3 Ways to Combat Shiny New Thing Syndrome
Because you actually do need to finish what you start.
The struggle is real. Seriously. This happens to me every single time. I’m super excited as I start a new story. Act I flows like honey — not too easy, but sweet and smooth — everything is awesome. And then BAM! Two things:
- I hit Act II and my story slows to a crawl.
- Another idea — even more shiny and more new than the one I’m already working on (that almost definitely showed itself when I was in Act II of my last shiny new idea) springs up like magic.
When I was at my MFA residencies near Lake Tahoe, you couldn’t stand under the pine trees. Squirrels sat up in them, eating the good parts of the pine cones and then lobbing them at your head.
That’s what Shiny New Thing Syndrome is like.
And because I’m constantly fighting against my writer brain’s dedication to protecting me (and itself) from the hard work of actually writing anything, of course it seems perfectly obvious that the right decision is to drop everything and get straight away to work on that great new thing that just landed on my head and is going to be the thing that propels me into the career of my dreams.
My writer brain demands to know: Would J. K. Rowling have put off Harry Potter just because she happened to be working on some mediocre-at-best thing when the idea came to her?
Here’s the thing. I can almost guarantee you that in the course of writing Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling had shiny new ideas. That woman most definitely has a writer’s brain, after all.
The reason Harry Potter is Harry Potter is because J. K. Rowling stuck with it and finished.
She did not succumb to Shiny New Thing Syndrome.
And neither should you.
If it’s your goal to be a working, professional, successful writer, then you have to learn how to write through the middle of your story. It might feel draggy and saggy and boring. After all, Act II doesn’t have the brand-spanking-new thing going for it that Act I does, or the sliding-into-home thing that Act III has.
Act II is hard work. Doing that hard work opens your brain up to Shiny New Things that might give you a good excuse not to write, but that will let you still feel like a writer.
Dang. Our brains are so stinking tricky.
I have a couple of tips for showing your writer’s brain who exactly is in charge here.
Set Your Expectations
If Shiny New Thing Syndrome is something you suffer from, I think you need to have a daily goal for yourself. Something that you’ll meet, no matter what. I’ve written before about the magic of tiny goals, so I’m not going to spring “write 2000 words on your current WIP every day” on you.
My recommendation is actually very simple:
Make a commitment to yourself to move your current WIP forward every day. It can be a chapter, a page, even a paragraph, whatever. Editing before you’re done with your first draft doesn’t count. You need to make tangible forward movement on your story every day during drafting.
I can almost hear you saying to yourself: but my WIP really sucks! Why should I keep moving forward with it if it’s complete and utter shit and no one will ever want to read it in all the future history of reading?
My answer to that is to remind you that once upon a time, your current WIP was a shiny new thing. It doesn’t suck, no matter what your writer’s brain is telling you at the moment.
Go ahead and write that down and tape it to the wall where you can see it: My WIP does NOT suck.
Put Blythe in her Birdcage
Blythe is my inner editor.
She sucks donkey eggs. And she really gets out of control when she doesn’t have something to edit.
My advice to you, if you have “this story sucks, why am I even doing this” running through your head like a mantra is to lock your Blythe away. Get rid of her until you need her (during EDITS, Blythe. Come on.) Do not let yourself start judging your story when you’re only halfway done writing it.
Store the Shiny New Things for Later
Lastly, I want to make one thing crystal clear.
I do not want you to ignore those Shiny New Things.
You’re going to need them! Eventually. Just not right this minute.
So write them down. Even spend a little time using the How to Develop + Test a Story Idea system of idea development on the especially juicy ones. Having them recorded will ease your poor writer’s brain and let you move onward and forward with your current WIP.
Make a Commitment! Grab a notebook and write IDEAS across the front cover. This is your handy dandy, super duper Shiny New Thing containment unit. Commit to writing those bright ideas down and not let them stick you in a never ending loop of writing half a book and then deciding it’s crap when the next Shiny New Thing comes along.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.