Writing Dangers: Shiny New Idea Syndrome


Photo credit: louvecienne on Flickr
So that wonderfully fantastic thing happened again when one of you amazing people suggested a topic that I could have sworn I’d covered, except it turns out I’d only ever touched on, because when talking about discipline, one of you lovely commenters (you know who you are—thank you!) posted this:
“I don’t know if you’ve ever discussed this already, but one thing I thought might be interesting, is your views on when to start new stories. Such as, you are working on one novel and have another great idea. Do you keep finishing the first one and then work on the second even if your enthusiasm dips or do you start the new one immediately and use that enthusiasm to your advantage?”
I think this is a fantastic question because there is little doubt in my mind that most writers (if not all) experience what I like to call Shiny New Idea Syndrome at one point or another throughout their writing careers.

For those of you who aren’t acquainted with this beast, Shiny New Idea Syndrome occurs when you’re in the middle of a WIP, and suddenly—BAM—a brand new tantalizing idea sneak-attacks you and starts whispering things like, don’t you want to write me? or hey, hey, why won’t you take a break from that other story and try something new? You know you want to, and makes you wonder why you’re even bothering with this other WIP when that Shiny New Idea is so much better.

Once Shiny New Idea Syndrome has attacked, a writer is faced with two options: continue with the first WIP and remember the Shiny New Idea for a later WIP, or put the first WIP aside and start writing the Shiny New Idea immediately.

As our fantabulous commenter mentioned, some writers worry that if they continue with their first WIP and leave the Shiny New Idea for later, their enthusiasm for the new project will fade, making it more difficult to write later on. And while this is a perfectly legitimate fear because yes, that does tend to happen with some ideas, I truly believe that if when the time comes to sit down and put the Shiny New Idea to paper, you’re no longer excited about the project, then it probably wasn’t a strong enough idea to be written into a novel in the first place.

I’ve talked about this before, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but in short, writing a novel is a very involved process that takes huge amounts of time, and if you can’t maintain enthusiasm for a new project idea while finishing a WIP you already started, then chances are you would have found it difficult to maintain that enthusiasm through the long months (or years) it takes to write and revise and revise and rewrite and edit a novel.

If, however, you do finish the first project and the Shiny New Idea is still there, tapping you on the shoulder and demanding that you get to work, then I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that you have something good on your hands. Something that isn’t just a fleeting temptation. An actual, lasting novel-worthy idea.

Because the real danger of the Shiny New Idea Syndrome is this: oftentimes writers find when they switch projects to satisfy a Shiny New Idea, part-way through that new WIP another Shiny New Idea comes along that’s so much better than the one you’re working on now, and before you know it you’ve started four new projects and haven’t finished anything.  I hear about this from writers all the time, especially new writers who haven’t finished a project before because Shiny New Idea Syndrome is a sneaky little thing.

That’s not to say that Shiny New Idea Syndrome doesn’t ever give you good ideas—it can certainly drop a perfectly sound novel-worthy idea into your mind. But I truly believe the first test of its novel worthiness is whether or not you can sustain that new-idea enthusiasm even if you don’t immediately begin writing it.

Because a truly novel-worthy idea will still be there waiting for you when you finish your first project.

So that’s my take on Shiny New Idea Syndrome. What do you think? If a Shiny New Idea hit you while working on a project, would you continue with the first project or start working on the new one? Have you ever experienced Shiny New Idea Syndrome?

53 comments:

RaiscaraAvalon said...

Totally guilty of switching and writing Shiny New Idea, at least most of the time. It gives me a break from whatever project I have going on at the time. Then again, I often have MANY projects going on. Sometimes I just write the idea down and keep working on the current project, especially if it works into the series I'm working on now. :)


So in short, I'm all over the silly map! :D

Ava Jae said...

Once ONCE has Shiny New Idea Syndrome given me an actual novel-worthy idea (and when it hit me, I'd just finished the first draft of another WIP, so the timing wasn't as terrible as usual). Other than that once instance, it's had me start more than a couple WIPs that now sit very quietly on my hard drive. Heh heh...


Actually, I think it's interesting that you're able to work on many projects at once. I've tried that...but I need to focus on one project at a time or I have a weird tendency of losing interest in both. Not entirely sure why...

StartYourNovel said...

You might find this amusing, but "shiny new idea syndrome" is pretty much the reason I started my blog. That's why I pump out four prompts a week. Can't help it. Call it creative OCD.


At the same time, rolling out these writing prompts every week helps me stay focused on other (long-form) ideas for a longer period of time.

Ava Jae said...

That's a really interesting way of handling it. I imagine creating prompts could help you satisfy both the Shiny New Ideas and keep focused on your other long-term projects...very clever. :)

Krista said...

I have shelved two projects in the last 6 months. And yes - the projects I jumped to were shiny new ideas. But I try not to let that be the ONLY reason I jump projects. In the case of the first project the tone was all wrong - so I set it aside for distance. The second I was totally stalled out on.

But I realize the danger of falling into the shiny idea trap. So I am treading carefully :)

Kamille Elahi said...

I tend to plan a lot and work a lot on the idea and so when I sit down to write, I have everything. Thus, writing the novel takes less than a month. I don't usually get new ideas in the middle of writing. if I do get a new idea now, I just start the plotting andmaking notes until I can get to it again. I don't always start the writing thing as I get turned off.

StartYourNovel said...

Oh, I would recommend prompt-writing to anyone -- not only does it hone your skill, but it gives Shiny New Ideas a playground. When you bottle them up, some of them turn toxic.


It's therapeutic.

Also, some story premises don't seem so good at first, because one may not be ready for them. It's always a good thing to write them down -- you never know, there might be a gold nugget hidden under the sludge somewhere.

Ava Jae said...

So just out of curiosity, do you actually do your own prompts or do you just post them online for other writers? Also, I agree--writing down Shiny New Ideas is a great strategy, because although you might decide most of them weren't worth writing, you might still find a few in there worthy of exploration.

Ava Jae said...

So you're a definite plotter, then. :) How long does it usually take for you to plot out your idea (before you start writing)? I've also done what you mentioned where I write down and start beginning stages of plotting for Shiny Ideas, but like you, I don't always actually write the draft, either. Sometimes just brainstorming can give you a pretty good idea as to whether or not the new-story enthusiasm is going to stick around.

Peter Reynard said...

Shiny new idea syndrome affects startups, artists and pretty much anyone who does anything creative I think. The hardest part for me has been to say "No!" to all the other ideas because I realized my problem wasn't the idea but the execution. I just didn't have the patience to see something through and that's where the true reward lies. I have to keep telling myself this though.

Ava Jae said...

You're right that it takes patience to see something through all the way, and I absolutely agree that there's a real reward in finishing. There are few things that are more satisfying that seeing your finished work. :)

StartYourNovel said...

The prompts I post online are intended for others, to do with as they will. I explicitly waive copyright.


The ideas I want to explore for myself usually live in my head for a long time until I commit them to the page. I mull them over, sometimes for months. I don't use prompts for personal ends, you know, to record ideas. It's more free-form than that. That would rob me of the exploratory freedom of incoherence, which can open doors you didn't even know were there.

Yesenia Vargas said...

I think I'm getting Shiny Revise Other Novel Syndrome. I just started working on a new novel and I want to put it aside and research and revise instead. Must finish!

Ava Jae said...

Oh yes, I'm well acquainted with that syndrome as well. It can be insanely tempting, but remember the more time you spend away from the WIP you want to revise, the better you'll be able to complete revisions!

Leslie Pugh said...

I seem to suffer from this syndrome daily and have to fight it off with a stick! It is so hard to resist those new ideas and I have to tell myself daily to just stick with the current WIP and not get off track yet again!

Ava Jae said...

One technique to help handle it is to write down the Shiny Ideas for later use--then when you've finished your first WIP and it's time to start another, you have a plethora of ideas all ready for the taking. :)

Matthew Rowe said...

I mentioned this because I got hit by it recently and I've been wondering whether to chase the new idea. I'm a chapter or two away from finishing the 1st draft of my next novel and I got a great idea for a novel that I am sure will be my iconic masterpiece of awesome, but I've resisted so far. I satisfied myself by planning it in Evernote and writing down ideas instead of writing the novel. So it will be there when I get back. Thanks for today's post!

Author Steven said...

I have always suffered from this syndrome in a scary prolonged form. I come up with a shiny new idea born of things that I secretly know either won't work or is too much like another story etc...but I go on to begin plotting it out anyway! And I continue to torture myself with it for some reason, thinking it may turn out well but it ends up causing me heartache and wasted time... I am getting better though. :) Great article! Thank you for this. I enjoy these a lot. :D
~Author Steven

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Excellent post on the dangers of that shiny new idea that always looks so tempting. I really have to force myself to put it on the back burner or else I'll get nothing accomplished.

Ava Jae said...

Sure thing, Matthew! It was a great post idea. Writing down your ideas and saving them for later is a great way to satisfy both the temptation to work on the Shiny New Idea now and still finish your current work. I wish you the best of luck!

Ava Jae said...

So glad you're enjoying my blog, Steven! ^_^ As for this post, Shiny New Idea Syndrome is a common plight among writers, so know that you're definitely not alone!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Joanne! It can definitely be a challenge to resist the allure of the Shiny New Idea. I wish you the best with your writing!

David Brown said...

I'm currently feeling the allure of an amazing new short story idea that promises to distract me from my novel this week. I think it's different, though, because they're two different mediums, one by definition more bite-sized than the other, at least as far as rough drafts are concerned.


I've paused the current manuscript before when I had reached a tough spot to work on a short story instead, and ended up with a winner. Sometimes taking a break to work on something different can be a real self-esteem booster as well, which is important, I think.

Hildie McQueen said...

I am about 80% with a WIP and bam the Shiny New Idea hit me. Actually it was more like. "Contemporary is really big right now, maybe you should write a contemporary." That stupid little voice annoyed me until I wrote down the idea story, jotted a few notes to keep it fresh for after I'm done. Like you said, if it's supposed to be then it will still be there when I'm done with the current one. Thank you for the confirmation!

Gene Lempp said...

I keep a file on Scrivener that has all the interrupting children, er, Shiny New Ideas in it. When they pop up I just open the file, give it spot and type in whatever thoughts I have - then (very important step here) - close the file and immediately go back to the WIP. This keeps the idea locked down, nothing lost and forced to compete with the other SNI's when I'm looking for a new story to tell.

Right on target with the idea that if an SNI cannot wait then it probably isn't all that strong. Great post, Ava :)

Ava Jae said...

I don't often write short stories, so I haven't experienced that myself, but I suppose it could be different if it's a short story idea temporarily distracting you versus a Shiny New WIP Idea that takes significantly longer and more work to complete. And if taking a break to complete a short story turns out to be a self-esteem booster, well, that sounds pretty good to me as long as you aren't bombarded with a bunch of new short story ideas that could distract you for longer than you might like.

Ava Jae said...

Sure thing, Hildie! I usually caution against writing in a particular genre just because it's "big" at the moment--if you want to write in that genre because you're really drawn to it or have a fantastic idea, by all means go for it, but as it takes years for a novel to go from first draft to published, writing to trends doesn't tend to pan out well. Just my thoughts. :)


Either way, after you finish your first WIP if you still want to write that contemporary story, I'd say go for it. ^_^

Ava Jae said...

Interrupting children...I like it. Very amusing. Keeping a file to record all of your Shiny New Ideas is a great strategy. Not only does it allow you to focus on your current WIP, but it can sometimes be beneficial to have all of your ideas in one place so you can look at them together when you're ready to start a new story.


Thanks for stopping by, Gene! :)

Rainy Kaye said...

Great post. I usually just write down notes, maybe some scenes or dialogue, even a 250 word synopsis if I've thought about it that far---then go back to the WIP.

Ava Jae said...

That's a great way to keep track of your ideas and the essence of the story without distracting yourself from your WIP. Thanks for stopping by, Rainy! ^_^

Kamille Elahi said...

It kind of really depends. I tend to take a few weeks to 2 months thinking about during which I tend to generate a lot of scribbling. Then a week or two writing outlines and chapter summary sheets. sometimes I write short profiles for characters just so I know ages and stuff like that.

Yeah I have plotted for novels I never started writing. They just didn't work. That's one of the main benefits of plotting imo. No wasted hard work lol!

Ava Jae said...

I tend to believe that when it comes to writing, no amount of work is a waste, even if you end up not completing the story because I think we learn from every bit of writing we do. That being said, if you spend two months plotting a story, that seems like a lot of hard work. If you don't go with it I wouldn't say it's wasted, but it's work nonetheless!

Lori L. Otto said...

It depends. I think SNIS can be good if you get stumped in your current WIP. I don't believe in writer's block, because there's always some other scene or book to write. I write the characters that speak to me the loudest at the time, and I like having options of different things to write depending on my mood. I worked on all three books of my first series simultaneously and managed to get them written, edited and published in under three years, with very little down time. I'm in the middle of five books right now, and the only thing that worries me is that it's just taking that much longer to finish them... but I don't want to rush things, nor do I want to 'take time off' just because I'm not inspired by one particular story that day, or force myself to write a scene that I'm not 'feeling' at the time. I put my attention where my passion is. I write in the moment. It helps me 'be' the characters better, and to me, that provides a much better- much truer- story in the end. Typically, once I start in one book, I stick with it for weeks at a time because the characters or plots suck me in and hold my interest. But I always miss the other ones, and visit those characters regularly when they invite me in.

Ava Jae said...

I think for writers like yourself who can work on multiple projects at a time, Shiny New Ideas can be useful as long as they pertain to your various projects (or are strong enough to merit starting a new project). As I'm a writer who can only focus on one project at a time, it's not a practical method for me, however I could see the possible usefulness.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Kamille Elahi said...

I borrow from old projects a lot so it usually isn't a waste. I say 2 months but that's the upper limit. It is really around 3-4 weeks.

Cameron Mathews said...

And then there's the shiny new idea that is hitting you in between WsIP and yet your procrastinating self won't start writing it (for a grand litany of other self-critical reasons). Must sit and write. Go.


Thanks for the article.

Ava Jae said...

Shiny new ideas that hit between WIPs are the best-timed ones. Enjoy the writing, and thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cameron! :)

Veronica Duff said...

The only time I ever pay attention to Shiny New Ideas is when it's Nanowrimo or Camp Nanowrimo time, and I'm looking for an idea that may not be the greatest thing since Key Lime Pie, but is still worth 50,000 words and a month of writing time. But if it's not one of those times of the year, then it goes straight into the Writing Journal of Unused Ideas just like its fifty other Shiny New Idea Bretheren.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, I could see Shiny Ideas being useful for the purpose. It's even better, I imagine, if that Shiny Idea happens to be an especially good one, as well. :)

Keri Payton said...

I suffer from Shiny New Idea Syndrome constantly and I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees it for what it is. I know a lot of people have a hard time coming up with ideas, so when they get a new one it can be distracting. Ultimately it's important to keep your focus, otherwise you'll never get anything done. The worst part is that these new ideas wear the guise of productivity, when in actuality it is possible to procrastinate from writing...by writing!

Ava Jae said...

I agree entirely about focus. It can be difficult and distracting when you get Shiny New Ideas often, but if you want to finish writing a WIP, you have to keep moving forward, or else risk getting distracted repeatedly. I do know of some writers who are able to work on more than one WIP at the same time (which I find highly impressive, when done efficiently), but even that requires focus on those WIPs, rather than starting a new one every time a Shiny New Idea appears.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Keri!

Leaf said...

I experience it allllll the time but thankfully Ive struck this one story out and am pulling through. Have you covered a topic about fairy tale retellings? i think it would be very interesting!

Ava Jae said...

I haven't covered that topic, but I don't usually write about genres. It's an interesting idea, though. Thanks!

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