When Your Awesome Writer’s Brain Won’t Stop – Idea Overload

Sometimes writers have the complete opposite problem of writer’s block. As in, their brains won’t shut down and starts churning out all these good ideas that you want to follow through on and can’t because there are only so many hours in a week (I like my sleep, people).

For example, I’m still working on my superhero novel (Story 1). I still have a ways to go on that, unfortunately, but as I drifted off to sleep the other night, an idea popped into my head for a twist on a ghost and witch story (Story 2). When I started gathering ideas for that, I went back into an old novel I’d started a year or so back (Story 3). When I actually started reading what I had, however, I actually liked the story I’d been building (sort of a witchy murder mystery thriller) and decided that I didn’t want to fold that into Story 2. Oh–and I’m still getting hit with various ideas when I want to start working on the second book in the Gifted series! How does one prevent their brain from exploding again?!

So. Now I have 3 story ideas that I love and want to build on. This is where I need to be careful–writers tend to get overwhelmed when inspired because our brains are moving so fast on character development, plot twists, particular scenes or phrases, and the like. For example, I learned that I must really love the name Penelope–because I’ve got a character in Story 3 named Penny and a character in Story 2 named Penelope! So now I need to change one of the names, which means I may need to change other things in the story if I’ve built something around that name or its meaning. I need to make my stories discernibly different from one another to prevent reader confusion (or aggravation) and especially to keep everyone from assuming I work on some kind of formula (because I definitely don’t).

I also know that I shouldn’t be writing them all at the same time. There lies my problem–when hit with inspiration, I want to write down everything I can to save myself time and of course get it all out on paper for later referencing. But next thing you know, it’s a month later and you’ve worked on Story 2 so long that Story 1 feels neglected and sad and now you have TWO half-assed manuscripts instead of one full one. It’s especially bad when I feel stuck in another story with the plot–I move on to something I CAN write out and next thing you know, you haven’t touched the first story in months. Considering I’ve been telling everyone my next story is this Super Nova title, maybe I need to get control of the story situation and focus on one thing at a time.

I still don’t want to forget what I’ve come up with for the next title, though. So what do you do? I immediately write everything I think is pertinent. But then I set it aside and go back to finish the first story. I have to force myself to do it sometimes, especially when I’m inspired for another piece, but I know I don’t want to end up with 3 half-finished manuscripts – only to come up with ANOTHER story idea I want to work on, sidetracking me even more. It’s a vicious cycle, no? It’s about your focus–setting aside time to really concentrate on one idea at a time, putting your entire everything into it before moving on to the Next Great Project.

Some of it, of course, might not pan out, despite your thinking right now that it’s the greatest storyline ever thought up. And we have to keep in mind that there might already be several books out with similar plots or worlds, which means you may have to scrap it for fear of copycat syndrome (or you can call it your “fan fiction” and make a million dollars. I hear it’s been known to happen). In the end, that’s what I’d call quality–you can churn out 100 ideas, but sometimes there’s only going to be one great idea that sticks. One sounds like a fabulous book now might fall apart later–yet another reason to work one one thing at a time to make sure you’re producing the best work you can, as well as keeping an eye on the market to prevent oversaturation of your genre.

What do you do when too many good ideas hit you at once? How do you separate them from one another? And if you need more help with this, Writer’s Digest has a great article to consider our “Too Many Great Ideas” problem.

10 thoughts on “When Your Awesome Writer’s Brain Won’t Stop – Idea Overload

  1. Chelsea Cameron (@chel_c_cam) says:

    Yay for someone having the same problem as me! You described my EXACT process. No joke. People think it must be great to have so many shiny ideas, but I can’t write them all at once and they’re all jumping up and down yelling at me to be written. Then they sneak up on me in the middle of the night and interfere with my sleep. Wily little devils, ideas are.

    • LizLong says:

      When in doubt, the best thing to remember is you aren’t alone! Even when I think my writing process is ridiculous, there’s someone out there who’s similar to my methods. If only I could clone myself and get to writing tons of books all at one time!

  2. Camille LaGuire says:

    You must be young. As you get older, you accumulate hundreds of ideas. And yeah, a lot of good ideas end up dying of neglect. But they can be recycled.

    How I manage them? There is never more than one “work in progress.” If another idea pokes at me while I’m working on something, I’ll take a moment to capture what’s important — maybe a scene, maybe take note of an idea — and get back to the first.

    If I get blocked or tired or bored on the main WIP, I will give it a vacation and make something else the WIP.

    The key is to not waste time dithering over ideas — do what’s necessary to keep writing on anything, because you won’t have time in your life to finish all those ideas. At the same time, you can’t simply write endless numbers of beginnings of new stories. You have to practice finishing — finishing is a skill.

    You just have to find what works with your habits. Are you a person who can pick up a story your started five years ago and finish it? If so, you don’t have to worry about setting stories aside — you just have to be sure to make time to go over those old stories regularly. For some people, though, setting a story aside too long kills it — if you’re one of those people, you have to stay on top of it more.


    • LizLong says:

      I like to believe I’m still relatively young 🙂 What you said about capturing the idea (a scene, note, whatever) is a great idea. I am unfortunately not one of those people who can put something down and come back to it years later–I tend to get bored and move on to the “next big thing,” whatever that may be. Finishing is certainly a skill, one I hope to get better at as the practice continues! Thank you for that terrific comment-all great advice!

  3. The WordSmithe says:

    Liz, I use a project board. Essentially it’s a display board (like the kind kids use for science fair projects) with categories and post it notes. When I get an idea I can’t wait to write about, I write details on a note and stick under the appropriate category (short story, series idea, title, etc.). I try to go back to this once a month and look at the notes. If the note still sounds interesting, it stays. If the note was a fleeting idea without any future, it gets culled. I also have a file on my computer where I can write details of story ideas (it’s called Story Starters).

    Nice to see that someone suffers from the same affliction. 🙂

    • Liz Long says:

      This is a great idea, and thank you for the suggestion for myself and readers! I love the idea of coming back to it later to make sure it’s still a viable, exciting idea to follow through. Thank you for stopping by – and YES, we’ve all been there! 😀

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