I think you don’t hear much about it because it may not sound like a problem: a writer complaining about having too many ideas sounds obnoxious, like people who complain loudly about having too much free time. And yet having too many ideas swirling in the skull can be just as much of a problem as not having enough. The problem usually manifests itself in two ways:
Scenario one: the writer with a mass of ideas agonizes over which of his ideas is best. After all, committing to one idea is a long-term commitment – writing takes time. But the writer is smitten with all of his ideas: they are all very different but hold their own appeal. And so the writer wrings his hands perpetually, as indecisive as that person who is paralysed by having more than one choice in places to eat out, and ultimately gets nothing done.
Scenario two: the writer loves all of her ideas equally, but isn’t paralysed by them. Rather, she gives all of them an equal part to play in her story, throwing all of the ideas into big pot and serving up the resulting broth on the page. Unfortunately, while not lacking for ambition and good intention, it ends up being a hot mess: the story is all over the place, the disparate ideas not quite gelling or following a singular narrative.
Neither outcome is desirable. So what to do? It doesn’t help that in one of my earliest blog posts I actively recommended melding two ideas together, but then again that was in the preliminary planning stages. Here you are still incubating the whole concept of the story from beginning to end, so the spine of the story, themes and raison d'être all fit snugly together. Lumping in sudden flashes of inspiration on-the-go may seem exciting to write in, but to a reader these can seem like sudden handbrake turns that feel like they were tacked on without much thought, because that’s exactly what happened.
I have mentioned in a previous posts regarding characters that, in these times, nurturing and over-protecting your creations can be detrimental. Giving all of your ideas a voice in a single story is like a free-for-all orchestra where there is no sheet music and the conductor is too intimidated to control. Sometimes, yes, you need to know when to prioritize certain kernels and plans, and even when to cut an idea altogether. But, unlike killing off a character in a novel, take heart: so that awesome idea you had of the mysterious relative being from a distant future doesn’t work in your steampunk detective mystery? Well, put it on hold for another novel you may write! Just be sure to write it down and store it somewhere organized where you won’t forget.
But how can you be sure if an idea is that much needed shock to the system that ignites the narrative and improves what was there before, or if it is not suited to what you are writing? It can be hard to tell, as ideas and functions on the narrative are by nature obtrusive, high-concept things. But this is where your planning stages come in handy: look again at what your end-goal is for the novel. Does your idea facilitate that end-goal? Does it fit with your books themes? Bear in mind that this isn’t the same as simply cherry-picking your ideas to ones that simply agree with what you’re trying to convey: on the contrary, a one-sided argument spread across hundreds of pages is dull and self-indulgent, and it is healthy to present the other side of the message you’re hoping to ultimately convey, but that’s the thing: it still fits, because the opposite side of the discussion is still within the same discussion. You aren’t straying too far from that sense of tightness that we talked about last week. On the other hand, if an idea is derailing your novel, and you find yourself having to justify the existence of that plot twist or new concept more than it is helping you to advance your story forward, then that is the sign of an idea that should be given the chop.
Make no mistake, your ideas are still valuable, and there are writers out there who genuinely envy your overactive imagination, but with some restraint the beast can be controlled, and make it one of your best assets.