What’s Next?

I spent half of today going through my “Projects” folder. It was quite enjoyable. In that folder I keep all the stuff I ever wrote… including the first short story I ever uploaded on a forum. That was eight years ago.

Anyway. I did this because I’m trying to figure out what to work on next. I’ve always struggled with this: I simply have too many ideas.

When I was working on The Writer, I knew what I was going to write next. But for the past week, I’ve been reading and editing and writing on at least a dozen different novels and short stories. If I keep this up, I’ll never finish anything.

But I’ve made a sort of inventory of what I have in my “Projects” folder.

1. Ten thousand or so words on the new version of La tiers du cylindre, the first novel I ever wrote, the first piece of fiction I wrote in English, the first thing I self-published, and, probably, the worst piece of self-published writing ever to be sold on Amazon. And all other major retailers, I might say.

2. Fifteen thousand words on another novel, Dream City.

3. A three thousand word short story, The Sea.

4. Three incomplete short stories.

5. A bunch of fragments, scenes, and about five thousand words of something that’s supposed to be a novella.

6. About two hundred folders with empty word files in ’em. Those scare me the most.

Anyway, the thing is that I also have a few other WIPs that I have already mentally outlined. And those are the ones that I never start work on. I just suppose that as long as the story feels complete inside my head and as long as I have something else to work on, I just can’t find enough motivation to write them.

And then there are those ideas that I have, the ones I always postpone because I don’t feel a good enough writer. Or I just think I haven’t lived enough. I haven’t done enough research. You know, I just have to wait. I’m not sure if this is silly or not, but I know that some of those ideas require a certain skill I have yet to acquire.

You know, stories that would require multiple POVs, multiple narrators, stories that I’d feel have to be written as second person narratives (that’s a guilty pleasure of mine.)

Maybe I’m just lazy or scared of ruining a good idea. But then, if I don’t write these stories, who’s going to?

So, yeah, this past week I’ve been worrying about stuff I shouldn’t worry about.

Will I run out of ideas by the age of 25?

This one’s what I’m really trying to say something about. I am sure that some of you feel this way just before you finish a major project. You may or may not panic. But you want to know what’s next, what you’re going to write next. And you start rummaging for new things to write about.

I know I do this, I know that I do a lot of brainstorming just before I finish writing a novel and add a few more empty folders to the “Projects” folder.

But do you ever run out of things to write about?

I’m sure you don’t. You’re only afraid you’ll do. But the thing is that as long as you’re alive, you’ll have something to write. As long as you go out there and live and observe, you’ll find things that are worthy of writing about.

Just so you don’t feel I’ve completely wasted your time, here’s Ian McEwan explaining ideas and inspiration and how important life experience is to writing.

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44 thoughts on “What’s Next?

  1. Yeah I can understand that I have spent today trying to sort out my poetry with little inspiration. Then I tried to work on my NANWRIMO stuff and flesh the idea out a bit more but with no joy. So I ended up playing some PS2 instead; but it helped me De-focus and strangely give me focus to come back and do what I needed to do

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  2. Endearing… Thank you. I hope this emotion does not communicate any lack of respect for your professional status. I just love the human vulerability that is evident in brilliance– if that makes any sense!?

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  3. I actually keep a list of ideas for novels, comic books, a movie, and a videogame on my flash drive. If I do run out of ideas, at least I'll have plenty to keep me busy (about 40 or so ideas to research, write, and publish!). Oh, and if you have trouble coming up with new ideas, here's something that might help: go online, and using a random word generator, come up with three words, all nouns, and write a short story at least 2000 words long that involves all three words as major plot devices. You never know what you'll come up with!

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  4. I do this all the time too! I have a journal with the title of the idea and the inspiring piece of music it spawned from. And I even went through a period where I did seem to run out of ideas. (Not really, because there are hundreds of old ones listed in that journal, just nothing new that kept popping up.) Then one day, I just suddenly started feeling inspired again–except in a whole new genre from my previous stuff!

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes those dry spells, as scary as they are, can be the marker for what's about to be a significant transformation in your writing career. Even though I wasn't sure I would ever pursue writing again while I lived through the drought, I can safely say that instead, I'm a much better writer for it! So maybe that fear of running out of ideas is actually a good thing. It forces you to find some. :)

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  5. well i have the same problem with drawing .. i have tons of thoughts that i wana draw but i end up drawin nothing n it doesnt feel good but i do have this notebook where i sketch my thoughts hoping one day i'll change them into real paintings .. so as for u i suggest u focus on one idea now i mean see which of the thoughts r close to u now n focus on it n write it..n dont say u dont have experience yet coz its nt about ur life n ur personal experience its about ur imagination !! i mean u can imagine a whole different life from urs n write it as a novel or u can observe others lives n get inspired by them n turn thier experiences n lives into great novels.. so there r alot of sources out there so dont worry bout running out of ideas n wish u best of luck with ur projects :]

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  6. You? Run out of ideas? I can't see that happening! :) (p.s. how old?!) (p.p.s. keeping an 'ideas folder' is a good idea. I do it too. And laughed out loud when I read about your empty files. Iain Banks also does something similar: though doubtless his folder is much more interesting to rummage through than mine is!)

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  7. I'm reading my first Ian book right now actually…Atonement. I love it to pieces. He is obviously a phenomenal writer. I like how he said it is good to take some time off after finishing a novel. I've been debating about what to do after my second novel comes out in Nov., and thought about powering through another one. But, in the back of mind when I ask myself "What's Next?", it is telling me to take a little time off…to simply live.

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  8. I am more than twice your age – have lots of experience and lots of ideas but you are far more prolific than I. Your posts are major investments; do you realize that? Worry less, type faster! I don't remember who said it but I love this expression: Writing is easy. Simply stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

    ; ) Mitchell Kyd

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  9. No, Cristian, you will not run out of things to write,or be 'burned-out' by 25.As much as you know, as strongly as you feel about things, each will be tested in experiences of life.Whether you will find the feelings and ideas that you now have and hold to stronger for it, tempered or turned upside-down, remains to be seen.Trust me; no one was more surprised than I when life changed and changed me.Observe and care for others; if nothing else, learn from their mistakes. You have a long and in my opinion, bright, future ahead of you.

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  10. As a computer programmer sometimes we have a rule for complex programs. "Plan on throwing the first one away and starting over." That may help you with some of the ones you're afraid to tackle. Make a mess. Then know what isn't going to work.

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  11. Cristian, Cristian, it is oh, so easy, to pick what to do. Just do something productive while avoiding what you think you should be doing. I am calling this concept "creative procrastination," and it offers the best of both worlds.

    As I was researching what I thought was my next book, I procrastinated by writing an entirely different book. Now, I am back to that research and looking forward to creative ways to procrastinate again! Just talk yourself out of what you think you should be doing and the ideas you really want to work on will just flow!

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  12. Don't worry about running out of ideas before you hit 25; people are not issued with a finite number of ideas which they must space out over their lives, and husband with care in case they should run out of ideas before they die, with horrible consequences.

    Actually what happens is that ideas drift in on moonbeams, which is why you should always sleep with your window open; you would not want the ideas to bounce off your window pane and drop to the ground below to be eaten by early birds.

    [Note to self: do not mention to Cristian that Terry Pratchett, a man who has always produced brilliant ideas like a Catherine Wheel producing sparks, now has early onset Alzheimer's disease. I'm sure it's not related in the slightest.]

    Don't worry. Be happy!

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    • Alzheimer. To forget the stories you wrote and the stories you never got the chance to write. To a writer, when compared to Alzheimer, cancer seems to be such an insignificant disease. Makes death seem… easy.

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  13. You're young and already have so many ideas, just think of all the ideas you'll get the more you live life. You'll be fine. I'm the same way though, worrying about ideas and putting off books until I feel like I've grown enough to give them what they fully deserve. So you aren't alone

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  14. I read somewhere that you should never save any ideas for your next project – just use them all, put everything into what you are doing at this present moment.

    This is true, because each moment that you are alive provides you with an endless stock of new ideas. There are no new concepts to write about, but there are infinite ways to write them.

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  15. I always have tons of ideas and not enough motivation to finish them too. I think that you should try writing one of the projects that scares you, one that requires research, or a skill you think you don't have. Some of the best writing advice I've ever received is to write what you are afraid to write. That is how I picked the current project I'm working on, and it seems to be turning out well, even though it does require TONS of research and writing in a style that is from multiple POV and timelines. I know for me, at least, the stories I am afraid to write are the ones that actually have the most potential and are the most interesting.

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  16. This post made me curious about what you feel/think is the hardest part of bringing ideas to shape up and become, well, something. I mean not necessarily writing itself, but making up a story.

    I think for myself plotting is that hardest part. I can make up characters, alternate realities etc. fairly well (or so people who like me like to tell me), but to bring a whole story (not just a short story, I mean novel length however fuzzy that is) to an end that's some sort of satisfactory (or so dissatisfactory that the lack of satisfaction makes it a good read)…that is hard.

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  17. too many ideas seems like a nice problem to have until it's your problem. i know where you're coming from. my problem is that i haven't much zest for any of them once i start thinking of them; i shut myself down. it's not nice how i treat myself sometimes… rrr.

    ps – i love your blog's new look! :)

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  18. Wonderfully honest post! I think Mr. McEwan may have offered the best advice: 1. Get away from your daily routine…if that is home and/or office …leave it for a spell. 2. Put yourself in a state of "useful passivity"…which to me means, set your intention (e.g. it might be, in your case, to come up with an in idea for your next project) and then just let it go. Don't obsess on it. Allow for the possibilities to surface naturally. 3. "Trick yourself". Play with doing some writing on a subject you've thought about with no sense of obligation to complete it and dismiss any other expectations that would just put additional pressure on you. Just see where it goes. I can bet the store on one thing; you have not run out nor will you run out of things to write about. There are many more stories to come! Enjoy the process.

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  19. Well, I'm pushing 50 and I've yet to run out of ideas. One of my heroes is Donald Westlake, who had a writing career that spanned nearly 50 years. So I wouldn't worry about being washed up at 25.

    You want me to tell you what to write next? Write a caper novel about a gang of international jewel thieves hired to steal the Shroud of Turin. Or a lighthearted romance set in a traveling circus in the 1930's. Or a horror novel about a man who wakes up after a suicide attempt with no memory of why he tried to kill himself. Or an H G Wells pastiche about what happened to the beast-men on the Island Of Dr. Moreau after the doctor died.

    Ideas are easy. They're like poker hands–they are all good and they are all bad. It's how you play them that makes them work.

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  20. I hate when thoughts come pouring in abundantly – while I'm driving and can't stop, in the middle of a high stakes exam that's timed…I feel panicked that they'll escape or never be as good when I have time to capture them! Then I remind myself I'll just have to hunt them down again & maybe they'll be as fun the 2nd time around. ;)

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  21. So it's not just me? The WIP folders? Don't sweat running out of ideas, young man. You have an obvious fertile mind. I have you by 30 years, they don't run out. W. Somerset Maugham said, "Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take tooo long."

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  22. There is no limit to ideas for writing. Like many of you, I have lists of ideas and the lists grow faster than the stories I write, so it will be impossible to catch up. Life continues to hand us new stories each day wherever we happen to roam. Keep your eyes and ears open tomorrow for another story idea.

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  23. I'm glad I am not alone :). I have hundreds of short stories, even a 70% finished novel, notes, ideas scribbled down, all tucked away some place safe. My debut novel included paragraphs and ideas that I wrote when I was 16 (a very long time ago now, it feels).

    I never expected to use them, but, as I was writing the novel, I suddenly discovered that pieces of them fitted in perfectly (and very unexpectedly).

    You wrote all of these things for a reason, Cristian. It may not be time for them yet, but one day, you'll be thankful that you did.

    .

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  24. Borges was said to have written everything by the time he was forty (roughly equivalent to have running out of ideas? who knows, perhaps it was a for of discipline) and then to have spent the rest of this life rewriting them. I personally believe that as we age our perspective on new ideas changes, we naturally become conservative. For a writer with the foundations laid, this new approach to novelty can only be seen as a secondary resource. The raw material is lying in the notes and words already written. I have at least as many projects in electronic format and then that many times over in barely legible notebooks.

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  25. There is so much interesting to write about that I never run out of ideas, It's the actual writing that is the problem. It takes so long to write even a short story if you want to get it right. You can write a story in less than an hour and spend a lifetime correcting the mistakes.

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  26. I really appreciate your explanation of the awkward writing process. I do this with writing and other things, and eventually I turn up something good, but sometimes I just have thoughts and ideas and projects laying around that aren't just waiting for me to pick them up. ;-)
    Oh, and don't worry about the 25 mark, you have nothing to fear ;-)

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  27. Hi mate – nice post. I'm sure you will have copious ideas throughout every decade of you life, although they will no doubt evolve as you do.

    One of my teacher's fave bits of advice was to keep everything and reuse it later. After studying with professional writers and asking about this it's clear she was talking very good sense.

    It makes one wonder how many famous stories started life as an outtake or something completely different…

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  28. Cristian–Neither cancer nor Alzheimer scare me. I watched my mother and father battle cancer knowing the inevitably that was just around the corner. They were comfortable with themselves in that position. It wasn't Alzheimer. However, my father-in-law died with another form of dementia. He was pleasantly confused and had no idea where he was or what was happening. I've been battling a mild case of aphasia for 3 and a half years. I know what I want to say, I just don't have the words to express the ideas. Having ideas locked up inside me and having no way to get them out is very frightening.

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  29. I really enjoy your blog, and I especially like this post. I worry about running out of things to write about too. Like you, I've found that if you go out live and observe, ideas come. Thanks for posting the interview with Ian McEwan.

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  30. Pingback: The Cutting Room Floor « libertarianinmind

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