What to do when the Good Idea derails your writing plan

As we’ve seen in recent posts, planning is a vital part of writing material to tight deadlines – but still keeping proper structure.

One of my bookshelves...
One of my bookshelves…

That’s vital in a contest such as National November Writing Month, where the pressure is on to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s also vital in the profession, where authors usually end up working to tight commercial and publisher deadlines (and trust me, it’s professional to meet them – people who enjoy hearing the sound of deadlines whistling by also don’t usually enjoy repeat business from publishers).

But what happens when you’re half-way through your NaNo draft, or something else with production-to-time pressure, and the proverbial Good Idea roars in?

A tidal wave of an idea – an idea that re-jigs plot and character and that must, must, must be worked in.

What do you do? Well, the answer is to do it – but in a way that doesn’t derail the output-to-time calculation.

That means re-planning. Carefully. A few hours spent doing that can pay dividends keeping the book on track and keeping to that deadline – all without derailing the structure that modern works must have if they are to be readable (saleable) to a reasonable –scale market.

It’s not quite the same as planning from scratch, because there will already be a chunk of story in existence. Questions to ask include:

  1. How much of this can be saved? Revised?
  2. What scale of work (time) is needed to do this?
  3. Would it be quicker to throw it out and start again anyway, this time knowing you can probably write faster because of the practise with the discarded half-draft?

This sort of planning, then, isn’t just an exercise in creativity – it’s also an exercise in practical productivity. And that’s a challenge professional writers have to face all the time. NaNo is a great practise for it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


8 thoughts on “What to do when the Good Idea derails your writing plan

  1. Oh my gosh, I did a post on this on my blog (Called Plot? What Plot?) and I basically said that I keep on changing my story because another good plot comes along and I think I’m just starting to realise that it’s okay to come up with a good idea, just don’t derail your other one.

    1. What counts at the end of the day is the final story and whether it meets the quality criteria. The journey to that point differs for everybody. Perhaps the key thing is to find ways of integrating the new idea so the final story reaches that end point.

  2. On a slight tangent. I was set up to start work on a new project, heard an album by a Canadian band called Au4 (you should check them out Matthew, I think you’d like them) and was utterly derailed when the album inspired a new idea. Wanting to get the new idea out of the way I ended up writing something that was much sharper and more precise than I’ve written in the past.

    My advice is to avoid Au4 albums if you need to get something done.

    1. Music can be insanely derailing as a generator for writing ideas. And yet, as you say, improving. I’ll check Au4 out. My personal music tastes veer towards European operatic metal (not least because my sister lived about 40 metres from the studio in Soest, NL, where most of them did their mastering) – but generally encompass a pretty wide range.

    2. Quite an album, sounds like.

      Of course I’ve gotten to thinking what a series of stories could be written out of the Buggles’ albums, which is a bit of a kick since they were drawing on J G Ballard’s Vermilion Sands. (They even have a song named “Take Me To Vermillion Sands”.)

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