Is it Progress or Frustration?

The idea hits you like a lightning bolt.  It’s a simple plan, but the sense of something epic behind the first idea is there.  You just need to nurture it and help it bloom into a story that you can’t wait to write.  There’s only one problem.  You can’t get any time to clearly jot the idea down.  What do you do?

Well, you have a few options:

  1. Damn everything and scramble for the nearest pen and paper.
  2. Pray that you remember the idea.  Just pray for all you’re worth.
  3. Forget writing for now and just follow the idea in your head.  Every second that you can step out of reality, you think of that idea.  Forge it into your mind, so it doesn’t go anywhere.

You can probably tell, which option I’m going to focus on.  Now, the first idea is the most common and the second is the most disastrous.  Yet, the third one doesn’t get much attention, does it?  We all assume we’ll remember the idea without focusing on it because our minds are like steel traps.  That backfires.  So, we accept that some ideas will come and go at the worst time.  That sucks.

Now, I really wanted to write down the ideas for ‘The Slumber Wars’ this week and was waiting until I got more into my chapter writing.  One agonizing back pain later, I’m probably not going to get to it unless I give up my #1 goal of finishing 2 chapters.  So, I’ve been thinking.  Seriously, I’ve been thinking very hard about this series and others to make sure they stick.  I run through them when I have time to drift away.  They might not be perfect by the time I get to a piece of paper, but I’ll have enough to jog the missing pieces out of my mental trash can.

Now, does this equal progress?  As an author, I’ve typically thought of progress as getting words on the paper.  If it isn’t written then it isn’t permanent.  Yet, I’m wondering if all the ideas that I wander through when I’m not writing are still important steps forward.  Yes, I’d love to focus on the tangible creations, but those wouldn’t exist without the ephemeral ideas.  All story ideas start like this at some extent.  Whether it be an intriguing character or a simple idea, these ideas are the spark.  So, one could say that the nurturing we give that spark before writing it is progress even though it’s all in our head.

So, do you think the brewing thought stage is progress or nothing more than a dangerous way to work on an idea?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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73 Responses to Is it Progress or Frustration?

  1. Saunved says:

    Whenever an idea for a short story, or a big novel has struck me the first thing I have done is to write down whatever came to my mind (typing or writing by hand) and think about it letter. This way, I can safely assure myself that the primary idea is stored somewhere for me to access later on and I can focus on the detail now. The bad point here is that, I have seven novel ideas all penned down and none of them are being worked with. Sucks. Really.
    I wanted to ask you something by the way.
    How do you write? I mean, do you write by hand or do you type? If you type, which software (MSword?) do you use and which font type do you employ? Just out of curiosity and also comparison with what I do…

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  2. sabcooke says:

    I never write my ideas down. Even the complicated plots (all of them) are left to nurture in my mind and eventually (usually over a year later) be translated to the page. Many a night/walk/shower I’ve been struck by and idea which evades me a short while later. I like to think it’s because it wasn’t meant to be.

    If it’s meant to be it’ll stick or come back to me later. If not, it’ll go forever. I’ve no proof of this but I’ve also no proof against it, so I go with my gut. My gut is yet to prove me wrong in regards to anything else, only time will tell if it’s right with this. Still, there’s no true way of knowing as the lost stories will never face a test of publication.

    I’d definitely call it progress. The novel I’m editing was developed entirely in my mind for two and a half years. It was a long process but each time I thought of it (most of the time that I wasn’t focused on what I was writing) was progress. Hell, I’ve developed a seven book series in my head and another four book series, along with many other stand-alone novels. Naturally, they’ll change when I put them to paper. That, too, will be progress.

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    • You are a brave man. I’m always scared that a lost idea was going to be great if I paid attention to it. Like the one that got away.

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      • sabcooke says:

        Most ideas tend to work in one way or another with writing. The ones that stick are the ones my mind wants me to work on. 😛

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      • I always think that the ideas that don’t work as a whole might have a piece that I can still use, which is why I like to eventually write stuff down. My first idea ever never really panned out as a series, but I thought up a great way to reintroduce the characters in another series.

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  3. mrschmoe says:

    I always carry a pen and a small notepad with me everywhere I go. You never know when an idea sneaks behind you and smacks you in the face. An idea forms for over a period of time. Sort of like pearls. Days, sometimes weeks or months.

    On scrivener for notes and quick outlines, I use DejaVu serif font. Most of my writing are done via scrivener. Quick test writing, I use LibreOffice, copy and paste to scriv document.

    Whenever the itch to write punches me in back of the head. I hit full screen aka composition mode. And start typing from there. In my opinion outlines should be concise. Too much of that well can bog your writing down.

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    • I carry a pen and scrap of paper most places I go, but I’ve had many moments where I couldn’t access them. Apparently, writing ideas down while meeting your girlfriend’s family is a mistake. Also, it’s hard to jot down ideas when you’re suffering from severe back pain. Learned that one last night, which is what brought on the thought behind this post.

      I’m a big outliner, but I agree that too much can be a problem. I accept that my plans will change when I start. The book I’m writing now has had so many merged scenes, added scenes, and removed scenes that the outline looks like my son got to it with a pen.

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      • mrschmoe says:

        Nothing wrong in being a big planner. Stories and tales change to varying degree. Especially the ending or extending to several series. Or the main character is replaced by another who becomes the protagonist of that tale. Depending on the writer.

        Sometimes a character can appear inside of one’s head out of the blue. Eye and hair colour can change on drop of a writer’s imagination.

        For example, a new character pop into my head. In one of the hardest tale that may yet form. Talk about writing outside of comfort zone in a certain degree.

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      • I’ve had a few like that. I hate to admit that I have trouble keeping track of eye color for my supporting cast. Those that only show up once every few books require that I check their original description.

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      • mrschmoe says:

        It can be a little tedious in keeping track of every single character. especially the supporting cast.

        I think each writer has his/her way of writing. We may be a weird bunch 😀

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      • We certainly are, but you have to be weird to want to be an author. 😀

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  4. The “brewing thought” stage is a great idea, but I know how my mind works (or doesn’t) and I would still lose it somewhere in the clutter that is my brain. For me, I know that if I don’t write it down, it is as good as gone.

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  5. I always keep paper and a pen with me. At all times. I’m not kidding lol. In my handbag, in the bathroom cupboard, kitchen, next to my bed… you get the idea. My husband even got this cool clipboard/notepad for me and a small filing cabinet, so I can arrange my mess of pages.

    Even if the idea goes nowhere, I still jot it down. Every little bit of writing helps an author!

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  6. Gwen Bristol says:

    I had this great talk with my niece today. We decided all writers are at least partly crazy, which is comforting to me because I’m ALWAYS thinking of worlds I want to write about. I don’t think it’s wrong to focus on that, as long as you can live in reality when you’re needed, too. 🙂

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  7. greenembers says:

    That’s how I do most of my writing. I think about it constantly, sometimes for weeks. My only problem is actually writing it down, lol. I think I enjoy thinking about stories more that I do actually writing them down, lol.

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  8. Everyone’s different I guess – for me, the only novels I’ve ever finished are ones where I pretty much had the whole plot in my head – at least t the high/key points level – in the first five or so minutes I thought of it. Then I didn’t need to write it down…I probably did exactly what you suggest and let it gestate, so that as I wrote it, other layers came out, but the story still compelled me to finish it. Anything that comes to me as an ide and isn’t complete like that in my head quickly I never finish for some reason…even if I do start writing it…and I have absolutely no idea why this is!!! LOL. 🙂

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    • It’s just the way you are. 😉 I’m the opposite where I grab an idea and wrestle with it for days. I always think there’s something in the idea that I can use even if I don’t use the full idea.

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      • howanxious says:

        I apologize for butting in but I had a question in my mind.
        I tend to think of the complete story (summary at least) in the first few minutes when I ponder over an idea like Helena. But I haven’t been able to work on any of them for a much longer period. There are many unfinished manuscripts piled up in my memory drive, some of them completely forgotten. It is just because of the fact I get very easily bored with the idea once I have a written a few pages.
        I would like to know how do you keep yourself determined(or in general how do you do it, but that would sound an absurd question) to bring your idea to life in the form of a complete manuscript?

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      • I look at my ideas as adventures and stories that I get to go on. I enjoy following the characters and seeing what happens next even if I have a thorough outline. My outlines never last for long, so it’s exciting to see what happens.
        I guess the way I do it is by seeing myself as a bystander who doesn’t really know how things are going to end. On the weekends, I work on future ideas and leave the big series for the weekdays. Not sure if this helps answer your question.

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      • howanxious says:

        Oh that actually gives me an idea of how things work. I thank you for that.
        So, I guess it is all about enjoying the art of writing, right? And be someone who is seeing the story unfold till the very end. Let the story proceed on its own..
        Well, I think it is easier said than done.
        Thank you very much once again for sharing your opinions and your writing style. 🙂

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      • It is easier said than done. I learned this through years of buckling down and writing. It helps that many of my books are based off table top role-playing games where I ‘lived’ as one of the characters.
        I also use test scenes with characters to get a familiarity with them.

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      • howanxious says:

        That seems interesting.
        I think your experiences play a great role as well along with you devoting your heart and mind to writing.

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      • Don’t forget the body. Gotten a few papercuts from notebooks and print outs. 😉

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      • howanxious says:

        Of course.. no one can forget that. 🙂

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  9. kingmidget says:

    I used to try to write down every random idea that came along as well as those related to a story in progress that popped into my head at inopportune times. Then I realized that, for the most part, I never came back to those random ideas. And I had written notes and notes in a document on the computer and notes here and notes there and, well, I just gave up on writing down all those ideas. If it’s worth holding on to it’ll stay up there in the old noggin.
    But, maybe I should go through my scraps of paper and see if there’s something buried in there.

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    • I go through my old notes at times and find some interesting things. Some of them get added into current stories. It’s amazing what a writer will randomly create, lose track of, and return to use at a later date.

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      • kingmidget says:

        Hmmm … maybe I should tell the story about the creation of Weed Therapy (novel #2). A writing workshop exercise that clicked. Put it away for a later day and then lost it for two or three years before finding it again. That’s the Reader’s Digest version.

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      • Wow. I’m impressed with that time span. Did it feel like the idea was secretly marinating all those years?

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      • kingmidget says:

        May have. I kept thinking about it and the story I wanted to write with it. At one point I tried to re-create what I had started with and it didn’t work. I wasn’t going to write the story if I couldn’t find that piece.

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      • The hunt for that elusive, missing piece. 😀

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  10. howanxious says:

    It is disastrous when an idea comes striking your mind when you are busy tending to some necessary obligation.
    For your question, I would say ideas are as important as the written work, because what we write emerge from our ideas only. We frame an idea, we work on it and hence, we come up with the final product. But they become useless if we do not work on them. The brewing through stage is a progress because you are flexing your mind to come up with something creative, that could take form of an actual written piece.

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  11. I am useless at remembering, so everything must be written down. Overall ideas can marinate, but if I don’t write down the flashes of information that come to mind, they’re gone (sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but I’d rather make that judgement myself!). I have notebooks and pens/pencils everywhere. If I have a flash of inspiration on my evening walk, I usually end up running home and repeating the germ of the idea the entire way so I don’t forget. Everyone knows by now to just get out of my way when I make a beeline for the nearest scrap of paper! It would be funny if it weren’t so sad!

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  12. tjtherien says:

    I ferment stuff for extremely long times… and most of the time I write I scrap what I write… my philosophy is generally that when an idea is ready it will find expression… my new experiment on wordpress is an attempt at writing never ending story that I first came up with 20 years ago… I actually did on several occasions try to write this story… but the format wasn’t right, nor was I ready…every draft I wrote I destroyed because I’m pretty screwy that way…but in my head I have about 20 epochs (intertwining stories) mapped out…

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    • Sounds like you’re still making progress. Are you getting closer with every attempt?

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      • tjtherien says:

        I committed earlier this week to writing it on wordpress… I set up a separate blog that will just be for that story and I am 5 installments, or approx 3500 words in… I am posting as I write it…I know what I am writing is something I will never finish, but the blogging format is allowing me to do it… and I am relatively pleased with what I am producing which means I’m not re reading it and picking it apart… I’ll just let the readers do that… 😉 Prose really aren’t my thing…

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      • A neverending story isn’t a bad thing. Sounds like a great challenge to me.

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  13. keladelaide says:

    Get them down and out. That way they won’t beat you later.

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    • It’s more a matter of finding the time. There are always moments that you can’t pull out a pen and paper even if you have it. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and when meeting your girlfriend’s family (done the last one and still paying for it).

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