Having a problem devoting myself to a concept

7 years ago | kspam (Member)

Has anyone else ever had this problem? You have an idea you like, and you begin rolling it around in your mouth like a piece of mind candy, and just when you get really excited about it, just as you're sure this is the idea you want to spin off into a story, you drop it. It stops being exciting or something makes you feel like it's not going to work or there's some kind of complication and you just stop. You put down the idea into some kind of conceptual filing cabinet and you never see it again. You tell yourself it's "one of your reserves" in case you need to ever fall back on something, but you don't. You just abandon it, and you can never decide on the one idea you like, the one you want to develop.

I have this problem right now, and it is driving me crazy. Anyone have any stories to share about their experiences with this sort of thing?

Read responses...


  1. Syphax (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I have the exact opposite problem. At least I think it's a problem, I could just be gripping for no reason. I have one story concept I really like, and have enjoyed writing for the past five or six months. But if I try to write anything outside of that, try to brighten my horizons, the results are shit-tastic. Just dull and lifeless and awful. I hate them. Maybe I just got lucky, and I found my thing immediately.

    But what you're saying isn't all that unusual. I know Wildbow build Worm on the corpses of a hundred stories like the one you described (and I might actually be quoting him on that), and I'm reasonably confident every bestselling author in the world doesn't just poop out solid gold every time they write. Sometimes it's just ordinary poop. But the important thing is to learn from what you do. Practice, don't get discouraged. I've given up on things before and kicked myself for it a year or two down the line. If you try a large enough number of story concepts, statistically speaking you will find one that clicks. Hopefully.

  2. Amy Kim Kibuishi (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Yeah, I'm kind of like Syphax. Maybe you should try writing some short stories, one or two pages, just to get into the habit of finishing stories, even little ones. I truly feel any story can be made whole, but it only matters how much time you want to dedicate to figuring it out. It takes a long, long time! But everyone is different. Maybe you just haven't found an idea that can pull you all the way to the end?

  3. Tempest (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Hmmm, it's a tricky problem. Before i began writing i would tell myself stories. I had a job that was mindless and i spent a great deal of time on my own. Some were simple. Others so convoluted i would drop them before i could really settle on anything. With Mage life, i just ran. Not because it's the best or most exciting or even easiest concept, but because otherwise it's just another non-starter. I have a list of unwritten, barely formed concepts, that I was convinced one day I will be able to do something with. Turns out most of them have somehow meshed with my current project. So there you go, my useless anecdote-ish thing. There may be something in there that will help.

  4. alex5927 (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Lolz. This problem famously plagues me (seriously, there was an entire discussion about it). Here's how I've been trying to kick it: force yourself to stick with a single idea until you're done. It hasn't worked perfectly, but it's getting better.

  5. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I've got an awful lot of ideas in that conceptual filing cabinet. A lot of awful ideas, too.

    Some ideas will take, some won't. A few tips and tricks:

    * Realize that many ideas can be retrofitted for any circumstance. File off the serial numbers, swap details around for genre, and X character template can be put in Y setting. Keep exploring, stay aware of what you have & what you've created, and you can swap stuff in easily. Be sure to balance it out, so you're not falling back on old standbys, but you can also draw from X or Y character if you're in the zone and you don't want to break up your stride.

    * Stay constructive. If you return to an old idea, explore different characters, start somewhere different, get a feel for it at different points in time. Always build on what you're doing, try not to retread.

    * I like to do postmortems. When you abandon a draft, put together a title page where you give the title, concept in brief, what you liked, what you didn't, and why you abandoned it. This helps you find patterns in your writing process or tastes.

    * Recognize that writing is work. That initial moment of inspiration is cool, but you want to fall back on routine and habit and momentum so you can push through the decline after the inspiration fades. Pay attention to what you're doing when the inspiration dies - I know I tend to over-edit, given a chance, and for ten years, I'd burn out that inspiration fiddling around with style and mood and getting the initial sentences just right. I can stretch it out more now that I'm using the serial to give myself forward momentum (and not letting myself go back to edit).

  6. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    I don't think ideas are ever really lost or a waste of time. I think it is wise to write them all down to save for a rainy day.

    Then pick one to try out and write scenes for - even if it dries up, you're still practicing writing. After awhile there will be cool scenes in your imagination thbat might prove useful for a later story.

    My book No Man an Island is the end result of a decade-long writing evolutionary process where I would take an idea, start writing, then throw it aside and start again. The best parts survived as the new story grew, and then I would start over again, and the best pieces of both filtered into the new work.

    Eventually I got rid of the worst parts and had a whole I was happy with. It contains themes that were important to me in grade school and high school, but in a better form.

    So don't be afraid to experiment until one story builds momentum and takes over.

  7. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    And in one comment Wildbow shows having read some Heinlein, heh.

    I come up with throwaway characters, concepts, scenes, ALL THE TIME. some of them sprout into something larger, some don't. There was a time that I had built a little html file that would let you enter basic info about an idea, or hit a button for a character, place, or event, and get one of those items that someone else had placed into it back out. I called it the writers cauldron, after the Stone Soup story, and several of us were sharing ideas that we couldn't make work, but that others might.

  8. Kess (Member)

    Posted 7 years ago

    Yup, I have this problem sometimes. A shiny new idea shows off and struts around in my head, but when I think about actually starting to write it, something isn't right.

    I've learned that this means that I don't have a fully-formed place to start yet. The idea needs more development, or it simply isn't enough on its own - it needs two or more friends to jump into bed with before something awesome will spawn and want to be written.

    The most recent example of this for me was Tales from the Screw Loose, a project that has been on my mental back-burner for a couple of years now. The initial idea for a robot brothel was heaps of fun to play with - it had characters and a setting right off the bat, not to mention so much hilarity - but there just wasn't enough there to start writing. So I rolled it into a back corner of my brain and let it fester. Much later, I came up with an interesting idea for one of the colonies in the Starwalker universe, and Screw Loose piped up from the corner, waving its little hands for attention. Suddenly, it had a much bigger setting, ties into my current project, and a whole bunch of new material to play with. It expanded, deepened, but still wasn't making me itch to get started; it was still a fun situation but lacked a real purpose as a story (or, as I like to call it, plot). So I sat down and wrote all the material and ideas I had for it out on notecards, played around with it a bit, played the 'what if' game, let it percolate for a while, and finally a plot rose into view. Now it's roughly ready to go (all I need is the time to start writing it).

    It took me a while to figure out that an idea that seems great but doesn't want to be written yet is not complete (for me, at least!). It has taken longer for me to be able to articulate what's missing when that happens. A lot of it is simply analysing and learning my own writing process, and the way that I combine and develop ideas. Most of the time, it just needs time. Other times, writing it out can tease out more of what I need, or brainstorming, or imagining how it would go if I wrote it as a comedy or horror, or bouncing ideas off a friend. As Wildbow suggested, playing with alternatives within the idea itself can work, too. Smoosh it together with another idea that doesn't quite work yet, adapt and keep smooshing.

    Good luck!


You must log in to post.