow our focus to just one idea at a time. And then we can build off of that idea and actually get some writing done.

Idea. Inspiration. Writing. In that order. You cannot be inspired to develop an idea that does not yet exist. Ideas come first. In spending time with those ideas, and nothing else, we suddenly find ourselves inspired to start creating. And then we enter into the time we have allotted to create – then, and only then, can we write things we really want to write.

I’ve actually tried this out for myself, and it’s scary how quickly things change. No more wasting time looking for inspiration to come up with a new idea. Collect ideas as they come to you, go back to them, and when you can, start putting them into words.

You can get access to new podcast episodes such as “The One Thing Your Idea Is Missing” by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Order. Chaos. Oblivion. (Midweek Novel Update #5)

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Science is weird.

There’s an entire theory about how the universe favors chaos over order, abstractly—the exact opposite of how some of us (cough cough) prefer to steer our own lives in said universe.

Entropy has unintentionally become a motif throughout the still-less-than 30,000 words that make up the most current draft of my novel. (By the way—my 30,000-word-slump theory? Still going strong.) However, my characters view the concept a bit differently than a chemist or physicist might.

As a writer will often do, I have taken a scientific theory and twisted it to coincide with the plot. Which I can do, because the book is set in the future and theories change shape over time IRL.

There is a character, we’ll call him a psychologist though it doesn’t mean quite the same thing in this context. He has a theory about behavior—specifically that the reason people act out and misbehave is because what people thrive on to sustain themselves isn’t order at all, but instead, disorder.

Which would explain why Character Q is in a detention facility but has dedicated his life to helping other people. Why the one former leader of their society, best known for her faults, has impacted the course of the political system more than anyone before her.

The book as a whole has three parts: order, chaos and oblivion.

I’ve worked my way well through Order and have mapped out most of Oblivion. It’s Chaos that’s making this project … well. Chaotic.

It doesn’t help that my to-do list feels chaotic, even though it really isn’t, and I haven’t been putting as much time into writing as I would have liked to over the past week. I don’t just post #WriterProblems for the fun of it, you know. I have them too. Sometimes I try to prioritize and novel-ing just doesn’t make it close enough to the top of the stack.

The thing about my 30,000-word slump theory (that when you’re writing, Wrimo or not, you hit a wall around 30,000 words—it happens to me every time, I wish I were exaggerating) is that it’s almost like the very top of the world’s largest roller coaster. Once you make it past that point, you can potentially knock out 20,000 more words in a week without really trying.

It’s not a real theory. I’m only going off my own experiences, but give a shout-out (comment) if you’ve ever experienced this. I hope I’m not the only one.

That sudden rush of thoughts and ideas and words, that’s the only kind of chaos I can handle. It’s the kind of chaos you can barely even call chaos, because it’s so thrilling and freeing and wild, you can’t help but just run with it.

This would be the worst possible time for this kind of thing to happen to me. I have an exam next week and other commitments I need to be ready to tackle, and while I can continue to make sure I write at least a little every day, I can’t guarantee to myself that I’ll be able to write thousands of words per day until after next Wednesday.

Yet I yearn for it. That chaos. That moment my ideas and my words are in sync and I don’t have to think, I just have to write.

Maybe it’s not science that’s weird. Maybe it’s just our brains.

I suppose, if good stories are the product of weirdness, I shouldn’t complain.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

How to Say Yes to Your Ideas, and No to Your Need to Control Them

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Not all writers bear the Type A label, but if you’re a writer who loves to-do lists, you know how hard it can sometimes be to carry a new idea from start to finish.

It’s not that you can’t finish it. Sometimes you do. It’s just, in your mind, never going to be exactly what you want it to be. It’s never going to be the best story, the best dialogue, the right wording, the perfect ending.

The key to creation is to let your ideas take the lead. You are the writer; you need to maintain some control. But you need to share it.

Here’s how to say, “Yes!” to your ideas, and “No” to full control.

Deep breaths. It’s okay. You can do this.

Repeat This Phrase: “There Is No Such Thing as a Dumb Idea”

There are, however, ideas that don’t work out, ideas similar to ones that have been carried out recently and ideas that are great, but not for right now.

You’ll never know whether your idea is one you can work with or not unless you let it begin to unfold in front of you. Sometimes an idea that makes you feel uneasy at first can turn into the best short story, poem or book chapter you’ve ever written.

If it doesn’t end up working out, that doesn’t mean it was a “bad” idea: it may just need to undergo a little metamorphosis before it’s ready to come alive.

Greet Your Idea the Second It Pops In to Say Hello

Okay, practically, this doesn’t always work. You can’t throw down a project at work and pick up a notepad or stand up in the middle of a lecture and proclaim your idea to the overhead projector.

Well, you could. That would probably be counter-productive in more ways than one.

If you’re in a place where it’s possible to open up a Word document or the Notes app on your phone, jot down something that will help you remember your thought. In general, if a new idea comes to mind and you’re already in the middle of another side project, let the idea start developing. Don’t ignore it. While it needs time to come to form in your mind, it also needs attention: neglect it for too long, and it won’t be easy to coax it into cooperating with you later.

Get Ready to Work Hard and Be Terrified

Tape this sentence to your wall: Writing is hard. For some, writing sentences comes easy, but putting those sentences together in the form of a “good” story is not something anyone can do in a day. It’s challenging—but so, so rewarding.

Successful writers work hard. Even if they don’t tell you that, they do. Not only is it hard work: a good idea can actually be scary. It’s the “this is a cool idea other people might like it holy crap what am I doing I never write stuff like this” feeling, a feeling very easy to close yourself off from. Don’t.

You’re not calling yourself the best writer who ever wrote just because you have an idea that makes your heart race. Crave this feeling. Let it carry you through the tough writing days. If your idea is a great one, it will pull you along, not the other way around!

Your ideas are yours: they are special because they are unique. Just like your identity as a writer. Treat your ideas the way they deserve to be treated: nurture them. Let them make their own way in this world (with your constant supervision, of course). Have faith in them. Have faith in yourself.

Say yes to your ideas. Give up your control, and watch them take flight.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.