writing process

Chasing squirrels: the distraction of too many ideas and why it matters to stay focused

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New writers often worry about how to find ideas. If they’ve had a good idea they worry about whether they’ll ever have another. The truth is, many of us don’t suffer from a lack of ideas. Quite the opposite: ideas pop into our heads, scream out at us from newspaper articles or history books or memories or dreams. Ideas are coming at us all the time.

I remember seeing a Facebook video of a dog leaping at soap bubbles pumped out by a bubble-gun. It was going frantic, darting and somersaulting, snapping at those floating orbs. As soon as its jaws closed, the bubble would burst. Meanwhile, other bubbles soared out of reach, leaving the poor mutt with nothing.

You may have seen the Disney/Pixar film Up, featuring another delightful hound, an inane smiley pup who craves to be loved and to be helpful to humans, but is eternally distracted – 'Squirrel!’ – and dashes off after the elusive creature. He just can’t help himself.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? When ideas come, they distract you like the darting squirrel. They arrive all shiny and unspoilt, like that iridescent soap-bubble. Your impulse is to chase it but as you reach out, another floats by. You want that one too.

Try to resist the urge, however Pavlovian it is, however conditioned by the eternal human quest for the new.

That idea, that story you’re with right now? Yes, the shine may have come off it a little. You may feel you’ve lost that first enthusiasm. But you’ve come a long way with it – don’t desert it now. Stay with it and see it through.

Disengage from the distraction of new ideas and give the old one the attention and focus it deserves. If you record your new ideas in a notebook or Evernote file, they can wait. Good ideas are not soap bubbles, after all. They will endure, if they are any good. They’ll mature and grow in your sub-consciousness. And when you turn to them, if you’ve finished your previous story-task, you’ll be able to show them the commitment they truly deserve.

No squirrels.

Here’s one of Henry Miller’s work schedule rules:

Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.


Chase and catch ideas, share your work and ask me anything at this Saturday’s Creative Brainstorm workshop: visit the courses page for details!