Welcome to “Ask the Coach.” As a writing coach, I answer questions from writers about making the work of writing happen, tackling craft, business, and personal questions along the way. (Got a question you’d like answered? Check out the details at the end of the article about how to submit one.)
Today’s question is about whether to abandon a current script in favor of a new idea, or not:
“I recently committed to working on a particular script idea, and almost instantly became fascinated by another story entirely. Should I move to the new idea? Or is this a distraction getting in my way?”
Great question. Ultimately, this is a choice no one else can make for you, but here are some possibilities about what’s going on, and some possible strategies to consider.
What Might Be Going On
First, let’s look at what might be going on.
1. The Idea Flood
There’s a high likelihood, you’re experiencing “the idea flood” — a wash of new ideas being released simultaneously because you’ve just recently overcome the standard resistance we all tend to deal with when tackling writing projects and unleashed your creativity in an energizing way. It’s as if the part of your brain says, “Ah-ha! They’ve broken the dam, what else can we get out into the world while we have a chance?” Your initial excitement about your current project and the relief of getting to work can easily spark new ideas to come flowing out of you.
In fact, there was a study by a researcher named Robert Boice who found that writers who write on a daily basis are twice as likely to have frequent creative thoughts as writers who write when they “feel like it.” Which means, the more you write, the more ideas you’ll have. This also means it's highly likely more new ideas will show up as you progress, regardless which script you’re working on.
2. The Grass Is Greener
Another possible culprit: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. The core idea is that once you’ve started doing the hard work on a script (even as early as your second writing day, or what Jon Acuff, author of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done*, calls “the day after perfect”), almost anything else looks more appealing, easier, faster to write, and more fun. I’ve come to recognize “It’ll practically write itself!” as code for “I’m in denial about the hard work I’ll have to put into this project.” In other words, you might be looking at good old resistance, coming along to stir up trouble. Both scripts may be more or less equal in their appeal, ultimately. Equally great, equally hard, but you might just be seeing one as better than the other because it’s not the one you committed to.
3. The Bright Shiny Object
Another red flag worth mentioning is bright shiny object syndrome. Comparable to the draw to greener pastures, bright shiny object syndrome describes our tendency to be drawn to anything else. How many writers have suddenly discovered an urgent need to take a course, KonMari their entire house, or jump ship and write a different script the minute they commit to a current script? (Answer: Many.) The key here is checking in with yourself; you’ll know in your heart what’s going on. Look for patterns too — does this tend to happen often? That’s a red alert for a pattern that’s not working.
4. The Voice of Intuition
And, sometimes, our deeper, wiser, inner screenwriter is letting us know we’ve chosen the wrong script to focus on, and the new idea is the one to pursue. Your ability to pursue it depends on the specifics of your circumstances, i.e. if you’re writing on assignment for the first one, your options are limited. Assuming you’re writing on spec, check in with yourself about why you’re being drawn to the other script. Is it more inspiring? More in line with your screenwriting brand? A secret longing to write in a genre you’ve been ignoring but is rearing up, demanding to be heard? Is it the project you’ve been terrified to take on but can’t be put off any longer? Journaling is a great way to explore what’s really going on here.
5. The Voice of Fear & Resistance
And, at the same time, this could be fear, doubt, and resistance trying to slow you down. Resistance is an opposing force that works against all creators at one time or another. Generally, resistance is greatest when a project is triggering our fears; our fear of success, failure, inability, etc. Interestingly, resistance can mean this is the exact right project for us at this time, and we’ve just bumped into the reality of the work, which sours it a little. This doesn’t mean the new idea is not also worthy, it may just not be the right time for it. Journaling is a powerful tool here too.
Try asking yourself, “What does my head say?” and answering. Then ask, “What does my heart say?”
Choices to Consider
If you’ve decided that this is in fact an idea you want to pursue (whether now or later), here are some possible strategies for how you might deal with the conundrum:
1. Develop a script queue.
If you don’t have one already, create a queue for your script ideas. This helps reduce the grass is greener issue and simultaneously address writer paralysis over not being able to choose which project to focus on, for fear of abandoning something better or more important. (Many writers hop from project to project, never finishing anything, and living in a constant state of frustration. We don’t want that for you.) What you’ll do is create a list of projects and put them into priority order. Then every idea has its place, and reduces the feeling like you’re giving up one to work on the other. Instead, you’ll know what you’re working on first, then next, etc. For more on this, pick up my free ebook, “How to Choose Your Next Book (Or Screenplay!)” on my website here (along with my other free guidebooks for writers).
2. Put the new idea at the finish line.
Similarly, Jon Acuff, the aforementioned author of the book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, recommends a powerful strategy for finishing your current work before beginning the next: Put the new project at the finish line for the current one. Let it become your motivation and reward; you “get to” work on the new script once you’ve finished your now script.
3. Make the new idea the current one; flip your queue.
Or, if you’re utterly convinced the new idea is The One, flip your script queue and put the now script into the “next” spot, and go ahead and focus on the new idea. While you’re at it, pay attention to what happens. How does it feel, especially on that day after perfect? If the shine comes off the new penny and you find yourself longing for the other project or something else, there’s a powerful clue the force of resistance is at play. Then cycle back to your script queue and take another deep look at what’s calling you most right now.
That’s a Wrap
When it comes to choosing what to focus on, and possibly letting go of a current idea, there’s a lot to reflect on. Brand, career, preference, genre, instinct, market, and more. And because there’s often a fine line between recognizing resistance versus intuition, pay attention to how and when new ideas come cropping up. The beauty of writing is how it begets new ideas. It’s your job as a creator to corral that surging herd into a manageable strategy that works for you.
Submit your question to be answered anonymously via my online form here or send an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for answers to selected questions in my monthly “Ask the Coach” column on the third Thursday of the month. And reach out to me on Twitter to share your thoughts: @JennaAvery.