There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.
Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite website? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on. There’s too much to write and not enough time!
Other times, we just can’t find any inspiration.
Prioritizing Your Writing Ideas
Prioritizing your writing ideas will help you stay focused on projects you’ve already started. Too often, we writers run around chasing one idea after another, never finishing the big projects we’ve begun. A priority list that we follow with due diligence will encourage us to finish what we’ve started. And when inspiration is fleeting, we can turn to our priority list and it will remind us that we have plenty of ideas ready and waiting to be explored.
It’s a good idea to keep track of all your ideas, and most writers are already adept at this. We jot down ideas in our notebooks. We litter our work areas with ideas scrawled on sticky notes. We scrawl concepts on random bits of scrap paper and cocktail napkins. You probably already have a boatload of projects incubating all around you. Now you just need to get them in order.
Keeping a master list of projects (including your works-in-progress and future project ideas) is a good way to start prioritizing. Electronic lists work well because you can move things around with ease. Note cards are also good organizational tools because you can spread them out, color code them by form, genre, or deadline, and keep them in a box or bind them with a rubber band for easy storage and access.
How to Prioritize Your Writing Ideas
Before you prioritize your writing ideas, create a neat and manageable list using a spreadsheet, word processing document, or some note cards. Then you can start putting things in order.
1. Finish What You’ve Started
You’re three chapters into a novel when you come up with a breakthrough story idea for another novel. So you promptly shove your current project to the back burner and move on to the next one. This is no way to get things done. Make a list of all your unfinished projects — the ones you fully intend on completing. Tackle those first. Add any new ideas to the bottom of the list and refrain from working on your new ideas until you’ve wrapped up the old ones.
2. Do it for Money
I’m not a big believer in making art just for the money, but we all have to eat. If you have projects that will ensure there is food on the table and a roof over your head, then get to those first. Business before pleasure, my friends.
3. Do it for Love
Nothing carries a creative project like passion. If you have tons of writing ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on first, follow your heart. If you’ve finished your other projects and are eating well, then do what you love.
4. Little Things Come First
When you have a huge list, it can help to work through the little projects first — the ones that will only take a few hours or a couple of days. This is a great way to shorten your project list and get a lot done in a short amount of time. But take care — little projects have a way of popping up all over the place. Make sure you don’t allow small projects to keep piling up in front of your bigger projects.
5. Even Distribution
If you have big projects, little projects, ongoing projects, and one-time projects, short-term and long-term projects, try prioritizing one of each. In other words, write a poem, then a short story, then an essay, then start that novel, then go back to your poetry. You can go around and around. You’ll chip away at everything a little more slowly, but you’ll be well rounded for your efforts.
How Many Writing Ideas Are You Juggling?
Do you have more writing ideas than you know what to do with? Are you short on time or not sure what to tackle first? Try organizing your writing ideas into a list and then prioritize them using any of the above methods for putting your projects in order. Keep adding all your new writing ideas to your list, but more importantly, keep writing.
I’m currently juggling three projects
– I’m coming up with a new website, design et all with only a friend helping out with Photoshop stuff
– I’m doing a daily blogathon for this month! Proud of this.
– I’m doing a few book reviews.
Plus I have a full time software development job! 😛
As beginner writer I’m already so busy! I can imagine the plight of people like you with so many projects! Its hard work!
Wow, you are definitely busy! Writing a blog post every day is time-consuming enough with a full-time job, but you’re also working on your website and writing book reviews. Good for you!
I have just finished my first draft and while I’m revising, I’m working on some short pieces and writing exercises. I don’t feel that novel urge quite yet and I miss the short stuff. All in good time. Great tips! I started a master list on paper but I’m constantly updating and merging ideas. So much fun!
Congrats on finishing your first draft! I love working on short pieces and writing exercises between large projects or when I need a brief respite from a big project. Good luck with your master list! Mine is always changing, but I try to keep the top (high priority) action items in focus until they get completed. Keep up the good work!
Good stuff! Would like to see writing ideas or prompts for when one’s dry. thanks
If you check the menu here at Writing Forward (at the top of the page, under Blog), you’ll find prompts and exercises that you can use. Good luck!
My problem is I keep on prioritizing and I’m not getting started. But I’ll be honest…I think it’s out of fear.
For some reason, starting a writing project can feel risky and frightening. You might find solace in reminding yourself that nobody has to see your project except you. When I start new creative projects, I always tell myself that if it doesn’t work out or if I don’t think the work is quality, then I can file it away as a learning experience and nobody ever has to see it except me. When I listen to interviews with writers, almost all the published authors talk about the novels they have stashed in a bottom drawer somewhere. But they did write, and they kept writing, took those risks, and eventually succeeded. I hope you’ll do the same.
So I’m a chronic project starter but I figured out years ago that if I kept starting projects I’d never get around to finishing them. Now I have time set aside every single morning for writing and that time I work on one project until it’s done. After work in the afternoon I’m free to work on whatever project I feel like poking at, so I get to play in all my stories rather frequently, but I’m always chipping away constantly at one every morning.
I’m a chronic project starter too. There are too many ideas and not enough time! Sounds like you have established a perfect balance and an excellent routine.
Great ideas are never in short supply are they? :o)
I generally work on multiple projects at any one time (although would prefer not to) but I like these tips on how to keep track of your ideas without being a slave to them.
I wrote a post about how I try to manage having multiple projects on the go on my blog. Here’s the link – http://thenovelprojectchronicles.com/how-to-manage-multiple-writing-projects/#more-30
It’s funny how we all write so differently from one another. I love working on multiple projects at the same time, as long as they’re not similar to each other. For example, I could work on a sci-fi novel, a nonfiction book, and a children’s chapter book simultaneously. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do that, so I am (usually) forced to focus on one project at a time. Thanks for sharing your tips!
Hi, Melissa, I thought I was the only one to have multiple writing pieces started. I have written and published one novel, a very short novel I might ad. I am currently working on four others, with the next one that I hope to finish this year. I am currently 25 chapters completed in my rough draft.
I do admit that there are times I like to stray from the novel and dive into my personal journal that I write for a good stretch, when I have no inspiration to work on my novel. I think if I actually take the time to prioritize that will get me focused on the things I want to see come to life the most, and give me an expected order.
Thanks again for that wonderful blog. Since discovering your site I have gained a wealth of knowledge and insight into the craft of writing and I am actually thinking about actively pursuing an Associates Degree in Creative Writing at National University (online).
Hi Eugene. I think most writers have multiple pieces started. In fact, every author I know has a bunch of projects that they abandoned for one reason or another. As we gain experience, this happens less because we come to understand which of our ideas are a good match for us and are therefore more likely to get completed. I’m a big advocate for higher education and applaud your interest in taking college courses. I would even encourage you to aim for a Bachelor’s degree instead of an Associates.
That’s great advice! I have basically been following these guidelines for years, although I never jotted them down that clearly for myself. You don’t have to always follow the points in that particular order, but these are excellent guidelines.
Creativity is chaos and works best when it comes out of the unconcious, which is precisely this: The chaotic! Thus lists and order are natural enemies of creativity. However, great creative work derives from a synergy of creativity and control – which tells us that lists are necessary. So have no fear of creating a list!
The danger of to-do-lists is that they might give you the feeling something is “done” and not relevant anymore for the moment, because you have already put it on a list. It’s stored away savely, so to speak, and you unconciously get the feeling that there is no need to act on it, at least at that particular moment. And as we all know, “no need to act at that particular moment” with time becomes “no need to act at all”. So make sure to follow through with your little list there!
Of course, the positive effect of lists is that putting something on a list frees your mind for the task you are working at. Good ideas are often forgotten very quickly, and there is hardly anything more annoying in writing than trying to think of that great idea you had which just doesn’t come back anymore. The only thing you know is that it was great.
Also, make sure to only put ideas on the list that are really worthwhile your effort – be picky! Not everything deserves your time and hard work.
Thanks, Alex. I’m fanatical about lists. If there was a way to make a living writing lists, I would be a wealthy woman! I definitely need to balance chaos and order, and lists are excellent for creating order. Life itself provides the chaos! I’m glad you enjoyed this article.
Great article. I currently have ideas and half finished projects all over the place, plus I have assignments to do for my writing course. Your article came at the right time:-) There are some ideas there I shall try.
Hi Maria. I’m glad you found some ideas you can use in this article. Keep writing!
Great advice, Melissa! Especially the first point. I always find myself jumping form project to project without getting anything done. It’s important to finish every piece even if you don’t feel as passionate about it as in the beginning of your work.
I always have a focus project that I’m working on — the project I’m going to finish and publish. I also try to set aside a little time each day — even if it’s just a few minutes — to work on whatever I want. That gives me some time and space to explore whatever is currently inspiring me. It’s a practice that’s worked well for me over the past couple of years.