Cosmic Signals and Other Bright, Sparkly Things
I can say this and get away with it because I love her: My wife has the attention span of a coked-up Irish setter.
As a for instance, she has this tendency to ask me a question and before I can answer her, she’ll move on to another query on a separate, unrelated topic. Or we’ll be watching TV and she’ll change the channel and ask, “Have we seen this before?” with each stop on the dial.
Nowhere, though, does this endearing character flaw rear its distracted head more often than when we’re in a retail environment. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a mall or at Costco or even strolling along the sidewalk in some gentrified downtown; if she catches but a fleeting glimpse of jewelry — bright, sparkly baubles in a store window — she’ll hone in on it faster than a shark attacks chum.
So in the past, when I’ve been away on business and I’ve come home to find she’s launched fifteen household projects at once but is nowhere close to completing any of them, I’d sigh then say to myself, “Don’t complain, bucko, and admit it — you’re more like her than you wanna let on.”
The mind of your typical writer, it seems, is always in motion. I can’t speak for others, but for me, no matter what I may be working on at any given moment, I’ll stumble upon a news article or an old memory will surface or some non-sentient thing will catch my eye. Then I realize I’ve found inspiration for my next story, or the story after that. Perhaps I’ll take physical notes, or I’ll file this idea in a corner of my mental filing cabinet, for later use in the event my muse is on vacation.
More often than not this happens whenever my work on a particular project hits a wall, which, in turn, sends my inner selves into conflict. At times like these, one me argues I should finish what I’ve started, just sit down and write and put verbal vomit on the page and get the first draft done no matter what, then edit the garbage out of it and get it out the door.
Then my other me observes that I haven’t written anything new in weeks — all I do is edit what I’ve already finished ad nauseum — so maybe digging into something fresh will clear the cobwebs from my otherwise empty head and, who knows, it may be better than what I’m doing now.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Which is what I’ve been trying to avoid for the last couple of months, even as I’m beset with a stream of cosmic signals that seem to be communicating a message:
There’s this one story you’ve always wanted to write…dude, why not go for it?
Without giving too much away, the story I have in mind is way far removed from anything I’ve written to date. If I ever manage to make real words, it will be a semi-autobiographical look back in time, with a heaping dose of nostalgia, at a period in my life that changed me — I suppose for the better — with some chest-deep philosophical reflections running through the narrative. And the cosmic signals bedeviling me? Pretty much any song I hear from the 1980s.
My impetuous second me wishes I’d get to work on this sparkly new thing ASAP, before I lose sight of what I wish to convey in the story or, worse, give up on ever putting it down on paper at all. My first, more cautious me is waving a yellow flag, telling me to slow down, be sensible and responsible, and finish my current work-in-progress before I step inside the store and buy this bright new object.
The other day, I sat down with all of me and we all agreed to this compromise: I’ve done some preliminary research, most of which involves tapping my 30-plus year old memory banks, and I’ve even developed a list of potential character names. And I’ve parsed out an overriding theme for the story, to give the narrative a bit more heft. But I have not, and will not, start writing — physically, anyway — until the time is right, and when I’m am fully invested in the story I want to tell.
So, my fellow authors/writers, how do you handle situations like this? Are you a one-at-a-time scribe, or do you attack two or more projects simultaneously? If so, how do you maintain focus? And what advice do you have for other writers whose minds are brimming with great ideas, but they don’t know which one to pursue first?