On shiny new ideas

Yesterday I started making notes for a book that is not the book I am working on. It’s sort of like cheating on a long-term lover, except not – it’s more like just meeting someone else for a drink. Maybe lunch. (Not dinner. Well, I made world-build-y notes – maybe that is dinner. And at least two of the characters have names now. Oh, dear, maybe it was dinner.) Some people might see it as cheating, I suppose. After all, you’re committed to your book. You’ve said to yourself that you’re going to see this thing through. Going to see where it takes you. You haven’t cited irreconcilable differences just yet – you’re still going to go home to your book that night. So what are you doing, out for lunch or maybe even dinner with this new book? Such a flirt. Clearly.

But the thing is, the new idea always seems shinier. Always. It’s untainted. It exists only in your head – it’s perfect and glossy and brilliant and you haven’t tried to put it down on paper yet. You haven’t seen what happens when the words don’t instantly match up with the image you had in your mind. And even if it is pretty from a distance… it doesn’t mean it’ll work long-term.

Because books – they’re long-term. They’re more complicated than just that instant jolt of chemistry, the buzz of a fresh new idea. They’re not just about one idea, one nifty thing you’ve thought of, or one particular conflict, or one dynamic character. They’re about several ideas, building from that first idea, several characters, several plot threads, and, you know, that ‘hard work’ part of actually sitting down and writing 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 or 120,000 words. And sooner or later you realise that the shiny-new-idea is not immune to this. It’s not different, it’s not special – it’s just in that hazy high that comes with something (ahem) novel.

But I made notes. And I do try to do this, where I can, rather than leaping into yet another ‘chapter one’ and seeing what happens next and running out of steam. Let it simmer. If it’s any use, it’ll still be there when the current book is finished, or some version of it is finished. Because sometimes, I think, you need to go for that lunch or drink just to make sure. Otherwise that potential of a spark is hanging there, seeming brighter and better than it really is. Otherwise the possibilities start clouding everything else – from a distance you can’t see the imperfections and the fixer-upper aspects of that initial idea. Up close, you see it for what it is, and who knows, someday things might work out. But not today.

(Additional note: I think my books-as-relationships metaphors tend to explain why relationships and myself do not always get along that well.)

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About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

16 responses to “On shiny new ideas

  • Olive

    Great post! And I can completely identify with the excitement of a lovely new idea, it seems so much more appealing than trudging away at that long-term piece…

  • Tweets that mention On shiny new ideas « Claire Hennessy -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Claire Hennessy and Alison Wells, Jane Travers. Jane Travers said: RT @clairehennessy: https://clairehennessy.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/on-shiny-new-ideas/ An actual blog post on writing. June is my bloggi … […]

  • Janice

    Brilliant post, Claire.

    For me, new ideas are like crushes. Hours and hours are spent fantasising about how great your life would be if you could only let go of your old idea. Your new idea gets you so much better than your old one – who is refusing to talk and won’t move forward with the relationship. But, the grass is always greener on the other side. Once the sparkle of the new idea has dulled, you’ll realise that the old idea wasn’t so bad after all – and perhaps you’ll both be more willing to work things out.

    A little bit of flirting with new ideas is sometimes needed, if only to wake-up the butterflies in your belly.

    • clairehennessy

      Your new idea totally gets you more! And you have the same taste in music, and everything. And your old idea, well, it’s kind of from a time in your life that you’ve left behind now – you’re ready to move on. Or so you think…. 😉

  • Helen

    Because books – they’re long-term. They’re more complicated than just that instant jolt of chemistry, the buzz of a fresh new idea. They’re not just about one idea, one nifty thing you’ve thought of, or one particular conflict, or one dynamic character. They’re about several ideas, building from that first idea, several characters, several plot threads, and, you know, that ‘hard work’ part of actually sitting down and writing 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000 or 120,000 words.

    This, absolutely. And it’s a completely normal stage of the process to reach a phase of hating that long-term idea. *g*

    • clairehennessy

      You know there are writers out there who find beginnings hard, and then the middle is their smooth sailing bit? That sort of behaviour should just not be allowed – I mean, where’s the fun if you don’t reach the ‘oh, god, it’s all wrong, I should go be a florist or something’ stage? 😉

      • Helen

        Oh, I wish middles were smooth-sailing for me. 😦 I’m nearly at the middle again, and suddenly it’s last November all over again and I can’t seem to reach 40k, no matter how hard I try.

        …a career in flowers would be nice.

  • Laura Cassidy

    I love your books-as-relationship metaphors, can totally relate.
    Also I cannot wait until your next book is out!!

  • Margaret

    I also really like your books-as-relationships metaphors and these posts are making me look forward to reading your next book when it’s finally out. I’m getting curious as to what the book they’re referring to is about!

    • clairehennessy

      Thanks! And yes, I too would like to know what this book is about. Because it started out being about one thing and it seems to have segued into quite another. Hmmph.

      (Oh, revision will be a beautiful thing…)

  • Emerald

    Well, the ultimate goal of writing a book is to get it finished and move on. Which is sort of the opposite of being in a relationship, where ideally you’d want someone whom you can be with forever. And as much as you might love a story, you really don’t want it to be the only story you ever tell.

    Which explains why writers tend to be lonely, self-destructive alcoholics…

    • clairehennessy

      That is very very true. It’s more like a summer fling – it’s going to be intense and crazy but you also know it’s going to have to end. Perhaps.

      Now I shall go down a bottle of vodka before noon and go play in traffic, as is my writerly duty. 😉

  • After The Idea « Claire Hennessy

    […] The new idea is almost always going to be more attractive. You haven’t been disappointed by the way in which your technicolour imagined version fails to appear, instead turning into a mess of words which may or may not be any good. It’s full of potential. (And as Dylan Moran advises, you’re better off leaving your potential alone – “it’s like your bank balance, you know – you always have a lot less than you think.”) […]

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