New ideas are great. They’re certainly better than no ideas at all. But if you get new ideas while writing, AFTER you’ve plotted and written a lot of your novel, they can be disruptive and frustrating.
I’m a mix when it comes to plotting. Sometimes I’ll plot everything, sometimes I’ll just wing it and write whatever comes into my head. I think experimenting with both is a good writing exercise and keeps your writing fresh.
However, when I’ve plotted everything, built my world, am 100,000 words into the novel and I keep getting new ideas that could change everything, I kind of want to scream a little. It’s mostly a case of “why the hell didn’t I think about that earlier?” It’s a frustrating process and it’s meant that working on this novel has taken me YEARS.
It also means my eventual editing process will be a complete mess…I dread to think of it.
So, what can you do if you’re like me and keep changing your mind after getting new ideas while writing your novel?
Roll with it
I’m not one to stifle ideas, no matter how inconveniently they crop up. I make notes on my new ideas, write new chapters involving new side plots or characters. Sometimes I hate what I’ve written, it doesn’t work but I keep it anyway because I’m naturally indecisive.
Mostly, I keep hold of the work with the aim to add a huge restructuring section to my editing process.
I keep getting asked “can I read some of your stuff? Even just a chapter?” I always say no. They’re never happy with that answer but I warn them they’d be much more unhappy if they read the current state of my novel which is a mess that needs a hell of a lot of editing to get it to make sense.
One thing to know about changing your mind is that it’s totally normal. I spent a lot of time beating myself up over it, but the truth is that writing is as much about discovery as it is putting your ideas down. If you’re writing an epic fantasy novel, then OF COURSE you’re going to change your mind. You’re going to want to go back and clarify things or add new elements to your story that popped into your head while watching Doctor Who. It’s normal.
Restructure your novel if you get new ideas while writing
A writing tutor once said something to me along the lines of, you don’t know your plot or structure yet because you haven’t finished your story. I was torn between being unsatisfied with that because I want to know my own story. I should do surely? On the other hand, it was a bit refreshing to hear that it’s okay to not know how your story is going to turn out, even if you know how it ends.
I’ve always had that in the back of my mind in order to allow myself the freedom to add whatever I want in wherever, so long as I tidy the story up in the end.
This is part of the reason why I used to use record cards and post-it notes to write out scenes and chapters. If you’re anything like me you’ll have been sitting on the floor one day with a bunch of cards in a line that you keep swapping around to see if it looks better that way.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach to plotting and editing. The only thing I’d say is make sure your story continuity makes sense. If you’re making chapter 8 into chapter 3, are there things there that the characters or audience shouldn’t know yet? Don’t forget to make sure those loose ends are all tied up.
It definitely helps to use some kind of system that goes beyond a bunch of randomly scrawled notes. That could be Scrivener, or a spreadsheet, or record cards, posters…whatever it is that helps you organise your thoughts. The most important thing is that your method works for you, because, well you’re the only one who’s using it.
Start a writer’s journal
If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to grab a notebook or use whatever digital note-taking tool you like and use it to ramble away. I use a physical notebook and essentially have a long-winded conversation with myself about my WIP.
So if you have a new idea, write it down and physically write things like:
- How will this fit into what I’ve already got?
- How does it impact the characters and how will each of them react?
- What does it add to the story?
This helps me to process new ideas and see if there’s anything to them. It also helps me battle against those ideas that may sound cool in my head…but in reality, they make no real sense. Do this before you write a new idea into your story and realise 50,000 words later that it wasn’t the best idea…trust me.
Perfection is the enemy of “done”
So while it’s totally fine to change your mind about everything (it may even be a good thing), one thing you absolutely need to avoid is losing yourself to perfectionism.
Writers and low self esteem often go hand in hand. Many of us feel like we’re not good enough. But if you lose yourself to perfectionism, you can start to spiral. And at the end of the day, you just have a bunch of random notes that, if anyone else read them, they’d assume you were having a breakdown. Or at least that’s how I imagine it for myself.
Striving for perfection is a losing battle. Because perfect doesn’t exist. If you always tell yourself your idea/characters/plot etc aren’t good enough (and you need some shiny new idea to fix it) then they’ll never make it onto the page and your book will never see the light of day.
I say this as someone who has gone round and round in circles with this novel. I’ve changed just about every part of it. And for the most part, I don’t regret it. I just regret the constant overthinking and worrying that comes with it because it stops me in my tracks. I’ve heard that procrastination is mostly fear-based, and in this case, that’s definitely true.
But if you want to build an author career, you (and I) need to somehow overcome this. We need to plot away and write away and keep going. Anything that you write can be fixed, but you can’t fix a blank page. So embrace new ideas cautiously, work through them, and don’t let perfectionism get in the way of your progress.
Do you get constant new ideas while writing or plotting your novel? At what point do you draw the line on your worldbuilding or is at a never-ending process? Would love to hear your thoughts!