Shiny New Thing Syndrome
‘Fundamental Writing Rules’, part 1
If you are a writer (or indeed any kind of creative type), you can probably relate to this: On the escalator going down to the underground you see at least five faces that make you wonder what the story of their lives is, why they look the way they look right now. You overhear a conversation in a cafe and start thinking about turning that into a short script. You read the headline of a news snippet, put it together with something you heard on the radio yesterday, and voila, an idea for a TV series is seeded.
Great! Or... not?
So many ideas, so little time
Obviously it is great for a writer to have ideas for stories. But if you chase after every new one like a puppy bouncing after a ball or a colourful butterfly, you’re in trouble. It’s what I’ve dubbed the ‘Shiny New Thing Syndrome’. It’ll make your ‘ideas’ folder bulge and your ‘completed’ folder waste away.
I love finding new stories. I have a pile of folders containing scribbled notes on possible plots or characters. Post-its with titles or topics on the door. A whiteboard that regularly gets covered in mind-maps for a new story. No shortage of ideas.
But a shortage of discipline. A tendency to bounce after the shiny new story thing. I’ve always been aware of that and try to combat it with schedules, priority lists and deadlines. And recently, I received some good advice that will hopefully add to my arsenal of tools to keep the bouncing puppy in check.
Ideas are Saboteurs
Currently, I am working on two projects, a rewrite of a feature script and developing a new short script together with a director. The short is a more recent idea (and I have a story partner, which helps me stay disciplined), so it’s still a little shiny. The feature has been around for a while, and while I love the story, it is more difficult to stay on it.
And then, out of the blue, this fantastic idea for a TV series comes along. Theme, elements, topics for eight episodes emerged within in days, and even better, no fewer than seven main characters popped up, half of them with detailed backstories. Fantastic! It’s about time I join the new Golden Age of TV Writing!
So, all happy and bouncy, I post this on Twitter:
Good advice tells you what you DON’T want to hear
I got plenty of good advice in reply. Create a ‘WIP’ folder and stick it in there. Mail yourselves the ideas and file them away. Run with the new thing, or ignore it. Others just posted, ‘I know exactly how you feel!’
And then came the advice I needed:
My first reaction was, ‘How can you do that to me, Bob! I am so happy with this idea, it is so exciting, I will be able to create a bible and episode guide for season 1 within a week!’
But then I thought, no wait, this is actually brilliant.
I’m used to my censor – or as Bob calls it, my inner saboteur – to tell me that my ideas are bland, nothing special, and my writing sucks. I had never considered that it might praise and inspire me. But once I accepted that, I was able to tell the new shiny idea: ‘Right, here’s your folder, in you go. I’ll give you plenty of TLC when it’s your time.’
I have just finished prio# 2, the outline for the short. (Which, as you may remember, is newer and shinier than prio #1, but still.) Now I will tackle prio #1.
And just in case I get distracted – here’s a reminder by a true master: