As I mentioned last month, I plan on answering a question or two each month from one of my readers. This month, KristiLynne Stanley asks – “do you find yourself getting ideas for another story in the middle of your writing, and if so, what do you do?”
It’s a problem!
Everyone tells stories all of the time. We are used to hearing stories, and contextualising, and then usually just filing them away, keeping the entertaining parts as we refine the telling of it, and discarding the chaff. We do it without thinking, even. Weird people like me, though, who make a living from creating narratives for readers to take away and enjoy are those who look at the world around us, and then add the most powerful two words in the storyteller’s vocabulary – “what if?”
Every single story of fiction ever told has started with those two words. “What if a princess slept for a hundred years?” “What if we could bring back the dinosaurs?” “What if there was magic in the world?” Those two words then create a momentum, and every single twist and turn of the story is accompanied by that incessant voice in the back of the author’s head asking them “what if this happened?”
It can be a bit of a curse as well, because you just can’t silence that voice.
It happens to me all the time. Inspiration can strike at any moment. I try and make sure I am prepared for it, and so, I keep my phone by my bed, and a notepad in any room that I write in, just in case. If one of those ideas arrives I can make sure I have what I need to trap that thought before it flies off to be forgotten. Sometimes it’s just a couple of words jotted down, whereas other times it arrives almost fully-formed, and it’s all I can do to not leap up and run to my writing desk and start writing.
I’ve learnt over the years that not being open to these ideas can cause problems in the long run – who knows how many ideas I’ve forgotten about? Maybe the plot to my best book got lost in the dark when I fell back to sleep after conjuring it up during a sleepless night? I do all I can to make sure I catch as many of them as I can.
But, to answer the question, the other thing I can’t do is get distracted. If I’m writing a book I need to finish it. That’s the first rule of writing, and one that has served me well over the years. Even though the ideas still come, I can’t let myself get side-tracked, because, before I know it, I’d have twenty half-finished books and nothing to show for it. So I make notes, and keep them safe, knowing they are always there for me if I find myself at a pinchpoint in whatever story I am writing.
Ideas are currency for a writer. I never discard anything, and I keep everything on the table, because you never know when something will come in useful. I try to always view the world with both eyes open, keep asking myself “what if?” and never ruling out anything that my mind suggests. Because, you never know.
Thanks, KristiLynne for your question, and please do keep asking me questions – just leave them in the comments over on my Facebook page.