I’ve been writing since I was very young: I can remember sitting at the kitchen table as a child scribbling away in brightly coloured exercise books, inventing my own worlds and imagining strange races of beings (most of which were oddly reminiscent of the Elves from Lord of the Rings). When I got a bit older I carried on, progressing to tapping out my stories on the family computer in the living room, filling up the My Documents folder with my increasingly more varied tales. These days I’m still at it, sitting at my little desk, which has now moved with me three times and is still my favourite place to write.
But the odd thing is that even though I’ve been writing for so long (I’ve pretty much been inventing stories since as long as I could read and write), I’ve never actually finished anything longer than a short story. By now, in terms of the amount of words I’ve written I should really have finished several novels, yet I don’t have a single complete manuscript.
And why is that, I hear you ask? The honest answer is that I just can’t seem to stick with a single idea. I generally begin each novel attempt in a frenzy the minute a shiny new idea has entered my head, and every time I think that this is the one: this is the idea that will be so compelling it will carry my all the way to the end! And like clockwork, a few days or at the most a few weeks later another sparkling new idea will have caught my eye and I’ll be off again, like a hound after a hare, chasing this new idea and leaving the older one neglected and unfinished.
For example, recently I have embarked on three separate writing projects, and each one is currently in danger of being abandoned thanks to a loss of interest and a flood of new ‘better’ ideas. I managed to get down 20,000 words of a fantasy novel I was writing and had entirely planned out, but when I (stupidly!) read back my draft I couldn’t help but feel that the idea was really just dead in the water, and I don’t feel particularly inspired to carry on with it. I then began another story about pirates, which I thought (and still think) is a super interesting topic (there really aren’t enough novels about pirates, is there?), but when I failed to really connect with my main character I started to feel like it was too much of a struggle, and haven’t really made much headway with it. All the while I’ve been steadily working away at a non-fiction ebook that I want to write, and whilst it’s slowly coming together, it literally seems to be going at a snail’s pace!
So I was wondering how other writers tackle this problem, or if they even have this problem at all. Am I just exceptionally distractible, or is this a common writerly problem? I have a few ideas for how I might try and conquer this, but seen as I’ve been aware of it for a long time and still haven’t managed to finish any longer piece of work, I’d love the input of some other writers! My problem certainly isn’t not writing – on the contrary, I seem to have been writing more than ever lately – it’s sticking with one story.
So here are my ideas:
- I could start shorter.
Maybe part of the problem all along has just been being too ambitious? Some people can probably jump from writing a 2,000 word short story to a 120,000 word novel, but perhaps I’m a person who needs to increase things in increments. I have thought of perhaps attempting to write a novella before I try, yet again, to embark upon a full length novel.
I did manage to write 42,000 words of a novel for NaNoWriMo 2014, which is the most I’ve ever written on any one project, and that exceeds the length of the average novella, which just goes to show I can get that far at least!
- I could force myself to commit to one idea.
This seems kind of an obvious solution to the problem, but it’s just so hard when all those other new ideas are beckoning! But as I mentioned in the last point, my best ever novel attempt was during NaNoWriMo, when the aim is to work on one project for a month, sticking to a daily word count, and this is perhaps the ideal approach for someone like me (basically someone who needs discipline!).
- I could work on a few ideas at once.
This is kind of what I’ve been doing for a while, by combining my novel attempts with writing my ebook. Unfortunately though my novel ideas keep changing and morphing, so I feel like the best course of action would be to choose two, or at least three ideas and work on those and only those until they’re finished. That would hopefully give me enough variety to stop me getting bored so quickly, but also allow for some progress, even if it’s at a slower pace than it would be if I stuck to one idea.
So, writers, do you ever struggle with this problem? Have you also never finished anything longer than a few thousand words, or do you have drawers and drawers full of your completed manuscripts? What do you think is the secret to sticking with one idea?