Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Staying on Track

So I was fishing, and this deer, this huge deer, it came right up to me.  That reminds me of the time I was at the zoo, three years ago, petting a moose.  A moose is better than a deer.  Oh, wait, scrap that.  I saw a bear, which is cooler than a moose, by a lake several weeks ago. 

You know what?  I went skydiving last week.  But before that, I met Lady Gaga.  Actually, I won the lottery.
What am I saying?  As writers, our biggest curse might be our imaginations.  And it wouldn’t be so bad if humans didn’t feel the need to constantly look for the next big thing.  Like my little story.  I tried to tell it straight, but I got side-tracked, and before you knew it, I was trying to outdo myself.  Halfway into a sentence, I was getting more and more ideas I thought were much better.  The same holds true for story-telling.

You don’t even get five pages into a new story when several more ideas come to mind.  And you sit there and say, “Man, maybe I should scrap this story I’ve already written 5,000 words of and start writing this other one.  It is better!”

But the truth is, it’s newer, and as humans, we’re constantly looking for change, or as I put it before, the next big thing.

This is the biggest plague I struggle with.  Ideas constantly sprouting up on my brain like weeds.  People always say, “I bet you have a ton of ideas,” like it’s a good thing.  And it is—but like superheroes, our gift can often be our curse.

So how do you combat blossoming ideas baked with change and covered in procrastination sprinkles?

For me, I only allow myself to have three unfinished short stories on the table at once.  The same holds true for novels.  Sure, that seems like a lot, but for novels, when I lose steam around the third chapter, and I find myself really struggling, I’ll turn it into a short story.  And with three short stories open at once, I have just enough variety to switch between them when I find myself getting bored.  That way I don’t feel rushed to finish.

When I get ideas for more stories while I’m writing, I’ll jot down paragraph summaries in a word document.  Then, when I have a few built up, I’ll revisit them to see if they developed or if they were truly a result of impulse.  That way when I compare them, I can pick which ones were the best ideas, if any, and work on them next.

Also, when I write a story, even if I’m not finished, I’ll read it a few hours later and make edits.  I’ll also read what was already written in a story before I write more to it.  With this method, I’m constantly digesting the story, and the more I read it, the tighter I’ll be able to edit, or the more problems I’ll find.  Many times I’ll get to the end of a story and decide that it isn’t very good.  So I’ll scrap it.

Being able to toss work away is probably the best tool to have.  Simply put, if I wanted to fill a square idea in my head, but I made a triangle, well, you get the point.  Sometimes when we sit back and think about it, certain stories aren’t very good.  And even if they are, if we had a square idea in mind, we need to make a square.  So instead of driving yourself nuts over one story, realize the name of the game isn’t about perfection—it’s about creating a portfolio of finished work. 

Remember, the more work you have, the greater your chances of getting published.

So, with that in mind, what do you do to stay on track?

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