Friday, January 12, 2018

Committing to an Idea

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

I'm so excited about 2018, you guys! This whole #GrowAnAuthor business is going be fun. If you haven't caught our first two posts of the new year introducing our plan, play a little catch up and read them both here and here.

Today, I'm going to give you all a peek inside my head. Because the first thing I have to do when starting a book is commit to an idea.

I'm very rarely writing more than one story at a time. In fact, I'm so bad at working on two projects simultaneously, that I do my very best to ignore any new story idea that comes knocking while I'm immersed in a manuscript that needs finishing. If an idea won't leave me alone, I allow myself a few minutes to dictate the idea into an email and then I save it in my 'Drafts' folder. Currently, there are sixteen ideas hanging out in my folder, waiting on me.

The simple act of saying or typing the idea out and tucking it away, frees me to focus on whatever it is that I'm supposed to be completing. Because here's the thing, friends. If we're going to grow an author, we really do have to finish what we start. Finishing is important.

When the time does come for me to select a new project, my 'Drafts' folder is the first place I look. At this point, I'm fairly void of ideas. I've emptied myself and all my words into my last project and am needing the energy of a bright, shiny idea to tempt me from my exhaustion.

And the honest truth is this: the answer is rarely in my 'Drafts' folder. I can't speak for every writer out there, but for me, those ideas that set about pestering me when I was working away were there for one reason: to distract me. To keep me from actually finishing what I set out to do. And while some of the ideas have promise, they've been hanging out in the back of my head so long they've lost their shine.

It's unfair to them, I'm sure, but I'm not the same writer I was when those ideas initially appealed to me. I've written myself into a new place. I've grown. And I'm ready for an idea that fits the new me.


In most cases, the idea I commit to comes while I'm taking time away from the keyboard. The idea usually arrives with a vivid image and a WHAT IF question that needs answering.

While the circumstances surrounding a first novel are always a little unique, I committed to my debut, Angel Eyes, only after the image of a halo captured my attention and refused to let go. And then the question: What if we could see the invisible?

And even then, even after I had the image and the question, I can't say I was completely sold on the idea. At that moment, I would have told you that, "Yes! This is it! This is my golden idea!" But, really, REALLY, one night's excitement about an idea is not commitment.

Commitment happens only after you've hit a few roadblocks and fought your way through. Like any marriage, pushing on despite adversity means you've landed on something that might be worth keeping.

I'm currently in this place with a fantastically tempting idea. I'm all in. At least I think I am. I WANT this to be the one. I've written a thousand words on it this project and though I'm not at all impressed, I'm not dissuaded. I haven't ruined the idea for myself. I still have a desire to puzzle my way through this question and I want to know more about the image haunting me.

And so, in a few days time, maybe a few weeks, I'll know. This idea and I will date. We'll dance a bit. We'll argue some too (because in every good marriage there are disagreements) and if, after all that, I am still excited about this idea, I will accept its proposal. I'll commit. And for as long as it takes me to complete it, I will do my very best to stay all in.

Because there will be hard times. There will be days when I get it wrong. When my characters talk back. When my story world folds in on itself. When my magic system backfires. There will be days when I want to give up and try out that striking new idea flashing across my mind.

That's why I take my time with an idea up front. I don't commit right away. I stew and I think and I scribble and when, at last, I know it's chosen me? That's the moment I'm all in.

How about you? How do you commit to an idea?

38 comments:

  1. I am 100% this way! I'm very rarely working on multiple projects and the projects I'm working on are stories I can't not write. It took me a little while to develop the discipline to focus on one project at a time, but it is so helpful for my love of the story. Because I'm no longer constantly distracted by tempting ideas swirling around my head, I can focus on making my current story shine in the best way possible.

    Thanks for this post! It is both helpful and relatable!

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    1. Yes! This! I find I have so little mental space for all the extras. If I can't focus, I can't write.

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  2. Your draft folder sounds scarily like mine! I am always writing, but I’m also constantly getting new ideas. I don’t write them all down—not all of them are actually reasonable as stories go—but I got a new one just a couple days ago and I need to write it down. Just so I don’t forget it.

    The problem is that I write most of my novel in my head before I ever transfer it to paper, and so for me to commit to a story is for me to commit to having those characters take over my head and thoughts for a year or more. My current WIP is writing itself—because I’ve been carrying the characters around for something like two years now and have already written two different drafts of the story that haven’t worked.

    So. This is a very relatable post. XD good luck with this new story!

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    1. Hey, that's almost exactly my creative process! XD I'm starting to write some characters I've been carrying around for a while. It kind of scares me... what if, after all this time with them, I realize it doesn't work? What if I end up abandoning this massive project I've been planning for ages? It's terrifying, but also thrilling to finally get them all on paper.

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    2. Oh my goodness! I don't think I could carry a story with me for that long. Maybe bits of it. I am jealous that your brain will work without your fingers though. Mine can't do that for very long. It needs me typing.

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  3. I typically commit to an idea once I've been able to write a detailed outline of the entire novel and a rough blurb and have a title/cover idea. These all come fairly quickly, and if it's a series - like the novel I'm working on now-I'll have an outline for the series, covers and titles for ALL the books before I can commit. Then I'll get to work on the first book🙃

    The outlines always change, the titles lose their impact, the cover ideas start to bore me, and I always end up writing two or more versions of the same book, each version a wee bit longer and more detailed and a whole lot more detailed!

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    1. Wow! Interesting. It's funny how fast we get bored, isn't it?

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  4. Whenever I get a story idea, I save it somewhere and leave it alone. Often the ideas then sit for a loooong time, and I eventually delete them or save them because you never know...

    Sometimes the idea keeps bugging me and more ideas come (or character ideas, or plot ideas, or storyworld ideas) and I add those. Eventually that idea may grow to a decent sized little summary, and that's when I decide that this story is worth telling and I'm ready to commit to it and start writing it.

    I have used this for multiple stories (letting them sit and build for a long time) and it has worked really well for me. One sat for over a year before I started, but I whipped up a first draft with hardly any difficulties!

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    1. I can identify with this whole percolating thing!

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  5. I do the whole email-idea thing, too. But (because I have more time/procrastinate more...) I also go a step further and start a Pinterest inspiration board of images that speak to me/inspire me. Whenever I see something that makes me think of a certain story, I add it to the board.

    But, honestly, when it comes to finding THE ONE...I'm pretty stumped. When I get an idea, I go all-in. The only thing that keeps me from finishing the half-completed, shiny-idea drafts languishing on my hard drive is TIME (because I'm on a deadline...)

    Because I have a contracted series, I don't have complete liberty to mull over ideas and pick what I feel like writing. Like now--I have an idea set on the Oregon coast that is oh-so-tempting, buy my series is set in Hawaii. I have to finish these series books first, so then I'll see if the coast idea still appeals...

    One thing I try to do (whether I am figuring out if an idea is THE ONE or not...) is pray. When I started writing, I didn't pray about it nearly enough, but I still had some sort of...feeling about it. Like God knew how passionate I was about the story and He would help me go all the way. Maybe that seems weird, but that's honestly how I felt when things got tough.

    Great post, Shan! (As always 🙂)

    P.S. Sorry for the essay 😉

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    1. Pinterest is fantastic for brainstorming! I have some private boards that I've used just for that purpose, though usually it's a bit later in the process before I set to work on those.

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  6. I'm loving this series and glimpse into your individual processes.

    You mentioned that sometimes you've grown as a writer and old ideas aren't right for you. Would you mind expanding on this a bit? How do you know when you've "outgrown" an idea? Is it just a feeling you get? A lack of appeal when you think about working on the project?

    Thanks! :)

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    1. Yes! Exactly. It just doesn't excite me. And that's key. Writing a novel, especially one that hope gets published, is a loooong process. If you don't love it at the outset, you will downright despise it by the time you finish. And probably long before. You have to be mildly obsessed with an idea for it to make it to completion--at least I do.

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    2. Thank you! That's a great reminder and way to test ideas. :)

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  7. I can definitely relate to the old, outgrown ideas. I can't really say much about committing though, I've only managed to do that recently.

    For years, I never did manage to stick to one project all the way through. I was consistently bombarded with new ideas, ideas that looked new and exciting, but were never any better than what I was working on.

    Then I made myself a promise that I would stick to one idea all the way through. About halfway into the first draft, I got stuck, and when I got stuck, a new idea tempted me. I almost switched over, but I realized that it was only going to be a matter of time before a newer new idea called me away, and at that rate, I'd never get anywhere.

    Long story short, I made myself push through with the project I promised I'd finish, and I got through the first draft. That was the first draft of book one in my sci-fi series. Just yesterday I managed to get to the end of the first draft of book five.

    At this point, I'm trying to organize my old ideas. There are about two dozen in there, most of which are too vague or boring to bother with. I have three that I would still like to do one day, but I won't let them distract me yet.

    Anyway, I'm enjoying this grow an author series, thanks so much!

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    1. You are so welcome! AND! Good job, you! Way to push past the boredom and get to the end. It is a huge leap forward.

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  8. I currently have an idea that I'm in love with and have plotted out far, far into the distance. This year, I'm starting to write it. I hope it'll stick and I'll be able to stay committed. Wish me luck!

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  9. That's VERY similar to my beginning process as well! Although my shiny new ideas end up either in my phone's notes, my inspiration notebook, or in a folder in my computer--whichever happens to be closest, lol! I like your comparison to dating. You really do have to get to know your idea and spend some time with it before committing.

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    1. Yes! Absolutely. I have folders on my computers for ideas that I've actually played around with--ideas that tempted me long enough to get a partial summary or whatnot, but in recent years I've really been working on not leaving my current work behind to think about other projects. I do have a free write document pinned to my desktop and I let myself write there whenever I want to, about whatever I want to write about. But more on that later.

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    2. Oooh, free writing! If that's coming up in a post, I look forward to it! :)

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  10. Usually I stew on an idea for a while before committing to it. Then I create a Pinterest board of ideas for it and see if I even like it enough to spend loads of time with it. If it passes the Pinterest board test, I start to brainstorm and develop the idea. If I still love it then, usually there's no turning back for me!

    However, would you say there's ever a time to discard an idea after you've committed to it? Where you think it would just be best to abandon the idea and move on to something else?

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    1. Yes, I'd love to know your thoughts on this question too.

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    2. Yes, absolutely. ESPECIALLY if you're young and under no obligation to finish. I think it's a tragedy to hold yourself to the same standards you'll be bound to when you're a contracted author. Embracing the freedom of your current bend in the road is a privilege and you shouldn't feel obligated in any way. THAT SAID, you cannot, will not, finish a novel by accident. It just won't happen. When you do finally decide you want to see something through to the end, the only way to do that is to commit. Don't do it lightly because the road will definitely get bumpy, but committing is definitely a crucial part of the process.

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    3. That's great advice. Thank you!

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    4. Thank you so much, Shannon! Sometimes I feel as though if I come up with an idea, I have to see the idea from start to finish because I came up with it and spent any time on it in the first place. This helps me a lot in sorting through that!

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  11. I have a very different process. I can usually write more than one novel at a time, but I try to keep my focus on one. I focus on writing the draft of one, then as it sits for about a month, I write the bright and shiny ideas that I had. Committing to an idea is crucial. I have committed to my novel for over three years and plan to actually self-publish this summer. I'm very excited and enjoying the process of everything that has lead me to this point. I'm still a bit new to marketing, but I look forward to every part of the process.

    Thank you for this amazing and inspiring post!

    ~Ivie
    iviewites.blogspot.com

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    1. Good for you! Congrats! I'm jot a huge fan of marketing myself but there are tools out there if you're willing to learn and work on it.

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  12. I can't stop myself from moving on from one idea to the other, but this year I'm determined to work at least 80% of the time on one specific manuscript. I picked it up among the others really because I think it storyline fits actuality nowadays, and it's what's on my heart right now, so I submit to the idea haha

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  13. I'm usually working on 3-4 projects at a time, unless I hyperfocus on one. Currently, the three that I'm focused on are Worth of a King, which will be my main release this year, so I'm on the edits stage (though I still have two and a half chapters to write ... I'm ignoring them at the moment), and for writing - Honor: a Quest In and The Dancing Princess, which are to be two of my major releases next year.

    Because I have so many ideas on my plate at any given time, I very rarely give attention to the shiny bunnies that come waltzing through. If one is being particularly bothersome, though, I will try to work it into one of my existing plots - whether it be one of my focus projects or one of my wings projects (stories that I will work on one day, but that day isn't here yet.)

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    1. The thing with my wings projects ... they're stories that I'd like to write someday, but they're not yet the stories that I need to write - something else needs to come before them in the timeline, or I have to find another spark to turn them from an idea to a story. Or else I'm just not the author yet to write them. Someday, I will be, and they'll be ready for me, and it's going to be beautiful.

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    2. A very good illustration of why there isn't one way to be an author! We all stumble into our own systems and if this works for you, huge high fives!

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  14. I have trouble committing to ideas... there are so many stories floating around in my head, begging to be told, and if I'm not currently in the middle of a big project, I feel lost. For me, NaNoWriMo is THE best way to make myself commit to something. It's so fast-paced and intense that I don't have time to do any second-guessing. But unfortunately, it only comes around once a year, so I'm stuck with eleven months to figure out what else I want to write.
    Right now, I'm trying to write a middle-grade novel, and I'm starting to lose interest in it. Usually when that happens I just give up and decide I wasn't meant for that story, but this time is different. This time, I'm determined to stay committed to it. It's hard to explain, but I feel like God wants me to write it. I'm writing it for another person, to be able to witness to them, so I don't want to give up on it. :)

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    1. NaNoWriMo is a fantastic tool! If you find that it works for you, consider giving yourself deadlines and asking someone to hold you accountable. You could also find a writer pal who likes deadline writing as well and encourage one another on. So much of this process is finding which tools work for you and using them to your greatest advantage.

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  15. Committing to an idea is a lovely idea ;) I can only work on one big project at a time, but as I'm doing that I can edit, write short stories, and keep up at my blog. So I'm always writing a lot... but only one novel.

    I store ideas away, too. For shorts stories and novels. I've been having three short stories bug me for a while... but I can't write them quite yet. As I write my novel those three keep growing and I take notes for them. I had five such stories, and I'll take breaks from my novel to write them as they are finally ready.

    I really love writing short stories ;p But I have to organize all the ideas so I can give each one the time it deserves.

    And sometimes the ideas mesh and several will become one ;)

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  16. I know an idea is my next story when the characters won't let up. They whisper and cajole until there is no ignoring them. After the Flying Ponies trilogy, I'll be working on a historical fantasy series. I'm currently in the note-taking phase of it.
    This is such a terrific blog. Your post was interesting - I love seeing how other authors work. Thank you for sharing.

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