Last week I talked about my problem with Empty Story Nest Syndrome. Let’s not confuse ‘no WIP’ with ‘no story ideas’ though. That brings me to today’s topic -- story squirrels. You know, the “ouuuu, shiny” idea that tries to muscle out the others. See, in addition to suffering from ESNS, I’ve developed a rather disturbing case of story attention deficit.
But I’m getting ahead of myself …
A couple of months ago I turned in a proposal to my agent. “Great,” she said, then told me to write another one. She wanted options. I can do options. There were three other ideas bubbling in my brain. So off I bounced to work on another proposal.
But characters are kinda like kids – they can be in the room with you for hours and never say a word, then the moment you get busy doing something else (like going to the toilet or relaxing in the tub) they have something super-urgent-important to share with you.
The characters in the first story weren’t very happy to be discarded and for the first couple of chapters, they kept trying to muscle out the new gang. They finally settled down when they realized I was still listening, even if only partially.
The new proposal was finally perking along, and I was doing a decent job of keeping both story ideas fresh in my mind but separate enough to allow me to keep writing.
Until I went on a trip. There I was, in the airport, minding my own business, waiting for my flight, when another story idea pulled in to the opposite concourse. And stayed with me for the next three hours, chattering up a storm.
Two weeks later, I’m reading about a workshop at a nearby museum, and before I could close the browser tab, yet another character was chatting me up.
Then a couple of weeks ago during a family road trip, I was staring out the window, enjoying the scenery and, wouldn’t you know it, a sparkly new idea was waving at me from a ratty old sign next to an abandoned farm house.
So now I'm up to five active story ideas. That’s a few too many squirrels having a tea party in my brain. And that’s when forward momentum starts resembling the Washington DC beltway during rush hour. Someone has to yield and someone has to merge (preferably without leaving behind some serious roadkill).
Anywhoo … You know those people who tell you to write down the ideas while they’re fresh, because you won’t necessarily remember later on? Yeah. Don’t you just hate when they’re right?!
But here’s my hiccup with that concept—my story ideas are shy creatures. Well, shy about being captured at the beginning stage. Trying to plot out the ideas usually results in sending them scattering back to the top branches of the trees.
When I had the luxury of working on one project at a time, that wasn’t a problem. I could let an idea scamper away, knowing that if it was a strong enough concept, it would pop back up eventually. Once you sell that first book, though, the landscape changes and the expectation is that you can sell on proposal. That means capturing the story squirrels before they make off with your nuts.
Some people can grab an idea and hash it out in full detail. I envy them. If you’re lucky enough to have this capability, do it! Immediately!! Whether it’s long hand notes about your characters and plot points or a flushed out outline, capture that story idea for when you can come back to work on it.
I, however, need marinating time. This is my marinating time …
I crochet. While my hands work, the story ideas ping around in my head. The repetitive motion of crocheting helps ground the ideas – as much as possible that is. Even if the characters are talking over each other at times, bits and pieces start falling into place.
Once I have the basics worked out, I write a pitch. Think back cover copy. That’s usually enough to trap the story squirrel for when it’s time to flush out the concept.
With a few of these written, I always have something to pull when my agent asks for more options.
btw, that pretty “ideas” notebook at the beginning of the post? That’s mine too. I jot down notes from articles I’ve read that may come in handy for lining a squirrel cage at some point.
Are you a one-story-at-a-time kind of writer or a story squirrel herder? How do you organize the story ideas when you’re not ready to write them yet?
Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world, where she spent roughly sixteen (cough) years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is a co-founder and past president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.
Orly’s debut, The Memory of Hoofbeats, will be released by Forge in 2017.
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