Subscribe to the Hello Writers! podcast in your favorite player!
This post originally appeared on Medium in October 2020.
New ideas aren’t always helpful for writers.
Of course new ideas are good in general. The more ideas, the better to draw from when starting a new project. Without ideas, we will stare blankly at the page, trying to squeeze stories out of nothing. Of course we want a pool of good (hopefully good!) ideas.
But if we are already working on something, new ideas can become shiny objects that distract us from our work-in-progress.
I have files and files of incomplete pieces of writing. This “shiny object syndrome” is a big part of why they are incomplete. I used to jump from project to project like a frog on lily pads, and none of them ever got finished. Each new idea felt exciting. Each new idea felt open to being great.
When I got serious about writing my first book, Unspoken, I realized that I was going to have to commit to sticking with it, even when a new and better idea popped up. What I realized is that being distracted by new ideas, is not actually about those new ideas.
The distraction comes from self-doubt.
If I feel like my current work-in-progress isn’t good enough, a new idea is bound to sound better.
If my current work-in-progress is taking a long time, and I’m sick of revision, and I’m worried that it isn’t worth the effort, a new idea is bound to sound more interesting.
When we doubt our work-in-progress and/or our capacity to make it sing, our brains start looking for escape hatches. And a shiny new idea can seem like the perfect justification for jumping ship.
Abandoning project after project (or abandoning the same project over and over) feeds into general sense of doubt in our abilities to finish a project — and the vicious cycle continues.
Yes, there are times when abandoning a project is the right thing to do. But that decision should not be based only on wanting to work on something else.
Most of the time, the desire to abandon a project is not about the project at all.
Most of the time it is about our own self-doubt.
If we can remember that, and manage our thinking, and remember why we started working on this project in the first place then the shiny new ideas won’t be as tempting.
And what if there is a new idea that just won’t leave you alone while you’re trying to complete your current project? Here is a mantra that I use when my own self-doubt runs rampant:
I am working on the right thing right now.