Do ideas flood your brain like a herd gone wild? Do you flail around, physically and metaphorically, trying to round them up and drive them into the barn? Are you going mad trying to figure out how to use them all?
I am almost constantly barraged by ideas for stories, poems, and essays, and novel slivers, quirky descriptions, and metaphoric pearls. Ideas surface everywhere: as I fall asleep, wash dishes, huff through workouts, wait on line, watch people, meditate, even during tactful small talk at business dinners.
All the ideas that deluge me used to make me groan. Sometimes I’d even feel envious of writers who complained about their sparse fits of inspiration. I’d grouse internally that my ideas never seemed to stop. How would I ever get to them all, much less organize them or make something of them? Most would end up in a mass of ragged notes or stuffed under the scanner.
Tame Those Runaway Ideas
For help, I sought writing advice. And found, to my surprise, that many writers suffer from the TMIS: Too Many Ideas Syndrome (the acronym makes it official). Toward helping themselves and the rest of us, they write about it.
Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant surveyed other writers on handling the syndrome in her article, 9 Ways to Overcome Too Many Ideas Syndrome (Jasheway-Bryant, 2008). Melissa Hart recommends “the bulletin-board approach”: she pins up all her random notes and surveys them as much or as little as she wishes.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of many books on women’s health, says, “I go with the idea that brings me the most pleasure or has the most juice.” Successful screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb counsels, “Think of your ideas like pots on the stove in the kitchen of your creative mind. Lift the lids and look inside. One of them is always closest to being soup. Write that one first.”
Romantic fiction writer Lucy Mitchell shares several hard-won pointers in her blog, How to Handle Too Many Ideas Syndrome: Write ‘em down. Then let them go . . . you can come back to them. Then focus on one at a time. And meditate(!). It will calm you down (Mitchell, n.d.).
Creative coach and entrepreneur Kym Dolcimascolo assures you that you aren’t a “creative sinner” if you have too many ideas. A sufferer of TMIS herself, she shares principles she practices: Capture the ideas by writing them down, in a journal, onto an app, dictated into your phone—and keep to only one place. This method appeases the notes-all-over-the-place syndrome.
Dolcimascolo continues: Set up a review time for each idea—Now, Later, or Maybe Never. Prioritize and grab the top one. And get moving with it (Dolcimascolo, 2016).
My method blends some of the advice. I’ve learned, like a dutiful secretary, to at least write all the ideas down. Of course, I won’t be able to develop them all right away, but I write enough so that when I do pick up a note, I can (usually) reassociate to the original idea.”
When my notes threatened to bury my desk, I graduated to a couple of overstuffed colored file folders. Every so often, I go through them and sometimes discover scraps repeating almost identical ideas or words. That’s a comforting sign; the idea has surfaced more than once, and that means it’s worth pursuing.My method blends some of the advice. I’ve learned, like a dutiful secretary, to at least write all the ideas down. Of course, I won’t be able to develop them all right away... Click To Tweet
How to Choose?
How to decide what to work on? By your visceral reactions and values.
Northrup’s touchstone is “the most juice”; Whitcomb’s is the almost-finished “soup.” Jasheway-Bryant bases her choices on the “red-dress theory”: at a party, the woman who is wearing a red dress rather than the usual black gets the attention. “For me,” she says, “bold, brash ideas are almost always the ones that inspire and motivate me.”
Dolcimascolo advises choosing in relation to your needs of the moment: the one that will take the most or least time, the one that will pay the most, the one that seems safest, and—my favorite—the one that makes your “heart sing.”
I agree. When I go through my files and piles, I feel that delicious rush of excitement and enthusiasm, that juicy feeling of joy, that singing heart. Something inside says, “Hey! This will make a great article/essay/memoir! I really want to develop it!”
Recently, I unearthed some scratchings about the handwritten notebook of my writing I’d kept in high school. Thinking about that notebook not only brought tears but the heady rush. I yearned to stop everything and run to the computer—and I did and pecked out a first draft.
Why Record and Keep All Those Scattered Ideas?
Why? New ideas can yield gold. As they drift or blare into your mind, don’t dismiss them. In The Artist’s Way, when Julia Cameron was developing her Morning Pages by doing them herself, she questioned everything in her life. Suddenly, she says, she found herself scribbling something else, and “a character named Johnny came strolling into my pages. Without planning to, I was writing a novel” (p. 15).
Children’s author Kate DiCamillo listened, too. One night, falling asleep, in her mind she heard a little girl’s voice. The child said, “I have a dog named Winn-Dixie.” DiCamillo rushed to take down this sentence. That little girl became the main character of her wonderful and award-winning book and movie, Because of Winn-Dixie.
I’ve discovered other reasons why we should record all those ideas, phrases, scraps, and wisps:
- You’re writing
- You’re honoring your ideas. Every single one may not be fabulous or something you want to pursue. But they’re yours.
- By writing them all down you’re telling yourself, “I’m a writer rich in ideas.”
- You’ll develop and sustain greater confidence in yourself and your writing.
- Noting down all the ideas leads to more (eeek!). Of course, you may never get to flesh out some, or most, to submittable drafts, but accept this.
- By scribbling those notes, you’re gaining continuous practice in observing, pinpointing, expressing what you see, feel, hear, and think.
- You’ll find satisfaction in writing down your notes and snippets.
- Writing leads to writing leads to writing.
So, when you’re bombarded by all those stampeding ideas—welcome them. And get them down. You’ll be acknowledging, embracing, and nurturing your endless, infinite creativity.
© 2018 Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and short stories. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. Academic editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers. Her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Her book Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) further aids doctoral candidates to award of their degrees. As part of pursuing her writing Dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach their own and create the lives they truly desire.
Author, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. Unity Books, 2011.
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