I’ve always loved this line from Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’. I first heard it on a best of Bob Dylan compilation tape I bought when I was 12 years old. Yes, I was a strange kid, obsessed with words, old music, and writing. I used to scrawl lyrics and random thoughts over my bedroom walls and floorboards. And at the time I discovered Bob Dylan’s lyrical genius, I was also discovering how addictive it was to put words together. Little poems. Songs. Stories that grew into novels. I’d get one idea and become obsessed by it, only to have another equally exciting one show up on its heels, demanding my attention.
I remember the feeling of having too much inside my head. And having no escape from it, no way to turn it off or quieten it. I was always thinking about something. I disliked small talk and found it hard to concentrate on people when they spoke to me.
These days, it’s even worse. Just like when I was a kid, I have these people in my head. These made up people who feel so unbelievably real and who all have desperate stories to tell, and who all want their turn NOW!
So how do you cope when your mind gets this noisy? How do you focus on what is important and not end up burning out or giving up? I wouldn’t say I’ve fully figured this out yet, but here are a few tips for anyone who has a head full of ideas problem;
- Count yourself lucky. Yes, I know it can feel like a burden and a curse. If only just some of these people would shut up and go away, you could concentrate fully on the task at hand. But it pays to remember having too many ideas is actually pretty cool. You’re never going to run out of material. You have decades worth of books and sequels lining up to be penned. That’s lucky and that’s exciting.
- List your projects. I did this about a year ago. I have a to-be-read list and I have a to-be-written list. I’m a list person and there is nothing more satisfying than putting a tick in a box. So make a list of all the ideas for books you have and then enjoy that feeling when you get to tick them off. Also, this way you won’t forget any of the ideas!
- Multi-tasking is your friend and ally. If you are taking the indie route, you’re going to need those multi-tasking skills in an abundance, so this is another reason to be happy that your mind is so busy. If you can juggle all of those projects and ideas without losing it, then you will probably do pretty well as an indie writer, juggling writing with building an author platform, promoting and so on.
- Give yourself a day off each week. I didn’t always do this. I didn’t feel like I could. How was I ever going to get all these books written if I slacked off at any point? But then my kids kept giving me sad eyes and saying they missed cuddling up on the sofa with me. So I take every Saturday off. Completely. I don’t turn the laptop on. I sit downstairs with them and watch whatever they want to watch and take a deep breath. It’s my reward for all the hard work in the week.
- Make sure it’s still fun. I think serious writers, or at least those who are serious about actually selling their books, should treat writing like a job. I always wanted writing to be my job, and now it sort of is, although obviously, I have to do other things to earn the real money! Viewing it as a job doesn’t have to take the fun out of it.On the contrary, writing should be a fun job. The best job in the world, in fact. So keep an eye on the fun factor. You might be churning out novel after novel and hitting all of your word count targets, but are you still having fun?
- Feel free to slack off a bit every now and again. I’m doing this at the moment. Or at least it feels like it to me. I’m going over the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels I started a while back which is about half written. I’m editing a bit but I’m not doing any actual writing yet. I have two books with beta readers, so you know, can’t do much there right now. I’m gearing up for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, but until the artwork and formatting is done, I can’t set a release date and put the plan into action, so that’s all kind of relaxed right now too. It’s nice. I know things are going to get hectic again really soon, so I am enjoying the peace. I’ve been watching TV! Unheard of!
- Remind yourself that one day you will have more time…I’m a mum of four kids and I’m also a dog walker and run writing groups and workshops. My youngest child is almost three, so hasn’t started pre-school yet. He’s 24/7. My older kids are fantastic but let me just say this to all you new parents out there, it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder. Sorry, but it does! Anyway, I have days when I feel frustrated that I didn’t get much done, but then I remind myself that one day the kids will all be grown up. They’ll be gone one day. I’m not looking forward to that, by the way, but wow, I will certainly know how to keep myself busy when the time comes! So for now, I remind myself to be patient. These are busy days and I’m torn in many directions, but it won’t be this way forever.
- Write weekly lists to help you stay calm. I would be lost without my weekly to-do list. I sit down every Sunday night and write down the things I would like to achieve in the coming week. There will be things I need to do, such as writing this blog or putting together the monthly newsletter, and things I aim to get done, such as more editing, research or whatever comes up. Basically, I sit down each night and decide which things on the list are the most pressing. I usually split my time in half between promotional things, and actual writing or editing.
- Don’t push yourself too hard. I could write into the night and not stop. I used to do that before I had kids. I’m more sensible now, because I know I have to get up early and look after them all, but also because I’m kinder to myself. My mind needs a break. I turn everything off around ten pm and climb into bed with a book. Reading helps me calm down and tune out from my own mind. You can guarantee the ideas will start up again once I turn out the light, but I quite enjoy this if I am honest. I always fall asleep playing mini movies in my head, where various characters move about and talk and basically perform the book for me.
- Have other hobbies and passions. I think this is vital. Obviously, I have the kids, and I expect most writers will have family commitments of some sort, as well as a day job. But I think having other passions in your life can really help you switch off from the writing, and give your hectic mind a break. I love gardening and being with my animals. I can easily lose a few hours just weeding, planting and digging. I love reading and will happily pick up a book at any time of the day, including whilst making the dinner. I’m pretty addicted to music and will waste away an hour or two on YouTube if I ever get the chance! Make sure writing is not your only obsession.
- And finally, remind yourself that it will all get done one day. One word at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. You will work your way through that list of projects. I’m sure more ideas will arrive when you really don’t want them to, but consider it a privilege and just keep going as calmly as you can!
Now I just need to keep reminding myself to do all of the above and I might just survive!
Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to know how you cope with having too many ideas!