B&N Week 48: Too Many Ideas!

| November 22, 2011 | 6 Comments

Back in the Tuesday again! We’re BACK! [Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll work on it.] Nevertheless, it’s Tuesday once again, and that means it’s time for more Bolts & Nuts!

This week, I thought we’d dip back into the creative side, and talk about something that should happen to all of us, if we’re so lucky. It’s one of those problems that’s good to have, and as long as you have it, you should be in good shape. That problem?

Too many ideas!

How does it happen? Simple. You write, and then another idea creeps up. It happens just that easily. Why does it happen? That’s a little bit more involved, but we’re going to take a look at it, the problems inherent with it, as well as what to do when it happens to you.

As a creative type, you’re constantly making connections for the stories you’re weaving. Like a muscle, the more you exercise your creativity, the easier it becomes. Now, add to that a constant barrage of stimuli, and viola! You’ve got a recipe for ideas. Lots and LOTS of ideas. If you’re lucky, more ideas than you know what to do with. And they can come from anywhere.

There have been several times when I’ve been writing this column and wanted to come up with an example to help illustrate a point, and the example sounded like something that was pretty viable. So, I’d try to change it to something else, and then THAT sounded viable, as well. (Is that why sometimes there are some outrageous things, like Monkeylove: A Tale of Two Tails?) Exactly. And really, Monkeylove sounds like a viable story title. Not the subtitle, but just the title itself. Everyone loves monkeys, right? So there’s an idea right there that might see the light of day later.

Or I’m out and about, and I see a sign, or I see something that strikes me at an angle [basically, I see it in the creative way], and I wander down that rabbit hole to see where it will take me.

It can strike literally anywhere, and at any time.

Remember that dream you had? The one with the elephant and the bus? Dream logic played a huge part in it, yes, but when you woke up, you just KNEW you had a story. So you’re half asleep, trying to get the kernel of the idea down before it blows away in the light of day and full consciousness.

The ideas are everywhere, with connections just waiting to be made. It can get even worse if you think of something while you’re actively writing something else.

And that becomes a problem.

A lot of times, when you have too many ideas, you can get paralyzed with indecision. You think that all of the stories are calling you, and some may need more work than Sothers, but you’re still interested in all of them. So you look at your notebook, seeing all of these snippets of things you wrote down, wondering which one would be the best one to start on. Then you decide on one, start working on it, and then you have yet ANOTHER idea that looks to be better than the one you’re working on! It just doesn’t stop!

And while you’re working on that story, when the new idea pops up and is just begging to be explored, something happens. You no longer want to write the story you’re working on. You want to go down the rabbit hole and see where it ends. That new idea is bright and shiny, and the one you’re writing is old! It’s right there in front of you! Because you’ve written more than one thousand words on it, you’re no longer interested. You have another belle you want to take to the ball.

That can be disastrous, especially if you’re working on something you’re under contract to finish, or in the middle of an arc. It takes discipline to resist the allure of that new idea, and to keep working on what’s in front of you. Sometimes, it takes more discipline than other times, especially if you think that the idea is primo.

That’s the easy part, though. If you’re under contract or already working on something, denying the new idea is as easy as writing it down and coming back to it later. The hard part is deciding which ideas really aren’t all that good, and don’t deserve a major investment in time to explore.

Is it even a complete idea? That is a big one. More than likely, the new idea you had isn’t complete, and nothing you do will make it a full idea on its own. When that happens, see if you can mix and match ideas.

In deciding if an idea is viable, you also have a responsibility of honesty. (Duh! Hey! I haven’t said that in a while. Felt good. Thanks.) [De nada.] Now, when I say honesty, I’m talking about a couple of things things [and their questions], rolled up into one.

Will the story be commercial? This is important. As a creator, you do not have money to throw away on something that won’t be bought. No, I’m not advocating doing anything like market research. Just answer some simple questions: is the story simple enough to pitch in a sentence? will that sentence resonate with the public? will that equal sales?

Is it an ongoing, a limited series, or a graphic novel? When I was younger and just starting out, my cousin and I had created a universe of our own, with dreams that it would rival the Marvel Universe. We were creating ongoing series left and right, knowing that we wouldn’t have time to write them all, but wanting to fill every hole we perceived needed filling. Looking back on it, there were precious few ideas that were worthy of an ongoing series. Most were worthy of the slush pile, and some could have filled a limited series.

Basically, I’m talking about length, folks. Knowing how long your story will be is important. Again, writers are broke, so you have to look at the amount of resources you’re going to pour into this endeavor.

Let’s look at Monkeylove again. (What? No Pen-Man?) Nope. Because we’re already working on him. MonkeyLove is the new hotness, and as such, needs to be explored. [Notice the slightly different spelling? That’s me playing with the concept more, not a typo.] Does MonkeyLove deserve more attention? Does it have an ending? What am I asking of the story, and will it be able to reach those heights?

Right now, Monkeylove [I like that version better, methinks] looks to be a graphic novel, around 80 pages. (You’ve got a page count already?!) [I’ve been doing this for a while.] I have a rough beginning, an idea of what I want it to do, and an inkling of how I want it to end. And do you know what I’m going to do with it?

I’m going to write it down in my notes, let it simmer some, and continue to work on the book I’m currently writing.

And since we’re talking about notes, let’s spend some time talking about note taking.

If you follow me on Twitter [@stevedforbes], there are times when I make posts and talk about having story ideas, and putting them in Evernote.

Let me back up a bit. I have a smartphone. I’m an iPhone kinda guy, and I’m also something of a technology watcher. One of the blogs I watch spoke the praise of Evernote, and once I downloaded it, I’ve been singing the same praises to anyone who will listen.

Now, even though I’m a writer, I rarely have a pen and paper with me. No need, really, because I have Evernote. If you have a smartphone, iOS or Android, go and download the free app now. Get it on your phone, and download it to every computer you own. Now, here is what Evernote does for you:

It allows any note you take to be synched to all of your computers. If you work in Evernote on your phone, your note will then be on your desktop. Work on it some more on the desktop, but then you need to give the desktop to the kids so they can play Farmville, so you move to your laptop. Look, the note, and all the desktop work you did, is also on your laptop. Your spouse wants to use the laptop for a few minutes in order to look at something, so you bring your phone back out, and hark! There it is, beautiful and up to date with all the work you’ve done.

You can make voice notes, put pictures in it, share notebooks, search by tags and by location And it’s all FREE. Sure, you could pay for more functionality, but if you’re a writer, you’re broke. Free is good, especially when the service is great.

So, every time I say I’m writing a note, what I mean is that I’m opening up Evernote and putting it in there for use later. (What about Monkeylove? Are you going to put it in there?) Yup! Monkeylove is going in there, too.

And that’s all I have for this week. Homework: take a look at notetaking apps for your mobile devices [to include laptops, not just smartphones], and to take a good, long look at the story ideas you have. See if they’re viable. Ask and answer the questions. You may be surprised at what you find.

See you in seven!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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  1. John Lees says:

    Ah, the allure of the Sexy New Idea! Good to know it doesn’t just plague me, but is a bane in the life of all writers. There is the frustration of trying to write a script, and all you can think about is this other idea that’s popped into your head. A similar problem I’ve had is, let’s say I’m writing issue #4 of The Standard, and it’s like chewing on glass. I’m getting nowhere. But all I can think about is the script for The Standard #5. I have all the scenes, all the dialogue exchanges for that floating around my head. That will be so EASY to write, if I can just get freaking issue #4 done! Then I finally finish #4, and move onto #5… and all that free-flowing inspiration dries up. It’s a drag writing it out again, and I have ideas for THE STANDARD #6 firing in my brain like fireworks!

    I guess it’s just a case of “the grass is always greener.” An idea is always so much better when it’s in your head. When it’s boundless, it could go anywhere. I feel like I make an idea less good when I have to channel it out and try to make it tangible through my own means of expression. Like, by making the idea into something real and something MINE, I’ve limited it.

    It’s funny that you mention dream logic, though. I once had a dream that I’d come up with a story involving Michael Kenneth Williams (AKA Omar from The Wire and Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire) and Tommy Flanagan (the Scottish actor from Sons of Anarchy) teaming up to solve scar-based crimes, and it was the best story ever. I woke up, trying to grasp onto what made this nonsensical idea so brilliant, and what about it was so powerful to me in the dream that I convinced myself I had to write it. I actually spent a couple of days after that trying to use the absurd setup as a launching point for an actual story, but the well quickly dried up.

    The Evernote idea is a good one. But since I’m a luddite, I carry around a Moleskine notebook at all times. It’s filled with scrawling ideas, which I’ll typically write in during train journeys. Flipping through the book now, I have a random hodgepodge of stream-of-consciousness. There’s a sketch I drew of Doggy-Boy, a character I then went on to use in an anthology piece. There’s an odd little poem I wrote while board out of my mind listening to an expressionist performance artist singing in Japanese at the bar I was at (“My hair is so itchy, I scratch, scratch, scratch, Is that a squirrel in my head? His name is Caesar, destroyer of worlds.” Then I drew a picture of the singer with a squirrel in her head). There’s some notes of the feedback I got for my “Floorboards” short from a Glasgow League of Writers meeting, followed by some attempts to sketch the character from that story. Then there’s a good 10 pages or so dedicated to a story idea I don’t want to seriously pursue until I’m good enough to write it. It started out with scrawled notes about key characters and beats. Then some more detailed character profiles, and then a rough plan of where the story is going to go, which I keep on adding to when a new idea comes to me. I have a tally of all the comic scripts I’ve written in 2011, and my combined page count – to keep my goal number of 200 pages always in mind. And I have a page listing possible projects to pursue in 2012 in bullet point form, some of which I’ve developed further, others of which I imagine I’ll never even think about again. Finally, there’s a page breakdown of Rommel & Joe #4, the script I’m currently writing.

    I love my Moleskine. It lets me write down the ideas buzzing around in my head and give time to them, but because I’m doing it on the train or when I’m out and about, it’s not interfering with the time I want to dedicate to whatever project I’m actively trying to write. Also, jotting in a notebook in public helps me to maintain a pretentious public image as A Writer.

    • Tyler James says:

      In the case John mentioned above, where you’re supposed to be working on one scene, but later scenes are calling to you, I’m a big proponent just doing a pure brain purge. Get it all out of your head. You’ll probably find out after you’ve been writing a bit, you’ll get stuck…it’ll start to get hard again. That’s when you go back to what you’re supposed to be writing.

      The sexy new idea is sexy simply because it’s new. It’s untouched. You haven’t done the work to scrutinize it, see it’s flaws, see why it’s going to be a pain in the ass to bring to life. (They all are.) Nope, you just imagine the perfect execution of that idea…which is always going to seem better then the muddle mess of a draft you’re currently writing. (All first drafts are shit, and all. And most second and thirds, too.)

      Nothing wrong with writing out of order, as long as you eventually get back on track. For THE RED TEN, I find myself writing the scenes in the present first, because those have been more meticulously plotted, where as the flashbacks are all based on a few rough ideas. So those are more discovery writing exercises.

      As far as tracking those ideas…my systems aren’t great. I’ve got all kinds of books with all kinds of ideas jotted down in them. I’ve tried doing the: “This Moleskin is for this story” approach, but that never works.

      The biggest challenge is, it takes SO LONG for independent comics to actually come to fruition, that I often forget where I stashed certain ideas. Was it in a book? A Google doc? A Google Wave?

      Maybe that will be my lone resolution for NY 2012…get a true system in place.

  2. I can vouch for the effectiveness of Evernote. I had already checked out this little app before out of curiosity and considered it a mere gadget. However Steven’s constant praise make me look into it further and now it’s an integral part of my creative process.

    I used to have dozens of links on my browser for all of my projects. Now I just put the text, images or links in the appropriate notebook in Evernote and voila! No more cluttering!

    I also used to write everything in a real paper notebook but all that transcribing of whole scripts to Word was a pain in the ass. I solved that problem as well with Google docs. Now I write the whole script in there and I have access to it anywhere – even on my phone! When I’ll be done, I can just share the document with the rest of the creative team.

    And in fact, Google docs has turned out to be a crucial tool since I took over the management of digital distribution at ComixTribe. I’ve created reference and status documents which are sare with both Tyler and Steven.

    Unfortunately, since I can’t sit down with my notebook in a coffeeshop anymore, I had to let go of the Writer image and settle for looking like an ordinary nerd instead.

  3. Evan Windsor says:

    One important thing about writing down your new ideas is that you make sure to take a little bit of time detailing them in your notes if you intend to come back and elaborate later. Either write your notes in detail, or go back later that day and describe it. Don’t assume you’ll remember.

    I have a “story ideas” document in google docs, but sadly, many of the items are stuff like “woman thinks man steals car, just walking”. WHAT DID I MEAN?

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