My Cup Overfloweth

  • By Meg Opperman
  • November 16, 2015

When a flighty muse throws out too many ideas, Scrivener and solid work habits come to the rescue.

My Cup Overfloweth

I’ve written previously about what happens when the well runs dry and no ideas are forthcoming, but I’m currently having the opposite dilemma where I have too many ideas that are spilling over and flooding my office floor.

I know, poor me, right?

But ideas, while great, are only part of what it takes to be a professional writer. This may seem rather obvious, but I have to finish pieces. Not just first drafts, but ones that are publishable quality. That means lots of editing.

Of course, I’d rather follow the ideas — that’s the fun stuff. It’s like falling in love each time I start a new project. It’s a fluttery pulse each time I open the draft, a blush, a giggle. Editing is like being in a long-term relationship with someone. The magic and sparkle have worn off; now you’re left sitting around in your underwear watching reruns of “Law & Order” together…ahem, TMI?

To deal with times of plenty, I’ve had to come up with strategies to help me finish one project and move on to the next.

My two biggest secrets, you ask?

I use the writing software Scrivener indiscriminately and with abandon, and I trust my work habits enough to know the ideas will still be there when I need them. The first strategy is the easier of the two, which you will understand when I introduce you to my muse.

Scrivener is my best friend. I’m primarily a pantser, but I’m trying to learn to outline at least a little. I have to be careful how much I outline, though, or I’ll feel like I’ve already told the tale and lose interest. The trick for me has been to add just enough detail that I don’t lose the idea, but not so much that I’m bored and want to move on.

For those who haven’t used Scrivener before, it’s a program with a lot of fantastic — and affordable — features that make planning a breeze. It’s got e-notecards, character sheets, places you can store character pictures, research, and, of course, the manuscript when you get around to writing it. In the past, I used notecards to write a couple of plot points down or put the germ of my idea on paper, or write out characters’ Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC), but I’ve discovered between my cat and kids, those cards disappear like pixie dust. Poof.

Using Scrivener, I’m able to acknowledge the ideas, but it keeps me from going the instant-gratification route and writing it RIGHT NOW. I especially want to start working on those — new, fabulous, interesting — ideas when I’m at the muddle-in-the-middle of the current work in progress and would just love, love, LOVE to write something else. And this time, I’ll finish it. Promise.

Or when I’m in a particularly painful patch of editing where I’m eliminating whole sections, tearing up chapters, reworking motivations and goals, and tightening conflict so it practically leaps off the page. Then writing something new and exciting sounds especially tempting.

But I don’t give in…anymore. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. I’ll push through with a work until I’m done. Then I give it a rest for a couple weeks, write some smaller, easily finished pieces, and return to edit the hissing hydra that I call my work in progress.

I’m a little ashamed to say my muse is a fickle hedonist. I turn around, and she’s gone off to Las Vegas to catch some shows. She likes fruity drinks. And excitement. She HATES to edit. She might even be promiscuous — a ménage of projects seems to be her ideal, as being in the middle of a single manuscript for too long bores her. That’s why she throws out so many great story ideas all at once.

Some days, she absents herself completely — probably too hungover to show up — but I still need to get the work done. There are many times when I’m moving my fingers on the keyboard, making slow progress toward my goal. I know if I just keep pushing ahead, she’ll eventually get tired of watching “Thunder from Down Under” and come home.

The funny thing is, I actually like to edit. I do. I like the idea of polishing something, making it better, fixing bits that don’t work, improving on ones that do. But it’s hard to get started. At least on longer pieces. For short stories, I love to whip out my red pen because it’s manageable. In 30 pages, I’m unlikely to forget what happened in the first part of the story. I can flip back and forth to my heart’s content and still make great headway.

But the longer the piece I write, the more intimidated I get by the editing process. I can’t easily cover 300 pages all at once. I usually have to break it down into chunks, and that means more time, but also more of a chance I’ll forget what I did earlier. And this is where my work habits pay off. My muse may be gallivanting around somewhere, but my butt is in a chair, working systematically through what needs to be done.

While I don’t think I could do it all without her, I’m certain I can still do most of what needs to be done to turn the ideas into a publishable work. While I’m editing, I remind myself that the ideas will still be there, and if not, there will be others. And even while I’m editing, I’ve noticed my muse has a habit of peeking over my shoulder and tossing out a gem here or there before she zips off to drink her next Moscow Mule.

Oh, look: I’ve outlined this article in Scrivener and the last note says to go join my muse for a drink once I’m done. Thanks to my work habits, I’m wrapping this column up. I’m sure it’s five o’clock somewhere…

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