Monday, January 16, 2012

Staying Faithful to the Project At Hand (Or: When Plot Bunnies Attack)

When I was a kid, I was a serial cheater.

That sounds much worse than it is.

I would become slavishly attached to a character, a setting, a plotline, devoting all of my time, energy, blood, sweat and tears to this fixation for days or weeks or however long the infatuation ended. But it almost always ended before the story was finished, and the next thing the poor thing knew I had abandoned it to my desktop and was pursuing another newer, shinier idea with the same single-minded determination.

As a result, there is a disgusting number of unfinished projects scattered all over notebooks, hard drives, and various scraps of paper.

I worked hard through high school and college to tame that wandering mental eye and finish the project at hand for chrissakes, and was dutifully rewarded by several completed manuscripts that did NOT require five years to finish. I felt productive and motivated--not only was I starting ambitious writing projects, but lo! I WAS FINISHING THEM!

And then I started graduate school and once again discovered that I have the creative attention span of a chipmunk with ADHD.

I love my current WIP. It's gaining so much complexity and beauty, the characters are starting to show some real spunk and depth (the youngest one most of all, surprisingly) and with more than 50k under my belt, we were establishing the rhythm and flow of a well-connected, long-term relationship.

And then the plot bunny came along.

It's so pretty! So shiny! So YOUNG and full of promise and excitement! Suddenly my current WIP looks dull, old, and boring by comparison! I am BORED I need something NEW that will stimulate my CREATIVITY etc.

And before I know it, I am sneaking a half hour here and there, time when I should be doing homework, or working for the paper, working on this shiny little plotlet, while my WIP languishes in a folder, waiting for me to return to it. Poor baby.

I always tell people who are worried about whether a new story idea is worth pursuing to write the idea down. There's no such thing as a bad idea, in my opinion, and if you write it down, you won't forget it, and you can revisit it later and see if you still like it. I take my own advice, but a bit too far. I should amend the advice with the following: don't abandon what you're working on now, no matter how good an idea the new one is. It'll still be there when you finish.

This might seem a bit over-the-top, and perhaps it is. Plenty of terrific writers probably had pages of manuscripts that they abandoned to pursue something else. But there is something to be said for training yourself to be disciplined in writing. If I careened off into a new story idea as often as they came to me, literally NOTHING would be finished past three chapters. Nothing.

I just need to remind myself of this every time my imagination strays away from the task at hand. My writing time has been whittled away to almost nothing as it is--I can't compromise it further by indulging in literary affairs!

How do you stay with the project at hand? Or is it easier for you to jump from project to project?


1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. Something to think about!