Do you ever find yourself, working away at your current work in progress, only to have a new idea begin to brew? What do you do with that new idea? Especially if it keeps pulling at you?
As of right now, I have one very large epic fantasy WIP. Book 1 is my number one fiction priority seeing as I’ve put a “no more excuses, it’s getting published in December of 2017” deadline on it. But I also have an active science fiction novella in the works and two short stories. I wrote the original first draft for the series novel in November of 2014. It has found itself shelved a lot over the past couple years. In between working on it, I’ve started the novella, multiple short stories and a few partial first drafts for other full length novels.
Not to mention having a few nonfiction pieces, freelance and client projects, and Infinite Reverie projects going simultaneously. As you can imagine I can easily get distracted and even confused. This leads me to begin to creatively shut down.
At the risk of never getting anything completed or even close to being published, I put EVERYTHING to the side while I focused on finding a solution. To find a way to pants my way through writing (I can and do plan practically everything, but I can’t plan or pre-outline fiction pieces for some reason.), but to achieve some sort of balance and organization.
One of my biggest obstacles was being able to overcome that pull for a new idea and remain focused on my WIP. I can’t just write down the idea and move on. As time goes on, that original idea grows and or morphs into something else and just won’t go away. But if I turned completely away from my WIP, it’ll never get done, and I can pretty much guarantee before this new idea has been completed another newer idea will present itself continuing the cycle.
Back in January, I created a very generic project tracking worksheet. Once a week, on Monday (my planning day), I give myself time to go over all my notes I have made during the past week and the ones that seem viable or likely to nag at me, get their own project sheet. I write in the information and notes for that idea on that sheet and I keep them all in a folder specifically for future projects. After one project is completed, a new one can come out of the folder.
So far, it is helping a lot. In February, I was able to finally complete a review of my series WIP, create an after-the-first-draft outline for my novella, and write the first draft to one of the short stories. I don’t feel I have too much going on to be able to focus on any one project because I have all these others in my mind or on random scraps of paper/notebooks I’m afraid I’ll forget about. We will have to see how bringing in Infinite Reverie projects combined with the client and fiction projects goes, as March is the first month I’m adding it in.
One other note.
As I do every year, I have planned out 2017 annually, quarterly, and monthly. This year I added real timelines for projects. This way I know when each project is in its writing/creating stage, editing/reviewing stage, and production/publication stage. It also helps reduce overlap so I’m not writing multiple fiction pieces or only working on editing drafts.
During the last half of last year I began bullet journaling and time blocking my schedule. Both are also working out great.
Well, enough about my problems. How do you keep track of your new ideas? How do you manage to keep them quiet until it’s their turn to come out? (I’m honestly really interested in any ideas or methods you have, please, please, let me know.)
Instead of having multiple post-its, scraps of paper, random document files, and ideas lost to memory, a few good options for keeping track are to use ONE notebook or journal. If you do use a notebook or a journal, leave the first few pages blank to include a table of contents. That way you only need to scan the first few pages to decide which projects or ideas you want to look into without having to flip through the entire notebook. Another option is to use a digital file (or software) to create documents or projects for each new idea. Bullet journaling is another great one. There are so many different ways and levels of creativity to this one, I strongly recommend searching bullet journaling on Pinterest to get your own ideas for what would work best for you.
The only real drawback to keeping ideas completely digital is when you have those ideas that seem fantastic in the moment, but later when you look at it, you can’t help but wonder what the heck you were on when you thought that one up. If you do decide to go digital, I recommend keeping all of them in one main folder or software program like Scrivener, so that you only have to open one main thing to see all your for-the-future-ideas.
When you do have those ideas that continually pull and nag at you for your attention, I really can’t recommend ignoring them. There is a reason your mind is trying to divert your attention there, in my opinion. At the same time, giving in constantly could easily put you in the same place I was. Unfocused and unable to continue work on anything, because you’re working on everything.
It’s ok to allow yourself a hour, or even just a few minutes each week (or day) to take a look at those other burning ideas. Evaluate how much time you do focus on your WIP(s). If you spend on average an hour a day on it, try giving yourself a half hour one day of the week to look into that other burning idea. You might find that you are able to get more work done on your main WIP because you are able to dedicate your mental focus on it alone when your actively working on it.
If you’re a planner, you could use this time to fill in some outlining or summarizing for that new story idea. If you’re a pantser, you could jot down notes or whatever comes to your mind about that idea during that time limit.
The worksheet I’m using is pretty simple and self explanatory, so I won’t really go into any details. But it does give you a place to jot down a quick summary so you can jog your memory later. A place for a title or something that will remind you what it is, and also a timeline line. I will admit the only projects I’ve used the timeline on are already out of the folder, but this sheet does help with the early stages too. There is a steps and tasks for completion area, boxes for research sources, document/file locations, a key, and both a lined and blank space for notes and doodles.
The worksheet isn’t a necessity, it is just one more possible way to try and help you keep your mind on your main focus when it should be. You don’t have to have a million ideas for it to be useful either, just like any other idea organizing method.
So, if you would like to check out my super generic project tracking worksheet, I’ve included it here for you. Print out as many copies as you need, get yourself a folder or a hole-punch and a binder and give those new, nagging ideas a place to chill while you work on your priority projects.
UPDATE: The notebook versions are now available on Amazon. Each one contains 50 sets of project planning and tracking worksheets to help you keep track of each project in progress and future projects.