As a child, did you ever get a toy that you really really wanted, only to get another toy right away that you didn't even know you were going to love? Which one did you play with first? Or were you unable to choose?
This happened to me a few weeks ago, actually. I discovered a gift card left over from Christmas that I had forgotten about and used it to buy a new Sims game. (Yep, I play the Sims. Apparently so do a lot of the authors I follow on Twitter. It must be a Thing.) But I also got Portal 2 right around the same time, and since my husband wanted to play it with me, I got into it before I was “finished” playing the Sims, at least to the extent that I had seen everything I wanted to see.
So I had a dilemma (though admittedly a small one): which game should I play? Not a big deal, right? But what happens when, instead of shiny new toys, we have shiny new novel ideas?
Step 1: Rationalization
Well, of course we're going to get new ideas. That's one of the biggest joys of writing! And the new ideas are just so marvelous, we really shouldn't let them slip away. We have to write them down or we'll forget the crucial details, and then where would we be?
So look, I'm only going to jot down the basics of this shiny new idea in my notebook here, and then I'll leave it alone and get back to the novel I'm supposed to be work on, and... What's that?
I just had the best idea for this one scene where ___ will do ___! Oh, and that means the book should be set in the 1840s, and hey, wasn't that the time of the Irish Potato Famine? So maybe character X should be an Irish immigrant...
-Wait wait wait wait. Wasn't I in the middle of a novel already? I can't switch gears now.
Except I have to record all these ideas or I'll forget them!
-But, but, the novel...
I'll get back to it. Really. I mustn't lose these details!
Step 2: Cheating on the Novel
Only the details just keep coming, and I can't write them down quickly enough. And each one is better than the last. And wow... this book could be truly amazing.
Oh shiny new idea, how perfect you are! You're the one that's going to take me places! I just know it!
So what else have you got for me? A murder mystery? That's fantastic. What else? Assumed identities? Love it!
I'm telling you, this is it. No other idea has ever compared to you. I'm serious. We can do this! Forget everything else, it's you and me now. We'll dive right in and create the best thing ever and people will go dancing in the streets after they read it. You just watch. I'll write like mad until it happens.
Hm? You were saying? Oh... the other novel? Well, yes, erm, hm. We did sort of leave off at rather an important place, didn't we. I suppose maybe that ought to be remedied. And I don't want to be totally fickle. The other novel's got a very good idea too, with just as much potential. Yes, it does deserve my attention...
Step 3: Compromise
Very well, here's what we'll do then: I'll keep writing the novel I should be writing, but I'll let myself daydream about the new one from time to time. How's that?
After all, I don't know that much about the mid 19th century, and I should probably read a few books written around that time to get a feel for the language. Plus, looking at pictures of clipper ships on Wikipedia isn't exactly adequate research for day-to-day life aboard one. So fine, I'll put all this aside for now and focus on the current book.
But I won't forget about you, shiny new idea! And I won't make myself stop thinking about you, because I don't want to stifle your brilliance!
So that's what's happening with me lately. I had a fantastic shiny new idea over the weekend (while driving back and forth to a wedding, a memorial and a family gathering). I'm still phasing out of Step 2 into Step 3. But I plan to finish the first section of Unmade this week, so I'm certainly not giving up on it!
What's new with you?