How to Declutter Your Writing Ideas and Finish More Projects

How to Declutter Your Writing Ideas and Finish More Projects

A new writer recently asked me, “When you have several half-finished projects, how do you choose which one to start working on again? I look at my writing folder and feel overwhelmed!”

I know the feeling.

One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is having too many ideas. Given how hard it is to succeed in the business and how many of us seem to suffer from debilitating writer’s block, “too many ideas” might sound like a blessing.

But think about how many aha! moments you’ve had. How many brilliant stories you’ve conceived. How many shower thoughts you’ve scribbled into notebooks.

You can’t write them all.

But you feel a lingering duty to these unrealized ideas. They sit in the back of your mind like an anchor when you try to move on to the next project.

How do you prioritize?

What to do with half-finished writing projects

I don’t have a perfect solution. My writing folder, too, has loads of half-baked ideas without a clear destiny. I sometimes find myself paralyzed at my computer, unsure which project to focus on.

But I’ve figured out a few steps that help me clear the clutter and work on what matters.

1. Know what to let go

First, you’ll reduce a ton of overwhelm by deciding which projects are lost casuses.

Give yourself permission to let them go.

Abandoning projects is scary. You loved the idea once, and you’ve put so much time or energy or passion into it.

What’s really scary, though, is you’re afraid you’ll never have another good idea. Don’t worry; you definitely will.

New, better, stronger ideas will always come along. And the effort you’ve put into old projects is never wasted. Consider it exercise that strengthened your writing skills for new ideas.

You don’t have to completely trash these projects if you’re not ready. I have a folder in my drive called “archived projects” for the stuff I’ve stopped working on. Within that folder is a folder for each year (I told you the ideas never stop coming).

2. List the steps needed to finish each project

Once you’ve cleared the roughage, you can start to make sense of the rest.

Look at each unfinished project, and make a quick list of the steps you need to take to finish it.

For example, if you’re sitting on a completed manuscript, it may need a few rounds of edits, to be pitched to agents, or to go through the self-publishing process.

Partially-written books, stories or essays may need a stronger outline, feedback, more research or just time to focus on writing.

3. Determine which projects are nearest completion

Now use those project-specific to-do lists to determine which projects are nearest completion. If you focused only on one project, which could you finish soonest?

This could be as simple as finally submitting an essay you’ve been afraid to act on. Or pitching an article idea you outlined months ago. Or publishing and promoting a forgotten blog post idea.

4. Pick something near completion and finish it

In general, I recommend picking up the project that’s nearest completion, and finishing it.

Try to find something you can accomplish pretty quickly — this week or this month. The accomplishment is motivating, so it’ll be nice to do it soon. Checking off one task makes it a little easier to work on the next thing.

Be aware as you choose a project, though: Do you dread working on it? Do you find yourself stuck again because the project nearest completion turns out to be something you hate working on?

Don’t be afraid to let go of more projects at this point.

If you’ve got a five-year-old, almost-finished project you hate sitting at the top of your to-do list, it’s going to be a roadblock to getting anything done. Archive it, and move on to the projects you love and want to dedicate your time to.

5. Prioritize what’s left, and make a timeline

Once you’ve finished a quick project, start to prioritize what’s left (after celebrating, of course). Continue to work on the tasks you can finish quickly, but also set goals for the longer projects.

The quick projects are nice to finish, because they help you clear the clutter. But if you have a novel that’s five years away from publication, you probably don’t want to keep pushing it off for a year to finish essays, for example.

Set some reasonable deadlines for yourself. Do you want to have a novel published in the next five years? Ten? How many short stories, poems or essays do you want to submit in a year?

Create timelines with these goals and project to-do lists in mind, and find time to work on them accordingly.

Why this system is totally flawed

Walking through these steps periodically has helped me keep my writing life under control. It keeps me moving forward, instead of getting stuck on useless projects.

But it’s imperfect.

The problem is that the ideas never stop coming.

You won’t go through one spring cleaning and organization of your writing projects and be set for life. You will continue to have new ideas you absolutely love, and you’ll constantly have to re-organize and re-prioritize.

Keep these steps in mind as you do it, and I hope you’ll be a little less overwhelmed.

What strategies do you use to prioritize your writing projects?

Filed Under: Blogging
Karan Bajaj

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96 comments

  • Tal Valante says:

    Great advice, Dana! You’ve made me want to go to my partials folder and start working through it.

    I completely agree with you about going after the almost-done first. We’re humans. We need good experience to spur us along, or we tend to despair and give up. Closing up as many projects as possible in the near future would provide just that kind of positive rush. It’s solid advice in my book (which I’m still writing, alas).

    Thanks again,

    Tal

  • Great advice! My problem is I have sooo many projects all at the same stage (thank you, NaNoWriMo!), and I want to do them all. Now. ASAP. But, I also know I can’t rush revisions. So I need to give myself permission to put the almost-dones in a queue and be patient. And studious. I also look at the marketability of my projects. I’ve got 3 that are part of a series (book 1 isn’t agented yet, and I want to have at least the next 2 ready to go if I’m going to self-pub), 1 that needs more revision before I try shopping it again, a WIP that has great market potential, and another two that have good market potential. That doesn’t even delve into the books in my head I want to write (hello, NaNoWriMo).

    Maybe a sabbatical to a cabin in the woods to do nothing but write is in order 🙂

  • Very good advice that I have used. Other considerations for me are whether the project will help me reach my primary audience or not. Also, what project will help me with a speaking engagement. Definitely consider your long-term goals and recognize that sometimes just writing down your ideas is a relief. They are always there for you.

  • Sienna Bloom says:

    I am a new writer. I have a series of books that I am working on. I don’t plan to publish until the third book (out of 5-8) has been edited by a developmental editor. I am still on the first book but I am struggling with the current scene. I get ideas all the time for the next book. What I have done is write later scenes in this book and to handwrite my ideas for the next book when they come into the designated folder for that. (I like handwriting.)

    I came up with a novella and wrote the description for this new WIP when I came up with the ideas. I also handwrote that out.

    It is easier for me to handwrite ideas for work I am not yet ready to work on and keep them in a notebook than it is to clutter my desk top or drop box with idea folders. When I take the time to create character descriptions, I will create that in typed form.

    Because I have struggled with the current scene, I’m finding that writing a later scene (and storing on Scrivener) gets my creative juices flowing. I’m hopeful that I will be able to determine what to do with the current scene soon.

    It isn’t writers block because I have no problem with the other scenes or other story ideas. It is that this current scene isn’t working but something is needed here to bridge to the other scenes I have come up with.

  • Judith Robl says:

    Thank you, Dana. Organization has never been my strength. I tend to scatter and jump from project to project. Then it’s difficult to get back into an interrupted project. I’ve printed your blog to refer to from time to time. It goes into my notebook of How-To Ideas.

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  • PURNIMA says:

    As I was reading, felt I was reading an autobiography complete with solutions. Sound advice, easy to put into practise.

  • Kazim says:

    Thank you Dana, I am a new writer I have started to write some articles and I could not finish them. Now I will arrange them and see which one I like the most and it is almost need final touches.

    Thanks a lot.

  • great post thank you for share

  • ebooks2go says:

    Awesome post!!Dana, definitely an good information for new self publishing authors as well as writers. Thanks for sharing.

  • Maddie James says:

    Your advice is timely for me, and is exactly what I’ve been doing of late–working to complete unfinished projects and decide which ones I need to let go. No doubt about it, it pains to let projects go, but there is only so much time. Prioritizing and planning are key–and even though abandoning a project is a very difficult notion for me, it is so very freeing that it’s incredible. Great article and thanks for the validation!

  • Laura Ryding-Becker says:

    Hi Dana! Thanks for the post. I know many people will find it useful, as I did. A little insight from a pro is always good. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • Agh! Letting go? Never!

    … Wonderful advice! I think as artists we seem to generate new ideas weekly. Sometimes, finishing a project is the hardest part.

  • Great tips here – thank you. I have numerous short stories, ideas and ‘pending’ manuscripts on my computer. I gave myself a task to review, revise and edit two manuscripts this year and next year. Six months on each. So far I am keeping to that schedule.

  • George M. says:

    Great advice. I have the problem of having a ton of unfinished projects and numerous ideas filing in. Prioritizing definitely helps.

    I recently made a commitment to finishing projects I want to post on my blog someday. Right now, I am shopping them to critique partners. While I’m waiting, I feel like I should be working on something else. But maybe I need to wait.

  • هاست says:

    Thank you ! I love this article. I am sending this good article to my colleagues right now !

  • Great post , good luck.

  • thank you for sharing

  • great post thank you for share

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