Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How do you decide what story idea to write? (With Taylor Bennett!)

We are very excited to have teen author Taylor Bennett with us this week! If contemporary Christian YA fiction is your jam, be sure to check out Taylor's debut novel, Porch Swing Girl:

What if friendship cost you everything?

Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.

With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.

But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.

Today's panel question is:

Writers often have lots of ideas. How do you choose which idea to write? And how do you keep other ideas from distracting you from the one you’re supposed to be working on?


Taylor: I have so many ideas crammed in my head, sometimes I'm surprised they don't start spilling out of my ears!! I keep track of my story ideas by (this is a little strange) making a Pinterest aesthetic board for each one. Whenever I get an idea, which I usually fall instantly in love with, I set aside a bit of free time to create a board filled with images that get my creative juices flowing. Usually, this is enough to get me excited about the story, but not so excited that I'm distracted.

If I do end up being so excited that I get distracted, I might give myself a small chunk of "writing time" to write a sloppy synopsis--just enough to get my ideas on the page, but not so much that I take away too much time from whatever I'm working on at that moment. If I'm having a hard time putting the synopsis away, I pray over it. If it's an idea that's meant to be explored, I trust that I'll still be just as excited about it when I actually have time to devote to the idea.



Shan: We’re always learning, yes? I don’t have a bit of magical advice for this topic, though I wish I did. I’m currently moving back and forth between two projects and it’s not ideal for me. At some point you’ll have to commit and once you do, you need to see it through. For me, because I have two books completed and out on sub, I’ve given myself the freedom to move back and forth for a time. But I will need to buckle down soon. Knowing which season you’re in is important and giving yourself the freedom to rebel against your own rules can be healthy for your writing.





Jill: Uhm . . . I’m really bad at this. There is this sort of honeymoon thing that happens when a new story idea grips me. I can’t think of anything but that new idea. And if I’m working on another book, that’s BIG trouble. Because then I don’t want to work on the old book. The old book is boring. It’s hard. And I’d really rather play with that new idea that’s got me all starry-eyed. There’s only one way to survive this. Discipline. If I’ve chosen an idea, and I’ve been writing it and have set a deadline for myself, then I will not allow myself to give up. I might give myself a few days off to play with the new idea, to think it through and write it down. Because if it’s a really good idea, I don’t want to forget any of it. But then I’ll crack my knuckles and get back to work.

Choosing which idea to write is a harder question to answer. I have SO MANY IDEAS AND I LOVE THEM ALL ARGH! I’m constantly making lists of what I’m trying to finish and what I want to write next. At some point, I will choose, or sometimes I’m lucky and and editor will buy something and choose for me. If not, then I have to decide which idea I’m the most excited about. And I also consider which idea will appeal to the widest audience. I’ve written a lot of risky books, and that’s okay some of the time, but for me, that also means that after a risky challenging project, it might be time to write something a little more safe that will appeal to the masses. So I take that into consideration as well.


Stephanie: I've learned that good ideas tend to be "sticky" ideas. Not only is it hard for me to stop thinking about it, but it also attracts lots of other ideas or possibilities. Sometimes they arrive at a very convenient time, but often it's when I need to be focusing on something else.

When that happens, my response is similar to Taylor's. I write a blurb or synopsis about my idea. I usually give myself an allowance of time, and then I make myself go back to what I'm supposed to be working on. This has worked really well for me over the years. 


Writers, what about you? How do you decide what to write, and how do you manage other ideas that come your way?





16 comments:

  1. I write the idea that I am most passionate about at the time. Right now, it's my Civil War series. When I finish that, I'll be writing the last few books in a stand alone series of Christmas novellas. But my next big project is a trilogy of German Resistance novels. The idea has grabbed me and will not let go!

    To keep from getting distracted, I got down my ideas for the new story and make a picture file on my laptop. When I get the urge, I look at the pictures, get inspired and turn that inspiration into motivation for my current project. And oh course, pray over any project. God has the best ideas anyway;)

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  2. WRITE THEM ALL! *cues evil laugh*

    Okay, I'd love to do that, but I can't. It would be waaaay too much. I've been working on the same trilogy for a few years, and I originally only started it as an experiment for a new outlining technique. When I get other ideas, I jot them down, but continue on with the trilogy. Then those ideas get to simmer, and they either come to nothing, or they grow. When they've grown enough to become a decently-fleshed out story, I'll take a brief break from the trilogy to write the new story.

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    1. Sounds like you have a great system, Julian!

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  3. For a really, really long time I would just jump between whatever projects excited me at the time and drop them when I got bored. It's only been in the last year that I started really devoting my attention to ONE project, but it's made a HUGE difference with my productivity. I've been working on this trilogy and its prequel since last March or so and I aim to see it to completion while I occasionally work on prep for a couple other projects (mostly worldbuilding, at this point). Whenever I get a new idea I write down everything I know about it in my "Writing Adoptables" file to come back to later. If it's a good idea it'll stick around in my head. If I forget about it, chances are it wasn't a great idea (though that's not an absolute, given the number of story ideas I have written down or started).
    I do end up making Pinterest boards for some of the ideas I have, like a sci-fi set in Japan or an idea for a sequel to a fantasy I haven't written yet, and that helps get the ideas out so they're not pestering me so much, lol.

    I've actually written a couple of blog posts about picking story ideas, which is based on the new system I've created for myself. http://rmarcher.com/2018/06/camp-nano-prep-the-idea/ (This one links to the other.)

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    1. "Writing Adoptables." I love it!

      Moving from being a writer who writes what they want/when they want to a writer who is focused on one project is a big milestone. Thanks for sharing this!

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  4. I have a little notebook that I use to dump all my creative thoughts in and get them out of my head. It has a BIG space at the beginning reserved for each of my ideas--title with a brief synopsis, like one-paragraph brief. If there's more information that goes with the story, that I don't want to use, I put it later in the notebook. I also have a big notebook with character profiles and plotlines for a major series I haven't gotten around to yet.

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    1. How awesome, Christine! I love that you're making sure to preserve it all!

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  5. Interesting question... I have tons of stories waiting to be written. I try to write one at a time - I'll work on a short story and a novel at the same time, though. Usually the story that makes the most sense is the one that gets written first. It nags me, continues to inspire me, and teaches me some lesson. Or maybe it's about something I'm learning/ experiencing. I'm not really sure why I write what I write except it just happens, one story at a time.

    keturahskorner.blogspot.com

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    1. The idea of a story nagging at you resonates with me. I feel the same way!

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  6. I started a bullet journal dedicated to new story ideas. I jot down everything that comes to my mind, like characters, scenes, worldbuilding stuff. It helps me not to loose new ideas and to stay focused on my current project. Some of those ideas I don't even remember until I read them back, while others grow and grow.
    Because of the principles of bullet journaling I can ad whatever I want and still be organised.

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    1. I really like your idea of a bullet journal. That's a great idea.

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    2. I love the idea of bullet journaling but I've yet to really make the leap. I hadn't thought that you could create one just for story ideas. What a great way to do it. I'm feeling a bit itchy to start a journal of my own now!

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  7. Taylor, I love your idea of using Pinterest. Do you keep them as secret boards or can anyone see them? Being a visual learner, I'd love to see one, even if it's just one of your published book, your current WIP, or the next project you plan to work on. Also, do you divided the board up into categories: Character development and setting? Don't you love how you can separate a board into sections? I do.

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  8. I have a folder on my computer called IDEAS. Within this folder, I have folders labeled BIBLICAL, HISTORICAL, CONTEMPORARY, etc. When a Shiny New Idea comes along, I'll give myself a bit of time (sometimes just five minutes, if it's only a blip, sometimes an hour if it's a full-fledged idea) to write it out, much like Stephanie and Taylor mentioned. This "synopsis" usually has a whole lot of "Maybe they could do this" and "then something would happen that..." going on.

    I've been blessed these last few years to always be juggling multiple projects--one book I'm writing, two in various sets of edits, and a need to pitch something new in there too. So shifting focus is often required of me, and it's a lot of fun to take a day or two's break from the writing to do some brainstorming on those Shiny New Ideas. It reminds me I'm capable of coming up with new things, which is nice when I'm chipping away at book 3 in a series. ;-) But then, yes, DISCIPLINE. Must put that aside and nose-to-the-grindstone it again.

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    1. Yes, it's a mixed blessing when you have books that you HAVE to write. That keeps you motivated for sure, but it also feels super frustrating when you have a new idea you want to play with :)

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