How To Stay Focused When Story Ideas Invade

I’ve talked about ideas before – you may remember my post How to grow great ideas from the MusesHowever, I want to discuss the invasion of story ideas. 

I don’t know about you, but my Muse doesn’t wait until I’ve finished a novel before she bashes me over the head with another idea…or five.

So how do you manage to stay honest to your current story while other ideas are tantalisingly waving at you from the side-lines?

banner how to stay focused when story ideas invade


When Muses Attack

Case in point, while driving to work this week, I was suddenly accosted by a whole new story.

The protagonist was fully formed and named (though I wasn’t keen on the character’s surname…every attempt to rename her failed and so I have kept it as it came to me).

It came with a basic idea of a plot (along with several other concepts for additional books). That’s right, I have a Serial Muser… my muse is not one for standalone books. NEVER have I had a standalone book idea – always a series of books.

At this rate, there aren’t enough years left to write all these damn series, but apparently, that’s not stopping my muse.

Anyway, I digress… so there I was, tunelessly singing along to Bat out of Hell when I was whacked upside the head with an idea.

This new story even wants to be written in first-person!? I’ve NEVER written in first- person, it’s not my choice and while I do like (some) books in first-person, my absolute favourites are almost always in third-person…. but nope apparently this one just will not be written in third…. *sigh*

It was so intense that when I got stuck in traffic I had to scramble for a pen and pad and start writing it down before my Muse decided to take the idea and give it to another writer. (it’happens).

My partner, who has been desperately waiting to read my current manuscript (in full) was a little dismayed to find I had yet ANOTHER idea. He is well aware that they can often drag me off my current path. Though he read the opening scene and loved it!


Staying Focus

So, if you’re like me, new ideas and plots will bombard you whenever they damn well like! What’s a writer to do, eh?

It is waaay too easy to drop a story and chase another. Especially if the new one seems stronger or more interesting.

Not saying that shouldn’t be your move, but definitely think carefully about doing that – especially if your current story is well established.

Are you sure the new idea isn’t just more enticing because you’ve spent months toiling over your current one and might just need to step away from it (not to write the new one but to give yourself a breather?).

If you’re not careful you can be constantly chasing plot bunnies as they appear and you’ll end up with no completed manuscripts and a very tired brain.


Thought Dump

However, don’t lose the idea BECAUSE you’re working on something else. If you ignore the idea completely, the muses will take it from you, they will pass it on to another writer.

So, to appease the muses and to give you back (a little) of your sanity, you need to thought dump.

Step away from your current manuscript and write the new stuff down. Unless it ACTUALLY comes to you in scenes don’t write out chapters and scenes.

This Thought Dump is not a chance for you to start this new story. Just write the notes, characters, basic plotline… don’t try and pad it out, don’t try and create it into anything… just write down the notes and ideas that came to you.

This helps to solidify the idea and when you eventually go back to it, you will have a clearer idea.

If you wanted to try the Card Catalogue method, this is a good time to start… with a new idea.


Back on Track

The concept of the T.D. is you get that idea out so that you stop obsessing over it. If you leave it in your head, you start turning it over, examining it, coming up with new thoughts and your old manuscript won’t get a look in.

Will you still come up with ideas for this new story? Yes! But hopefully not all the time, thus allowing you to focus on your current project and get it finished.

It can be hard as we are drawn to new things, to “chase the shiny” as it were. But we need to stick to one project (I know, I’m being slightly hypocritical, as I often have two projects running side by side, though I AM trying to be better…. mostly) but hey, that just means I speak from experience! 🙂

Give the new invading story some solid ground by writing out its notes then go back to the old one. The idea is to finish a project before you move to another.


What task were you in the middle of doing the last time a new idea hit you?

Happy writing

Signature & logo of Ari Meghlen

13 thoughts on “How To Stay Focused When Story Ideas Invade

  1. Ideas come at the most random of times, and somehow on top of each other! I have a book I write them down in before I forget them. The one that won’t stop annoying me (in the shower, doing the ironing, while doing just about anything) is the one that I write next.

    1. I like the idea of a special Ideas book and yes those pesky ones that seem to attack us while we’re focusing on tasks are annoying but are definitely good ones to write next 🙂

  2. Usually it’s a twist in the story line but I do have a sequel lined up in my head. The ideas come when driving or walking the dog. I think it’s because my head has freedom from the mundane.

  3. Whenever a new idea for a story or script pops into my head, and it can be anytime or anywhere, I am ecstatic. I write it down somewhere, or remember it until I get to pen and paper, and save it for a later day after it’s had time to develop in my subconscious.

    1. Oh yeah, those muses love leaping out at any time. I always prefer it’s at a time when I can write (driving makes it problematic since my memory isn’t that great).

  4. Great post. Sorry to go off topic but it’s the first post I’ve read that’s shown up in its entirety in the reader…odd but good for me :). Sorry that’s way off topic.
    I have idea that come to me all the time and I find it hard to keep up with the current one when a new one takes over. But of late I’ve only had one decent idea that’s formed into lots of mini stories but all featuring the same characters in the same grand plot…I feel like I’m crating a weird fantasy soap opera (ie goes on forever) rather than a novel! lol

  5. No offence intended, but I hope your muse will bring some of your ideas my way – although they may not fit my cozy mystery world. I’ve had only occasional appearances by the muse pretty much since I quit writing fan-fiction. She’s quite stingy with ideas for original stories, and actually, I’ve tried to do a couple of fan-fic challenges with my old group and – nope. No workable ideas there either.


    I need a new muse.

    1. I will send her your way! Just expect them to come at the worst times (while driving, while just nodding off, while in the middle of an argument…). Have you tried the daily prompts on WordPress? They can help kick start a muse I believe.

  6. Been there, though not a whole series. I write the inspiration down, outline it and the characters, then go back to what I’m working on. I can write a book in about 2 months (not edits, of course, but a first draft). If the idea is still on fire, that’s what I write next!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.