Sticking with One Story: How to Stay Faithful
Ahhhh finally, I have been waiting for someone to have this problem! And I am SO glad you asked this.
So, for ages upon ages, this has been my struggle too. You come up with an idea, begin writing it, and then -*bang*- a new and better idea demands your attention. That old idea gets tossed out and you never end up getting back to it. The result? You end up with hundreds of never-finished stories, mid-sentence thoughts, half-created characters, and long-forgotten plotlines like old places you left in the past. That’s me. I do that. And it feels terrible! For me, it feels like I’m cheating on my stories. I hate feeling unfaithful to a story and leaving it to just fade away. The issues with dropping stories left and right are that you start feeling like a fraud. Like you’re not a real writer because you have no finished, fresh, and brilliant story to display. You have no complete ideas and fully alive characters. It’s depressing. It’ll make you wanna give up.
Do NOT give up! As a serious story-droppper myself, I can tell you what works for me. And I know that everyone’s different, so they might only work for me, but it doesn’t hurt to try! So, here goes....a couple big tips for sticking with your story:
1. Obsess. Seriously, you need to obsess over your story idea as if it’s a favorite movie you’ve watched a million times or a book you’ve memorized with your whole heart. You need to be its biggest fan. Don’t look for other ideas or make them up in your head, because you need to be convincing yourself that this is the one. This is the story you were made to write. Obsess over it like a fangirl. Make fanart...(draw or sketch or paint or whatever)of what you imagine it to be like. Find a theme song, find music for all the best parts of the story. Action part? Get yourself some serious kick-butt music. Romantic scene? Go for some dramatic orchestra music. You need to obsess as if this book is going on broadway. You’ve got to treat it like this book is an entire world of its own. I like getting on Pinterest and looking through pictures I can use for scenes...whether it’s a cityscape scene, a forbidding forest, some old house, I always find something inspiring. Getting visual is a vital technique for keeping yourself absorbed in a story without feeling the need to think up new stories.
2. Fall in love with your character. And I don't mean that romantically, though you could certainly write a love interest for yourself. Every writer gives their character little pieces of themselves in a way. Your character could be a serial killer and still deal with some of your own problems, or even be a reflection of some little part of you. Regardless of their status in your story, villain-hero-male-female-young-old-mentally unstable-absolute genius, you need to know your character fully. Even if the reader never does, you need to know them inside and out. Knowing someone that much takes love. You need to love your character(s) like crazy. Make character profiles, write down every little thing about you characters (obviously, not all the details about them will be in your book, but they are crucial to knowing your character fully). Give them good qualities, bad qualities, give the reader characters to adore and characters to hate. Sometimes, the only thing that keeps me interested in a story I'm writing is how developed its character is. I collect picture ideas of people for my story for inspiration. I draw them. I listen to actors/actresses and find them the perfect voice. They need to be so real, have such real problems, that they could be the kind of person you can't stop telling your friends about. That's the kind of character you won't just walk away from and forget.
3. Schedule it out. Enforcing discipline is the absolute s e c r e t s a u c e to being faithful to one story. Cause starting a story is fun and easy. But building it and ending it is way hard. You need to make this book a step-by-step process with goals. Goals that you will accomplish. Break the process into pieces and time them so that you are working on it every single day. It has been scientifically proven that writing down your goals gives you a much better chance of actually getting them done. As well as convincing yourself aloud. Say it. "I will write down every tiny thing I need to know about this character by lunch tomorrow." Or maybe "I am writing chapter one today, to be finished by tonight." Or even "I will complete this book by the end of the year". If you're not sure what happens in some upcoming scene, PLEASE take my advice and put an idea in brackets (for example: [main character escapes sudden death by doing something totally genius here}), and then move on so you don't lose that writing momentum spark, move on and get back to it later. Focus on the plotline as a whole. And if you're an outline person, make yourself scheduled outline for the story; you're never lost when you've got a map. You start with that outline, and add the twists and flavors into your stable storyline. Now you're invested, and there's no room for a new book to shove its way in.
4. Editing is a big no-no. Just to make this clear, giving up on a story because you get sidetracked with a new idea is not the worst reason to toss a story aside. The worst possible way is by editing too early. You will utterly destroy your story by editing while writing...from my experience at least. Don't do it unless you want to be depressed. Please. I'm 100% serious here, editing has ruined my stories. Your ideas and inspiration and plans will come crashing down by all the complications that editing barges in with. I'm talking about all kinds of editing. You look back a sentence and see that you missed a comma? No sir. Leave it alone. You shouldn't even be looking back in the first place. That's one of my own personal rules: 'don't look back, you're not going that way'.
No re-reading = no editing. Even if you write a scene, and you feel like the wording was off or it feels awkward, don't get fixated on that. You don't like the way a character said something? Save it for later. Really. (Okay imagine this for a second: a musician is performing a beautiful piano piece on stage. It's flowing nicely and he's obviously very encaptured inside the song, the swelling of the notes, the story behind its tune. And *plink* he hits the wrong note on accident. He either mentally dies inside and completely starts the song over, insistent on getting it right this time -which is really awkward and broken up for the audience-, OR he keeps his composure, ignores the mistake, and continues on with the performance, acting professionally.) Just as mistakes work for musicians, they also work the same for writers. Don't let a mistake ruin your concentration and momentum. Re-reading the mistakes often leaves us discouraged and exhausted. Maybe its the story...maybe we need a new one...this one just doesn't have the right pizzazz that we're looking for....its just difficult to work with...let's start fresh. No. Focus on the story, not its issues.
Well, I have lots more tips, but I already wrote too much for most people's attention spans to stick with. So, hope those help. I'm cheering you on! Good luck!
11 Keys Not Found On A Piano
1) Make sure your characters, settings, and plot ideas are written down for reference.
2) Have a set time each day where you sit down and write.
3) Reread what you have written.
4) Put yourself in a scene and ask yourself, “Would I do that?” “How would I do that?”
“Why would I do that?” “Where would I do that?” “Who do I want to be?” “What do
I want the outcome to be?” “When do I do that?” This is the basis of the who, what,
when, why and how.
5) Proofread every page you finish first before moving on to the next page.
6) Understand detail is important, but too much of it can kill a story.
7) Read other authors, and not necessarily your own favorites for sparks of ideas.
8) Ask yourself if you would buy this novel if it was written by someone else.
9) If unhappy with most of what is written, rewrite it. Often you will find things you
left out before that were integral to the story.
10) Post an excerpt and ask for opinons. Proser’s here will help you.
i know this will sound cheesy but...
- force yourself to dream about what you're writing.
- what I also find helpful when I'm stuck writing or when I'm thinking of other better ideas (though I usually go ahead and start writing it and come back later), I think about and possibly write out character backstories. I think of something intriguing that maybe the reader will never know, but that I'll know. I'll know where the scar on his left knee came from. I'll know how she got her fear of butterflies. I'll know why his mother never talks about his father anymore.
- Plan out little scenes you want to happen in your writing and connect the dots. Choose the scenes that will make you want to start writing the moment you have a pen and paper (or a keyboard).
- Listen to music that sets the mood of your piece. Sometimes what I'm writing may not be the most inspirational or wow-factor piece but when I listen to music (right now I'm listening to Clair de lune) I feel the sudden urge to write.
hope this helps :)
Ah, the good ol’ pitfall: A new and brilliant idea.
How do we stick to our one book and finish it? Even when all these new ideas are hitting the windows of our mind and they are begging to be let in? The answer? Perseverance, discipline, and determination.
Okay, let’s quickly look at the definitions of these words (Thank you, Merriam-Webster!):
Perseverance: “the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”
Discipline: “control gained by enforcing obedience or order ; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior ; self-control”
Determination: “a firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end.”
If you want to write a book, and finish it, you have to persevere (despite all the opposition of new ideas). You have to be disciplined (so, control yourself). And you have to be determined (be firm in keeping to your writing of that book).
Easier said than done, I know. Those new ideas are tantalizing. Your mind is spinning with all the potential hiding in that one idea. You are busy with this book, but your mind is on that new idea. And before you know it, you are certain that the new idea is just a better project to work on for now.
But stick to your book, even when you hit the bottom and writer’s block is drowning you under all the emptiness.
Another tip I read once is to get yourself an accountability partner. If you are accountable to another person, you are more likely to get things done. Or...use the rewards method.
The latter method allows you to work toward a goal that you really want to complete. When you reach the finish line, you get a reward (usually something that you REALLY want; just be realistic in setting this reward, please). You could even add in a reasonable deadline, with a punishment for not making the deadline. Maybe the punishment is that you don’t get that wished-for reward, but when you finally finish the book you get something else...Still a reward, just not something you want as much as you wanted your original reward.
Anyways, that’s my advice. But, who am I to speak? I am busy working on my fifth book, or so. Are its predecessors complete? Nope...Why? Because I found a new idea. So, I’m still learning. But I’m desperately trying to follow my own advice, and maybe I’ll finally get somewhere now.
Just Do It
Force yourself to write.
1. Make a cup of tea/coffee.
2. Select a playlist--soundtracks and Ludovico Einaudi or Jorge Méndez work well (nothing with words). You can also try binaural soundbeats. Play it while writing and start visualizing your story or empty your mind and listen to the music. You'll figure out what works for you.
3. Give yourself a 1000 word minimum and one chapter theme/story beat to write per day, everyday, except Shabbat. I recommend using pencil or pen and a spiral notebook that you like.Write at a stand up desk if you can, or laying on your stomach in bed. Do not allow yourself to get up until it's done.
4. When you have 5-10 spiral notebook pages, you'll be done. If you want to keep writing, do so until you are done, but never allow yourself to stop early. Type it up, spellcheck, but don't read it or edit.
5. Repeat this process, no excuses, for 35 days, and you will have a novella, 55 days and you will have a novel. This is your rough draft. Save it often.
6. Give 3 days to rest and to decompress. Then print and start reading your story. Use a pencil or purple pen for notes & edits. This is your copy editing phase, don't make big story changes, just grammar & spelling. When you edit it in your computer, duplicate your rough draft and rename it as your first draft. This is the copy you will edit.
7. For the second edit, duplicate your 1st draft, rename it to 2nd draft. Print. Start playing around with your story. Fill in insufficient character background, descriptions, etc. Type these edits into your 2nd draft. Spellcheck and grammar check.
8. Repeat step 7 for your 3rd draft. This is the copy you will workshop.
9. Apply edits, repeating step 7.
10. You are now on your 4th draft. Duplicate and save as Draft 5. Send this copy to a story editor, then a copy editor, then a book cover designer & layout editor.
11. You are now on your 8th draft (once you duplicate the layout/1st proof). Check the font, margins, paper weight. Read it as a customer. Make notes In your spiral notebook. Now read it as the author. Make notes. If you are happy, save the PDF file and upload it at Amazon after you copyright it and secure a barcode for it. Now you get to focuson marketing, publicity, and getting book reviews to help sell your work.
If you are not happy with it, repeat step 11. Send your notes and corrections to your book cover designer &/or layout editor. Get a 2nd proof, and go again until it's right.
*Wear orange UVEX glasses for screen time
*Use symphonic music while writing
*Write your rough draft with a pen/pencil in a spiral notebook, unless you prefer a voice recorder. Transcribe to a computer writing program that is easy to save into PDF, and always save in the writing format and the PDF format.
*Take walks before and after writing
*Eat a snack and use the facilities before aitting down to write.
*Do chores, work in the yard, or paint/do photography/doodle after writing. It's good for the body and helps the brain decompress.
*Bluelight, TV, video games, and social media are your enemy and a cololsal waste of time. You will never write anything if you engage in these activities, gossip with your friends, are obsessed over your partner/child/parent/evil neighbor, etc. The craft comes after prayer/meditation--no excuses.
*Do not use a red pen to edit your work. Red is the color of teachers, stop lights, and judgement. You will not encourage your self improvement or creativity with red.
It’s All One Book
This could be a multiverse, it could be a long introduction to timelines that start at all sorts of places and converge into one eventually, it could be the many lives or incarnations of the main character.
Shove them into one place.
A shitty portfolio. A long list of good ideas. Let them brew in the same place and bleed into each other.
Then have your friends and family guess the endings. Have readers predict how you're planning to end things, and then agree with them. Tell them they're clever and they figure it all out so perfectly. Agree with them and accept that their predictions and suggestions are canon.
You're going to hate their answers. None of them are going to sit right with you. They're missing too many details you hadn't developed into the story yet, they're skipping over some of the arcs you hadn't completed yet, and all in all, they're endings that don't do the characters justice and waste the potential.
Let that dissatisfaction motivate you to write in the proper endings, and bridge the end to where you left off last. Fill in the blanks, but predestine the endings. The middle is where you have the most freedom, so set that endpoint and deal with the middle for as long as you can
Lessons I learned writing my first novel
(I have yet to finish editing it, and I don't plan on letting anyone read it, but I can tell you the writing of it was an excellent learning experience :] )
BEFORE I share with you my questionable pearls of wisdom:
Neil Gaiman talks about having a "compost pile". Have a notebook where you keep all your new story ideas, or write lil short stories with new characters. Like you're allowed to do other projects while you write your main book. If it's just fatigue from sticking to one thing, deem Sunday's your "fun write" day or something where you just write a lil short story in like 1-2 hours to get it out of your system, and then through the week work on your main book.
Include character ideas for new stories as background characters, or introduce them halfway through your novel as a new point of conflict or something.
Now, what I learned from my own writing:
I have found that setting too many rules for myself sucks the fun out of the process. Let yourself "free-write". Be ridiculous. Make yourself laugh. Have fun. Know who your character is, and then just invent madness and pretend its you reacting to those situations.
After some time, you'll develop a style. You may not spot it right away, but going back and reading through 200 pages you wrote, you'll notice where you break your style, at least.
Once you feel like you have direction - whether that's after writing one page, ten, or thirty, take a minute and outline your plot. It's more important to know your characters. How would they react to X, and why? Based on what past experience, and what future dreams/goals? This directs their (re)actions in situations, no matter what you think up!
So, once you've got that, you can make an outline (if you want). This provides motivation for that "middle slump". Make today's goal writing page 102-115. Tomorrow's goal is 116-125. The weekend when you wanna spend more time? SPEED ROUND! pgs 126-140. You can worry about cleaning it up later. So instead of staring down a 250pg manuscript goal you set for yourself back at page 5 when you felt young and ambitious, you only have to write 5-10 pages a day.
Make it a habit, like your morning coffee or your evening tea.
If you're serious about churning out a book, make a rule to only watch TV on weekends or something. Dedicate that 1-2 hours in the evening to your goal. It feels pretty good, I promise. 5 pages a day doesn't seem like a lot, but in a month you've made some real progress.
Make a bullet point roadmap for yourself, in not-too-much detail; you'll fill in the blanks with the finer points as you come to them.
Throw a wrench in your character's plans. Those hopes and dreams they had? Crush them, and then have them recover. Or challenge them in some way. They shouldn't be a broken shell of a person, but they shouldn't be perfect/unstoppable either. Conflict = interest.
Feel free to re-read scenes to refresh yourself, but fight the urge to edit if you're writing your first draft of your novel. Why spend thirty minutes meticulously editing a page, only to decide it doesn't really belong in your story once you're done writing the next five chapters?
So...yeah. Have a blast. Let yourself feel like an absolute bonkers person - no one has to see those pages but you. Once you know you've got some solid material, polish it so it is a diamond and no longer a turd (though I'm sure it was suprememly delightful in its original state). :) [[kind of my take on Hemingway's "write drunk, edit sober" lol]]
For me at least, it worked to write every day, even when i was feeling frustrated and like i should be moving on and if i had a new idea i'd write it down and save it for when i needed a break from the novel i was focused in. Consistency is key, there is no magic trick and it will be hard but it's important to hold on to that story if you think it's good. Remember no one will be able to tell that story if you don't and the characters will never live if you give up on it.
Infinite Imaginations (a rant)
Hey, fellow writer. I have the same problem. I start a project, then get the urge to continue a different project. I’ve read a lot of the EXCELLENT advice listed here, but I have already done most of it personally and I still haven’t gotten any farther.
‘Flesh out your characters’, they say.
‘Map out your worlds’, they say.
‘Plan the plot’, they say.
My fault is that my brain automatically does all those things TO ALL MY IDEAS. Therefore, to me, each of the ideas feel like they are already complete works; movies, shows, books, plays, videogames, or whatever have you.
‘Okay, then merge them’, they say.
‘Combine the books’, they say.
‘Use all the ideas for one novel’, they say.
Not bad advice, but, that’s definitely not going to work for me. That is, unless you want to see an action/horror/children’s/rated R/educational/historic fiction/inspirational/suspense dramatic rom-com documentary staring cowboys, aliens, knights, pirates, astronauts, schoolkids, anthropomorphic animals, dinosaurs, magic, retired geologists, mythological beings, science fiction, and Abraham Lincoln that takes place in every single country on earth plus fifteen other planets. In that case, be my guest.
BUT, even then, IF I WERE TO DARE TRY THAT MONSTROSITY, who would I zoom in to? Where would the storyline start and where will it end? Who will be the main character? What will the synopsis be?
‘Make character profiles,’ they say.
‘Know things your reader will never know,’ they say.
‘Go back in time and fast forward too,’ they say.
Welp. I do that with almost EVERY SINGLE ONE of my characters-- EVEN the “extras”. In my world(s), each character has a backstory. There’s no such thing as extras. If you have a name, you’re real. Heck, if you don’t have a name, you still have a wife and seventeen kids and you guys moved to New York from Bangladesh in 1982. If you make even a minor appearance in my book, be it a businesswoman in an elevator or a king’s servant, I probably know (or can quickly find out) when and where you were born, what you do, where you live-- and, most times, how you’ll die.
I need serious help.
But, this post has gotten completely too long already. In fact, I’m supposed to be writing my novel for NaNoWriMo right now. But, guess what? I’m not. You know why? Because my imagination is infinite, and my mind is full of worlds to explore. You don’t watch the same television series all day long without trying anything else. You don’t read one novel over and over without opening another. You don’t stare at one painting and never buy another piece of art. You don’t take photographs of the same thing at the same angle all the time. You need variety. You need to switch it up. Yeah, I know I said it’s a problem, but now I’m convinced it’s a gift. I feel that I have enough ideas to start a television channel (or streaming service) that has every different type of thing that anyone in the family could love and enjoy. I feel that, if I plugged a printer up to my brain, I could press out books that could fill an entire library with books of all genres. Not everyone has an infinite imagination and those who do often hinder them by attempting to shut out all the new ideas. I know you said not to tell you to write short stories or poems etc. but guess what? That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you. I don’t care. I’m a rebel. I’m a rebel when it comes to NaNoWriMo. You’re supposed to work on one novel, but guess what? Every time I try that, I get burned out. So, I make a project called “Whatever the Heck I Want To Write” and every word I pen through November counts towards it, from chapters of my main project to advice such as this. Sometimes I need a break from something. That certainly doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. It doesn’t mean I’m not a fangirl of my own work. It means I’m a fangirl of all my works, and I think you should be the same.
Oh. And you should be a fan of your own work too. XD jk.
I write short stories to give folks a taste of my work. If I wait to get a complete novel for every single one of my ideas before I decided to share them, I’m sure I would die first and all those thousands of worlds and millions of characters would die right along with me. If I write short stories and share them, I will be letting them off into the world a little at a time. Just because I only unleash a couple of short stories doesn’t mean that’s all I have. I just don’t have enough time to type it all. But that’s perfectly fine. I have come to the realization that I may never unleash all the stories as full works. But, when people comment on a piece, and they ask for more, or they chat about their characters and I bring up one of mine that are in a similar setting or predicament, I can keep up the conversation like mine is already an established trademark character. These little interactions with other writers and readers push me a little at a time to publish more and more segments, and, pretty soon, I just might be able to put it all together. But, until then, I’m not pushing myself, and I suggest you don’t either.
You BETTER NOT PUSH ME. XD jk
You know what I really mean. Don’t push yourself.
Editing lol. I edit so much that I forgot this and re-read it and decided to add it.
'Don't edit', they say.
'Just write. Don't re-write', they say.
'Never stop and re-read', they say.
Tot tot. I cannot. It's impossible. I just re-wrote the sentence that says "Just write. Don't re-write." five times lol.
1. I am a perfectionist.
2. I know that when I write and re-write, it still won't be perfect, but that's okay.
3. I like to read my own stuff. It motivates me.
4. I don't want the manuscript to look like ksndci jslksdjflsj kdfl;kjdnkfvjwe misofcnw viubw ieuhfo ijwefojwdoivmw dofjpmo[wejfi ovn ionfiocvm evm
or I will have absolutely no idea what I just typed. (plus, I can't stand all those little lines under the words. How distracting!)
Moral of the story? Edit if you wanna.
Do what you love.
God bless and thanks for reading my long rant! I hope you got something meaningful out of it.
Several ways a person can stay focused. The first obvious one is to eliminate all distractions. Caffeine, or stimulants would be my next solution. Then I would have to say a good reason to finish anything is the reason for writing it in the first place. The true reason, to help someone, whether it be yourself or someone else. Praying works for me , when I remember to . I am also a fan of writing to do lists. That is all I can think of, hope that helps.