How to Keep Your New Stories from Taking Over Your Old Ones

I hear this a lot from other writers.  “OMG, I have to stop writing the current story I’m working on and write a new one because it’s screaming at me to be written!”  I used to have real problems with this too.  The end result, of course, is that you never actually finish anything.

Well, I have a practical solution for how to avoid allowing this to happen that I have developed over many years.  Here’s an exercise that will help you with it:

  1. Get your favourite dessert.  It could be anything except ice cream: an eclair, a doughnut, Death by Chocolate, blueberry cheesecake, etc.
  2. Serve yourself up a normal-sized portion of it (what you would typically eat in one sitting.)
  3. Eat half of it.
  4. Put the other half in the fridge and do not allow yourself to eat it until the following day under any circumstances.
  5. Reward yourself for your diligence by eating the remaining half when the self-imposed time limit has expired!

You see?  Preventing yourself from starting on the new story until after the old one is done is a skill called delayed gratification.  It means putting off something you want to do right now because it feels good until later, because now is not a convenient time!

I understand not wanting to forget the idea.  That’s why my practice exercise involves eating half of the dessert.  Let’s see how this applies to writing:

  1. Uh oh!  You’ve got a new idea that desperately wants to be written but you’re only three-quarters done the one you’re working on right now.  First, put the story you’re working on down.  Yes, that’s right, put it down now.
  2. Get a notebook, or OneNote on your computer, or some such method of recording your thoughts.  Write a synopsis of your new story idea.
  3. Make notes in point form about other important story points: character names that have come to you, a scene you saw in your head, major important events.  Do not force new ideas to come, just write the things down that have already come to you so that you will not lose the basic thread of your thought.
  4. Put the notebook or other writing format away and return to finishing the story you have already committed to working on.
  5. When you have completed the story you’re working on, reward yourself for your patience by pulling that notebook back out and working on the story you’ve come with to work on next!

See?  It’s so easy, and yet so hard.  But you’re stubborn.  You’re willing to spend months working on something that someone is going to read in an afternoon and then give shitty reviews on Goodreads because they don’t like your character or don’t even read your genre.  Surely you can do it!

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