The Idea Ambush

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I’ve just been ambushed by another idea. Not the first time, and not (I hope) the last. Ideas are tricky that way. You can be busy working out the nuances of one idea, when bam! A second idea shoulders its way to the front of the line.

Great, right? Surely two ideas are better than one. And maybe if you put the two ideas together, they can form a third, and a fourth, and … eventually a muddled headache if they can’t be corralled.

It’s a matter of resources. Limited amount of time and enthusiasm. Other priorities intervene, like all those pesky necessities of life such as eating and sleeping. Other creative tasks clamber for attention, too. I write novels and the occasional short story, and I also sculpt polymer clay and make beaded jewelry. And draw. And make gemstone trees. And paint figurines. And… you get the picture.

So now I’ve come up with an idea for a webcomic. It’s an idea I’ve had before that I never fully developed, and now it’s resurfaced with lots more detail and quite possibly a viable way forward. I think I can make it work, with a lot of time and effort.

And that’s the problem with an idea ambush. When a new idea strikes and screams for your attention, how do you decide what to work on? Put the work for the old idea on hold and play with the shiny new idea, or make the new idea wait until all the tasks for the old idea are complete?

If I put the old idea on hold, I lose momentum toward finishing a project. Finishing is important. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tons of unfinished stuff sitting about waiting for attention – unfinished stories to revise, unfinished craft projects that just need a few final touches. Sometimes I go into finishing mode and not start something new until I’ve cleared out some of the old.

If I make the new idea wait, I run the risk of losing enthusiasm. When I finally get around to playing with the new idea, I might not be as interested in it anymore. I’ve had that happen, too, and the idea is lost, or never is developed as well as it could be.

So how do I decide what to work on? I’ve never found a clearcut answer. Sometimes the new idea is just a distraction when what I need to do is plow forward and finish what I’m working on. Sometimes I need a break from the old, so the new idea acts as a palate cleanser. By working on something else for a while, I return to the old idea with fresh perspective. My general guideline is this: If the muse is shouting, listen. At the very least, I capture notes about whatever is currently firing my enthusiasm before that enthusiasm fades. Sometimes the new idea needs time to percolate before it can be fully developed, in which case I go back to the old and continue. Sometimes the new idea is fully formed, so I capture it before it can escape.

And sometimes I do a little of everything. In general, I like to focus on one project at a time, but sometimes I also like to work on projects in parallel. I can only devote so much attention to any given project in a single day, so having more than one project to work on helps. As today’s enthusiasm fades on one project, I can switch to another and still keep going.

The webcomic is going to take a lot of time and effort, therefore it’s going to be a long-term backup project while I finish my other works in progress. I need to hone my drawing skills, figure out how comics are put together, explore the new universe and characters, and oh yes, come up with a story. Lots of work, but it’s exciting. Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I’m planning to use the time to write out the history of this new universe and figure out some stories to tell. I intend to use the thirty days and 50,000 words to decide whether this is going to be a viable idea to explore.

Wish me luck, and I wish you luck on whatever ideas ambush you!

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