Writer-y Thoughts From Stephen King That Still Resonate
There's an old interview with Stephen King from 2011 which I re-read recently, and I noticed that even though this was posted over a decade ago, a few things remain true (for me at least):
SK: [...] The other thing that happens with that is, say you're working on something and it's going along pretty well, and two or three ideas occur, and they're all yelling "You should write this! You should write this!" It's almost like being married and all of a sudden your life is full of beautiful women. You have to stay faithful to what you're working on. But it can be uncomfortable.
This is kind of where I am right now, with too many ideas, no clue which ones can (and should) be turned into fiction, struggling to focus on just one thing and get it finished. I've noticed I'm better off working on one thing at a time, although that temptation to story-hop is always there at the back of my mind.
And slightly related to the above:
SK: No. I never write ideas down. Because all you do when you write ideas down is kind of immortalize something that should go away. If they're bad ideas, they go away on their own.
JP: So this awful thing of the writer who goes, "Oh, I had a great idea but I forgot it!" -- you don't really subscribe to that.
SK: No. Because that wasn't a great idea. If you can't remember it, it was a terrible idea.
I kind of get this. Years ago I kept a folder full of documents containing story ideas, random snippets, notes and plans and diagrams, but in the last year I haven't hoarded as much because I started to notice how a lot of the story ideas ended up festering over long periods of time. The trouble with many new ideas is we're prone to think they're The Most Amazing Idea Ever, but I've found a lot of these ideas are like lighting an inspiration match—bright when they flare, but short-lived. Maybe we're just so thrilled to find an idea, we get overzealous. That's definitely the case with me.
The opposite of this happened with one of my latest stories. I wrote the original draft a few years back, but the damn thing wasn't working—it was too heavy-handed and overwrought, and I couldn't figure out how to fix it. At one point, me and my beta reader agreed it was likely one of those learning process stories, and I put it away, thinking it was a lost cause. But that idea nagged incessantly, and deep down I knew it was an interesting idea. Eventually, I pulled it out again and gave it a total overhaul, with new characters, a new setting, and tighter prose/concepts. Now I have a story I'm pleased with, and a story I'm glad I didn't give up on. Somehow, I just knew it was a keeper, and even if it never gets accepted anywhere, I'm still happy I wrote it.
So maybe a good exercise would be to open the idea folder and get brutal. Hack away the ideas that've been sitting there for years but have yet to be written. Discard the ones you haven't thought about in months.
And maybe start writing the ones you can't stop thinking about.