When Ideas Feel Too Big: From Paralyzed to Productive

2 May

Over the past few days, I’ve filled thirty pages of the book you see here.

New characters, a totally new world, new conflicts, new everything. It’s a weird feeling to be first drafting again, especially on an idea that feels so HUGE. Like, it feels intimidating, almost impossibly huge. Almost.

I’m writing it in the thick, leather-covered journal you see above. In one of my drafts for my first novel, I discovered that writing by hand makes me feel a deeper connection to my characters (probably because I’ve filled 20+ journals in my 28 years—I think the pen-to-lined-leather-book action automatically evokes a feeling of vulnerability in me). Already, I find myself able to focus on their stories. It helps take the this-book-is-way-too-big-for-me edge off of things, an edge that might, otherwise, be paralyzing.

To anyone trying to start, continue, or finish writing a book that feels too big: here are three ways to move from paralyzed to productive.

[one] Think on the page. Not your actual manuscript page—another one. Write out your ideas about setting, character, plot, everything you can think of that somehow relates to your too-big novel. Write, write, write, until someone forces you to make dinner (or eat dinner). Or, if you find yourself feeling oddly compelled to bake a wedding cake or scrub the baseboards of your living room with a toothbrush, set a timer and do not stop brainstorming until it goes off. You WILL end up with ideas to work with, and they will help you start to feel big enough of a writer to write your idea.

[two] Set a timer, then obey it. Even if you are a fountain of words, a timer is helpful. Set the timer for an hour. Put the pen on the page (or the fingers to the keyboard). Write words. Do not stop to check e-mail, or Twitter, or Facebook. Rinse and repeat. Do the distracting things in between timer sessions (and set a timer for that part, too).

[three] Just start writing. Then, put one word after another. In this stage of early drafting, I find myself thinking, “What is the perfect scene I need to write next?” This is great—but it also can be paralyzing. Perfection has no place in a first draft. What I’ve been doing, instead, is thinking, a) what is the logical next step, b) what would I most want to read if I was the reader, and c) what feels creative (as opposed to dull and boring)? I then spend a few minutes thinking of a way to begin a scene and go from there. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a catalyst to some sort of action that meets the above requirements. This method keeps the action moving and often brings new ideas to mind that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.

So, there you have it. Yes, this stuff is common sense, and no, it doesn’t make the actual writing any easier. That part still takes work. It does do something magical, though: brainstorming + productivity + consistent output = control over a larger-than-life idea. All of which leads to CONFIDENCE. That huge idea came from your brain. You can write it, if you put your mind to it and do the work.

Take control of your ideas. Don’t let them control you.

12 Responses to “When Ideas Feel Too Big: From Paralyzed to Productive”

  1. Megs Monday / 2 May 11 at 6:52 pm #

    Says who common sense? Just keep writing is harder than anything to believe in, much less do. I keep feeling, if I don’t know to write next, I should stop and think of it. And it varies to a small extent whether I should or not, but just keep writing is a really new experience for me.

    I am excited that you’re writing again. It’s a lovely feeling to get words down on a page. Have to admit, I’m in a, “will you please give me words again?” spot myself, but I can truly delight in this for you. It’s one of the best places to be. Seriously.

    Sometimes I miss that novel rush. Writing shorts takes such vastly different muscles, and writing drabbles is worse. The way my brain is configured has to change every time I switch to another form. A part of me thinks I’ve forgotten what it’s like to write thirty whole pages of anything.

    Best tip here? Think on the page. It doesn’t help anybody if you talk out your story to the bedroom walls instead of writing. I don’t care how inspired I think I am. Please, Megs, do it on paper!

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:09 am #

      Ha! So true. I guess it’s common sense in idea form, not necessarily in practice. I’m definitely not against stopping and thinking, it’s just that I sometimes get stuck there trying to figure out THE perfect thing to do next. That has its place—for me, that place is on the next draft, and the ones after that one.

      Thanks for being excited with me! It’s awesome to be writing again (as opposed to being so focused on edits, which CAN mean writing but often means analyzing the crap out of stuff, then working a complicated puzzle!).

      I hope you get words again soon, too! 🙂 Congrats on finishing so many shorts, and thanks so much for always being so supportive!

  2. Beth @ To the Fullest Monday / 2 May 11 at 7:03 pm #

    I love this post. And I totally agree that handwriting provides a very different, and possibly more intimate and refined, experience than typing. Wise words!

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:11 am #

      Thanks, Beth! I’m so glad you liked it! I work well with both typing and handwriting…this one just feels like it needs that intimacy (whereas the other project I have going on is DEFINITELY a book that wants to be typed). So far, writing by hand is proving to be a great fit for this one.

  3. Linda Cassidy Lewis Monday / 2 May 11 at 8:02 pm #

    Excellent advice, Kayla. I’m struggling with the bigness of this book. I think maybe I need to try long-hand writing, even though it would probably take me as long to decipher my handwriting as it does to write the book. 🙂

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:14 am #

      Why, thank you, Linda! 🙂 Though struggling isn’t a fun place to be, I think it is comforting that you’re never alone in those feelings! You should totally try writing longhand. It takes more time, but on the plus side, when you type it in, you can automatically smooth out some awkwardness as you go. (And on that note, if you do try this method, I’d recommend typing in chunks as you go—maybe once or twice a week—so you’re not stuck with the tedious task of typing EVERYTHING at the end of the draft.)

  4. Linda Cassidy Lewis Monday / 2 May 11 at 8:04 pm #

    Oh heck, I forgot to say how exciting to hear you’re already hard at work on your next book. Yay!!!

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:20 am #

      And THANK YOU! I’ve actually been working on another project, too…finished the first act and have the rest of the scenes loosely plotted out. Since I have a roadmap done for that one, I decided to dive in to this other idea that’s been begging me to write it. I’m glad I did—everything keeps falling into place. I plan to finish both projects, but will probably focus on the handwritten one through the rest of the first draft before switching back. Wheeeeee!! (And then, depending on what happens with the novel I’m querying, I’m all mapped out and excited to write Book 2…but that will depend entirely on how querying goes, etc. Focusing on other projects in the meantime.)

  5. M. Howalt Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 8:49 am #

    Good pieces of advice!
    I’m always really thrilled to have a new story to work on, but it can indeed be a daunting task. I usually get a few pages in, and then I go, “Oh, this is big … I need to research. And figure out a 100 things …”
    Congratulations on having started work on the next story! 🙂

    • Kayla Olson Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:23 am #

      Hi, and welcome! 🙂 Thanks so much for your encouragement and congratulations! Yeah, isn’t it funny how one tiny spark of an idea can burst into the whole “I need to figure out a hundred things” thing? That’s totally how I felt with this one when the idea hit me. Fortunately, things are falling into place. But, still…it was really daunting! Good luck with your writing!

      • M. Howalt Tuesday / 3 May 11 at 10:31 am #

        Yeah, I think we often don’t realise how big an idea is until we begin exploring it.
        And thank you! 🙂

  6. Liza Kane Wednesday / 4 May 11 at 11:33 pm #

    You know me: I’m such a scribbler, so handwriting all The Stuff that’s stuck in my head about a WIP really helps me.

    I really loved this: “You WILL end up with ideas to work with, and they will help you start to feel big enough of a writer to write your idea.” So often (as you can probably guess) I have felt like I’m not enough of a writer to write my story. A combination of community, visualization, and good ole fashioned stubbornness keeps me coming back! And the feel of scribbling, and the thought that the scribbles are just for me for now, keeps me grounded and focused at the task at hand: pushing through toward a finished story ^_^

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