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Over the past year, I have written down a number of ideas for novels. I have attempted to focus on a sole idea, and tried to write my novel based on this idea. However, I have far too many times found myself looking at other ideas, as a result moving on to write an entirely different novel. Whenever I do this, I end up deleting the previous novel and have gotten nowhere near finished. Even now, I am on the first chapter of my latest idea. I want to stick with this novel, but I can't get rid of the other ideas that threaten to replace my current idea? How can I fully remove them from my mind to ensure a finished work as soon as possible?

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    Why are you deleting your previous works? Keep them - you may find a desire to return to them later. – Tim Mar 1 '17 at 0:46
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    Have you ever considered compiling all of your ideas into a single piece? – Kyle Li Mar 1 '17 at 1:25
  • Welcome to Writers, James. The close vote on your question isn't mine, but I suspect it's because this is a bit of a chatty, open-ended question. To avoid it accumulating more close votes you might want to focus the question into something that can have a single, canonical answer. For more about this, our tour and help pages can guide you. Again, welcome to the site and I hope you get a lot out of it. – Neil Fein Mar 1 '17 at 3:21
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    You don't have a writing problem, but a psychological problem (lack of focus, lack of discipline). We cannot help you with that. Maybe, if it also affects other areas of your life, you need to see a psychologist. – user5645 Mar 1 '17 at 6:39
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    Yes, exacty - WHY THE HECK ARE YOU DELETING PREVIOUS WORKS!? - Many writers work on multiple novels simultaneously. Letting a novel sit idle for half a year until you gain new distance to it is actually an encouraged step. Your problem is not excess of ideas, it's that you discard previous ones! – SF. Mar 1 '17 at 13:21
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Keep a notebook or a folder on your computer's hard drive, and do a brief plot outline of the new idea. File that, and return to it after you're done with your current project.

The process of writing something down will often help to get it out of your head.

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    Yes, and then you won't feel like you're losing something valuable - because you can always integrate the idea into your next novel. But first you gotta get there! – user14025 Mar 1 '17 at 0:16
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    Sometimes, just acknowledging/honoring a new idea by writing it down and saving it will do the trick. When your subconscious or conscious mind offers up something, that part of you needs validation. Writing and saving it provides that and lets it know it was heard. Many times, such ideas are more a part of a process than a final result and letting that process flow rather than blocking it will make it easier for your mind take the next step toward the goal. It's like brainstorming where no ideas get eliminated until later when you analyze the results. – Joe Mar 9 '17 at 23:19
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One Choice Cuts You Off From All Others

This is a common problem for authors since many writers begin writing because they are interested in a number of subjects. However, spending a lot of time with one subject makes you feel as if you are ignoring all the others. It's not completely true however, and that is why a notebook may help you with this -- to simply tell yourself that you'll get to those other ideas later, after you finish this one.

Get To The Root of Your Distraction

You may need to get to the root of the reasons that you are so distracted by other ideas.

There are a few reasons why this problem may occur:

  • Your subconscious knows there is something flawed about the story you are writing and it's attempting to let you know, but you aren't picking up on it. This is not mean to sound mystical, but instead what I'm attempting to say is that our minds are amazing and are doing far more than we know.

  • It is a subject that you really aren't interested in. It is possible that by the time you've written X number of words you've explored the subject to the level you find interesting and after that, there isn't much left. The subject (or treatment) simply isn't enough to build a story around and by the time you've written some you lose interest. It is what it is. Every Writer's Fear

  • Every writer's fear is that s/he will spend long periods of time writing a novel that is completely worthless -- which no one wants to read and even the author believes is a waste of time.

To beat this, you'll need to convince yourself that there is value in spending time with the subject at hand.

Can you convince yourself that the writing is valuable, even if it is only valuable to you?

Here's another entry I wrote here at SO writers that touches upon motivations for writing that you may find interesting: How to keep writing?

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    Fear/lack of confidence may also be behind some of this. You can't fail if you never finish a work and show it to others. You don't have to be good to write. You get good by writing. Maybe telling yourself that you never "have to" show it to anyone else will help you stick to one story and get it done. Years ago, I wanted to write song lyrics, so I did. Most were abysmal, but I learned from it and ended up with a couple I'm happy with. – Joe Mar 8 '17 at 8:58
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    @Joe Those are great additional comments. Reminds me of the great saying, "No one ever became perfect through inaction." Trying stuff will rarely meet our perfect ideals but only by trying stuff do you get anywhere. – raddevus Mar 8 '17 at 14:06
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I have the same problem and my solution is to write short stories (10000 words max.) instead of novels.

Benefits: First, there are skills you can learn only by writing complete works. That is, you cannot get good at characterization and plotting, if you polish one and the same novel ad nauseam. If, on the other side, you write lot of short stories with new characters and plots, you flex those muscles.

Second, maybe you will be able to use these short stories to promote your novels, provided that the short stories play in the same universe.

I'd also consider whether or not you can channel your storytelling into writing ads for your books. Many ads are successful precisely because they are driven by a good story.

That way you turn the abundance of ideas from a liability to an asset.

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Release them as Plot Bunnies!

NaNoWriMo has forums for "adopting out" plot bunnies -- see https://www.wikiwrimo.org/wiki/Plot_bunny for more info.

Or just create a blog post where you list these ideas, and release them FREE into the world. They're not yours any more -- focus just on the ideas that you need for your work.

This may be a sign that your core work is potentially quite GOOD, and your fear-of-failure (if you're like me) is trying to tempt you to stray. In Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk on "Creative Genius", she mentions that some societies believed that instead of BEING genius, "genius" or "inspiration" was something "on loan" to you from the universe.

So maybe you have a really good genius right now, and it's attracting these unwanted ones -- decide if they're the right sparks for you for right now. If they're ones you want to play with later, then put them in a "play later" file/email/folder. If you like the idea, but think someone else could also handle them -- then let them go to another writer.

Beware the will-o-wisp! Don't be Pixy-led off the trail to completion!

Also, make a pledge to NOT delete things -- if you have to, remove them from the "active document" and save them elsewhere, or email them to a rarely checked email address. Maybe later you'll recognize some things in them that work with the current project. Maybe you'll want to backtrack to a-few-projects-ago. Perhaps also once a week do a backup of the project AS IS. Just try following one path to the end.

The completed project may be practically unreadable, but it's SO much easier to fix a bad ending (or middle or whatever) than to create one in the first place. And if it starts being bad? Be the WORST! Make it the stupidest ending possible. The most cliche'd events to bring characters together. It's actually harder to be bad than you think, and if it's awful -- well, that was your goal. If it's not quite so bad -- now there's something to improve upon!

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See if you can combine your ideas.

I've been on a sci-fi kick recently, playing around with ideas about interstellar beacons, colonisation, communication, etc. I've thought about a story taking place on a Dyson sphere, about a colonisation effort with limited access to faster-than-light starships, about stories that explore multiple spatial dimensions, about the Great Attractor. I just realised the other day that these stories all take place in the same universe, a place grander and more fascinating than any of them individually.

Knowing this allows me to streamline my focus - yes, this story will talk about a group of people trapped on a Dyson sphere and reduced to medieval conditions, but to get there I need to tell the story of the Colonisation Program and its discovery of the truth about the Great Attractor...etc.

When ideas are truly incompatible, I've spent time working on two or more stories concurrently. I take turns writing a chapter of one, a chapter of the other, a short story here or there...and I absolutely do not delete them. Even if the stories will never be finished, you never know when some chunk of prose can be borrowed and adapted for a new problem.

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Let's come down to your real issue:

  • You are deleting your novel starts without even getting close to the end.
  • You want to get rid of other ideas.
  • They threaten to replace other ideas.

what's comment is coming closest to your problem. It's called fear.

So everyone is feeling some level of fear when doing something worthwhile. That's totally normal. But from what you have described I have the feeling that your angst is blocking you on a level where you should seek professional help.

An abundance of ideas is normal and to embrace, not something to fight. Organizing them (as others suggested) helps normally, but not if you have the urge to kill the ideas.

There are more ideas than you are able to write books. You have to pick one and go with it. And if this is so hard, that you have to eliminate your previous work, go find some professional help. Admitting that you have a problem is the very first step. Now make the second.

  • This is kind of harsh. We're not in the business of diagnosing other writer's psychological issues. Yes, anything that stretches us involves an element of fear and that may be the underlying issue here, but there are many ways to deal with that - like journaling (a natural for writers) or meditation - which don't involve the stigma that something is wrong with us. It's normal to be scared of something new. How we each deal with it is a personal matter. Obviously, some strategies are more effective than others, but we're here to support each other, not to judge or label. – Joe Mar 9 '17 at 23:00
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Procrastinate.

Yes. Do all the same but skip the deleting part. Move on to other ideas but save the work you did on the previous idea you worked. You then will have it available and you can go back to it when you feel like doing so in the future.

Your brain will take you back there. That is the point of creative procrastination. Your mind will keep working on it on the background and you will eventually come up with fresh ideas to come back to and keep working at it.

It's not magic, it's just your brain working. It will not solve everything creative and won't do the whole work but it certainly will help you get one step closer to finish some great creative writing.

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I had this problem when I began writing, but it was because of plotting. I solved it by becoming a discovery writer, inspired by Stephen King (a discovery writer I thought was great).

Plotting a novel drained all the creativity out of it. I felt like everything was decided, I knew the twist, I knew the ending, and the writing just felt like work. It bored me. It bored me so much I never got halfway before I needed to do something creative -- Like plot another story and start over!

Then I heard about discovery writing, aka "pantsers" (writing by the seat of their pants). I prefer "discovery", I am discovering the story and plot as I go. "Pantser" sounds vaguely insulting; I would call the opposite "plodders" instead of "plotters".

In fact I am plotting, I am just not doing it up front.

My approach is that I think of a character, and I think about her for awhile. I don't write anything down, I just think about her and her world, and what kind of big problem I can give her, that would strain her limits. While I am thinking, I try to give her one important skill she is really good at; and at least one important thing she is pretty terrible at. It has to be important, being bad at trivia doesn't get you in trouble. Being gullible, or being bad at reading people, or being bad at math or interpersonal skills can all cause problems. She needs a weakness that matters.

Then I think about her family. Her friends. If she is old enough, her former and current romantic interests. Or lack thereof. Her job.

Once I have a character, and she has a problem, and she has a setting that she lives in, then I start writing about her. Like all stories, we begin in her normal world, and we can devote 8000 to 10,000 words to that. I follow a four-act structure much like the Three Act Structure; except I divide the 2nd Act into two equal parts, IIa (reactive by the MC) and IIb (proactive by the MC).

Here is a very good article on the Three Act Structure (3AS). However, as a discovery writer, I do not use this to plot or plan my novel, I just use it as the next thing to work on. I want my novel to follow the 3AS, both in sequence and roughly in length. But I don't want to decide all these points up front: The are each just a goal or endpoint for my writing, wherever I may be in the process. So in the first Act (25% of the book) there is Her Normal World, then The Inciting Incident, then in the second half of Act I the problem escalates and she is forced to Leave Her Normal World (literally or figuratively, e.g. in attitude and actions, maybe she has to start lying to her boss, or family).

But I am inventing the story as I go. I may have some vague ideas about these things. I do keep some plausible ending of the story in mind; though I often change that two or three times in the course of writing.

I always begin with a strong idea of my character, and what problem she has to solve. I find this approach lets me finish books, I am still engaged to the very end. I try not to think very far ahead, I don't want my characters to be puppets doing what I tell them to. I want them to appear and sound like they are solving the problem, in keeping with their personality, as they encounter them. And they are, because the details of the problem are new to me, too! Or just invented by me, to be difficult for them, so they are struggling to figure them out on the spot. It feels like that when I am writing, at least.

So I am always writing to the next small step in the 3AS (or 4AS or 5AS, depending on how you want to look at it). I know by heart the goals of each step, but I don't know what I am going to write for the NEXT step, I am always just working through the current step. Somehow it always works out. If I write myself into a corner, I go back in the current step and rewrite myself out of it.

After writing I go through several drafts to polish the work, find opportunities to add foreshadowing, find opportunities to change something for resonance later. Add what I have forgotten, like color and other sense writing.

Not everybody is a plotter, you can write character-driven fiction. It will still have a plot, as Stephen King says, if you force your characters to make progress and have conflicts, then every story has to come out somewhere. To me, writing about characters I love, figuring out who they are and what they have to do, keeps my interest in writing from start to finish. I want to see what happens, and how she finally prevails.

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