This post comes from a reader question. How do you sift through all of your ideas and focus on The One?
First of all, let me just say that, dear reader, this is an excellent problem to have. Tons of us sit and stare at blank pages or blinking cursors, practically trembling with the effort it’s taking to come up with something to write about. You are not in that situation, so you’re already ahead of the game. Congratulations!
Where to keep all of those ideas.
My advice is not to throw away all of those other great ideas. If you don’t already, start a file on your computer or keep a handwritten notebook where you can store all of those ideas for later. This little idea notebook is like the cooked-on stuff at the bottom of a pan that you scrape up, throw some wine into, and use to make a killer sauce. You can go back to your notes months (maybe years)* later and see all of these great bits that can go into other projects and become something wonderful.
So pick one already.
When you’re sitting down to a writing session and looking to start a new project, you can take a look at your ideas and see if any of them particularly appeal to you that day. Whichever one seems like it would be the most gratifying to work on is the one you should pick. Don’t over-think this process, and don’t let yourself rationalize about which one you should be working on. Go with your gut and leave your brain out of it for now.
Don’t run away.
It is tempting to move on to the next idea on your list if something doesn’t immediately work out, but try to resist that. Work on the idea you’ve chosen for at least a few sessions in a row. I’ve been known to bounce around from idea to idea to idea, with the result ultimately being that none of the songs/poems/etc. get finished. I have to keep coming back to one piece for many sessions in a row in order to make any significant progress. So, once you pick something, see it through for awhile before putting it away if it’s not working (there is a time and a place to put an idea away and I’ll talk about that in a post soon!)
The underlying issue rears its ugly head.
Having a ton of ideas and not being sure which one to commit to actually points to another possible problem, and one we’ve encountered before – perfectionism.
Many of us are afraid to pick something, because we have that voice in our heads that wrings its hands in worry and says, “But what if it’s the wrong one? What if it doesn’t turn out? What if I’m terrible and should never write anything EVER AGAIN?!”
As you can see, this voice can quickly get out of control. This is why your Internal Editor (Mine is called Steve. Hi, Steve!) is not invited to the early stages of creation. It is not productive here. Stuff that worrying perfectionist back into his closet until he can make himself useful…. which is later. Much later.
It’s OK to pick the “wrong” idea. You will never know if it’s going to work or not until you start to play with it.
So play. See what happens. You might end up with something delicious.
*This is where my sauce analogy falls apart. I do not recommend using months- or years- old pan scraps to make sauce.