Friday, April 20, 2018

Battling Shiny New Idea Syndrome



Hi all, Winnie Griggs here.

One of the frequent question non-writers ask authors (including me) is where do you get your ideas from? My writer friends and I have discussed this and we all find this a strange question, because ideas are everywhere - In song lyrics, in a news article, in an unexpected nugget found in research, in movies, in overheard snippets of conversation, even in our dreams. So it seems strange that not everyone can see what we do and begin to play the ‘what if’ game.

Then conversely, there are those folks who tell us they have a fabulous idea for a story and they’ll share it with us if we agree to give them a cut of the take after we write and sell it.

What they don’t seem to understand is that the magic is not in the idea, but in the execution of the idea. Even a high concept, highly marketable premise (Jurassic Park anyone?) falls flat if not executed effectively.

Which is why one of the biggest roadblocks writers face to finishing a book is SNIS or Shiny New Idea Syndrome.

This is how the novel writing process normally works (at least for me.)

PHASE I
I start with an idea that excites me. The opportunities for  rich emotion, fun situations, unexpected plot twists and compelling character arcs unfold in my mind with tantalizing possibility. And that excitement carries me through the first 20-30% of my book.

PHASE II
I’ve reached (or am closely approaching) the middle 50% of the book and much of the shininess has disappeared or gotten tarnished. This is where the hard work happens, where I have to dig deep and figure out how to make this tangle of a story work.

And of course, this is when SNIS hits the hardest. Because starting stories is the easy part – it’s the follow through and finishing that’s difficult.  It’s while you are slap dab in the middle of your WIP, procrastinating working through your plot issues, that you are suddenly hit with an idea for a brand new story, one that has fabulous potential and that seems so much better than this no-longer-shiny story you’re in the middle of. The sheer brilliance (shininess) of it takes your breath away and makes you want to abandon your WIP and pursue something that appears ‘better’. The SNI is a siren temptress, just waiting to lure you away from your WIP.



And being able to play with a nice SNI sounds like much more fun than slogging through, grappling with the hard work of untangling and sorting out the problems of our WIP. Especially when the SNI will lure you into believing that of course it is the best idea ever and is more likely to lead you to publication/best sellerdom/a movie deal/whatever-your-current-dream-is, than what you are currently working on.

If you give in to this impulse, however, you run the risk of going through the same cycle all over again. I have a writer friend who suffers from this syndrome.  She is highly creative, her ideas are so fresh and original, her take on them intriguing. But it never fails that, by the time she gets to the middle, she gets an idea for something ‘better’ and the old project is abandoned for the new one. The result is that in all the time I’ve known her, she has yet to finish even one full length work.
So what is the best way to battle SNIS? Here are a few strategies that might work for you:

  • The method that works for me is to take the time to record this SNI into a document. Set a timer for 20-30 minutes and just go to town. Record everything about the idea that you know – characters, set-up, scenes, conflict, etc. - remembering to include just what about it appeals to you. When the timer goes off, or when you run out of things to write, save your file and turn your focus back to your WIP. I have a dedicated folder on my computer that holds these files, organized by genre. And whenever I’m ready to start a new project, I read through these to see what calls to me.
    If, later on, if other snippets pertaining to that particular SNI occur to you, repeat the process – open your file, set a timer, type out the new information – then once the timer goes off, put it aside.
  • Another thing you can do is take a closer look at your SNI and see if it can be tweaked to fit into your current WIP. The SNI could be your subconscious’s  response to some problem you’ve been struggling with in your current project.  Or it might point the way to a fabulous twist you could add in. Or a turning point to take your story in a surprising new direction. Or perhaps a subplot that could add depth and richness to your story.
  • If the SNI is really calling to you, and if you’re good at multi-tasking, you can use it as a reward for yourself. IF you meet your daily/weekly goals, you can give yourself permission to spend xx amount of time to work on fleshing out the SNI. Just make certain you maintain focus on your goals for your WIP and don’t cheat!



So is it ever a good idea to abandon a WIP for a SNI, either temporarily or permanently? The answer is, of course. And here are a few examples:

  • If the SNI is time-sensitive, if it pertains to something currently ‘hot’ that you need to jump on before the opportunity passes, then go for it.
  • If your WIP is just not going to work out – either you realize the idea itself is too flawed to make for a fully realized story, or something in the political, environmental or social climate has occurred that makes your story untenable at this time (for instance a terrorist hijacking story right after 9-11)
  • If you feel the need to step back from your story temporarily, and your SNI is for a quick project – short story, novella, collaboration, etc) then perhaps going for it as a sort of ‘palate cleanser’ would be a good idea.


HOWEVER, the assumption that the SNI would be a lot more fun to work on than pushing through your problems with your WIP is definitely NOT a good reason to abandon your current project.

If your sole goal in writing is to do it for the pure pleasure of the experience, than of course go wherever your muse leads you. However, one of the marks of a professional writer is the ability to finish a project. – to get through that murky, difficult middle and bring your book to a satisfying conclusion.  Having one completed work does much more for your career as a writer than having dozens of wonderful, evocative, intriguing openings.

The bottom line – never be too quick to abandon a WIP for something shiny and new. Whenever you’re tempted to do so, think about the amount of time (always a key resource!), thought, creativity and energy you’ve put into it and would be tossing away. And also keep in mind, that once you started in on the SNI, chance are, by the time you got past the first 25% or so, it too will have entered the murky-middle stage and another SNI will present itself. And now it has the potential to become a vicious cycle where you are always chasing the next SNI rather than doing the hard work of finishing your WIP.


So now it's your turn. Have you ever suffered from Shiny New Idea Syndrome? Do you have ideas for battling it that I haven't listed here? Or do you believe you SHOULD battle it at all, rather than just going with the flow?

67 comments:

  1. Good morning, Winnie! Fabulous post!

    I've always said that for me IDEAS are a dime a dozen. It's the development of them into a true STORY with solid GMC and a beginning, middle, end, dark moment and all that other "good stuff" that is the trick.

    Like you, if I get an idea in the middle of another story, I just write as much of it down as I know at the moment, then get back to my WIP.

    What I personally find the hardest is developing an idea at the beginning before I start writing. That SNI issue rears its head there, too--if my heroine/hero's primary issue (and GMC, background, occupation, personality, wound, etc.) is THIS, then this, this, and this happen. But if it's THAT, then that, that, and that can only happen.

    SO MANY CHOICES--and which one is "right"? Depending on which I choose makes the foundation and execution of the story totally different.

    So at the very beginning of a new story or series it's always a struggle for me to pin down WHICH shiny object to follow. Amazingly, once I've decided and am writing, all those earlier "options" fade away and it's as if the story could ONLY have been told the way I'm telling it! :)

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    1. Glynna, I totally get that! I do the same thing. It can be paralyzing to worry about choosing the right direction.

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    2. I find myself bogged at the beginning of a story because there are so many possibilities...I write wicked fast at the end, because there are fewer logical choices to make and my direction is much clearer by then!

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    3. Glynna, this is so true! When I said beginnings are easier (and more fun!) than middles, I meant because it is open to all these many possibilities. By the middle, you've set a direction and sometimes you can begin to doubt the path you're on or the road ahead feels like it may be leading you into a swamp! (or at least that's the way it feels to me :)

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  2. Good morning, Winnie and good morning, Seekerville!

    SNI. It's what I've always referred to as new story love. That giddy sense of infatuation that washes over us and we just cannot wait to spend time with that new love. Until we discover it has flaws, too. Just like our old love. Perhaps the flaws are even worse. :O

    Yep, been there, done that, Winnie. But I love your approach. I do write those ideas down because, sometimes, just getting them out of my head is all it takes for me to then move ahead with my WIP.

    Ah, but new love is always so tempting. Especially for a romance writer. We just can't help falling in love.

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    1. Ah, new story love - I think I like that name more than SNI! :)

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  3. I love this and I love Shiny New Idea Syndrome...

    I do this, too... and I let the idea veg.... and I jot notes about it sometimes, or I'll see something that seems like it would work... Just last week I was talking with Beth Jamison and realized I could marry a story that's been on hold for about 5 years... with a current series... and it will fit in beautifully.

    Those shiny new ideas don't grow old with time... nor do they tarnish. :) Usually. But if they do, a little bit of salt and lemon juice or silver polish brings them right back to life!

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    1. Ruthy, that's great that you can use the story in a current series!

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    2. I LOVE it when something like that happens, when you have a story idea you thought outdated and bereft, and a new opportunity comes along, and BAM! the old story idea will fit! I've done that with a few of the novellas I've written, brought to life an old story idea, cut it down to the bare essentials, and sent it out into the world.
      How fun that you get to brainstorm with Beth Jamison and polish up your ideas!

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  4. Great post Winnie! As a reader I find the writing process fascinating.

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  5. SNI has always scared me. I think it's because I do get bogged down in the middle and if I don't force myself to sit down in the chair, I'll never finish my wip. It's taken my years sometimes to finish a single ms. So I KNOW if I get started on a new idea it's all over for my wip. TAPS plays softly in the background.

    I too have a file where I jot new ideas for the next book.

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    1. You know, for me, getting bogged down happens about chapter 4 or 5, so it's earlier. I think we all hit that point sometime. I think it helps me just to know it's coming and brace myself for it. LOL Then I don't tend to go looking for other ideas to pursue.

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    2. Hi Connie, it's a struggle we all have. One way to fight it is to set daily goals for the work on your SNI and maybe have an accountability partner you report to. For myself, I'm too competitive (stubborn!)
      to miss my check-in goal very often!

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  6. And I feel for your friend who's always chasing the SNI. It'd be soooo easy to do.

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    1. That was my thought, too. I feel for that friend, because there is such satisfaction in tying a story all together at the end, and the payoff of emotions when there is resolution. If it's all just quick starts and then fizzle, you miss the payoff. :(

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    2. I was thinking the same thing, Erica. Pushing through the middle brings you to writing all the way to the end, resolving the conflicts, setting up the happily-ever-after, and seeing the smile on your characters' faces!

      All the work and none of the fun. :-(

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    3. I've tried telling her she's missing out on the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from actually finishing a book, but she is always convinced it'll happen 'next time'. Sigh...

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  7. Good morning, everyone!
    Winnie, this is so true. I have battled this syndrome since I was 8. Lol.
    But I've learned many of the same tactics. Write down the idea Then use your self discipline to finish the current projwct. You can even use the new idea as an incentive to finish the WIP.

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. You're quite welcome! And good for you for conquering those sneaky SNIs!

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  8. Winnie, what a great post! I imagine this is a trap for just about every writer at sometime in their career. I know it has been for me.

    I loved when you said: "Another thing you can do is take a closer look at your SNI and see if it can be tweaked to fit into your current WIP. "

    That was light bulb moment for me! That's a brilliant idea! Thanks for the suggestion.

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    1. Missy, you and I are sitting under the light bulb together! That was a WOW moment and something I hadn't considered before! Brilliant!

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    2. Thanks ladies! That's only worked for me one time, but it was golden when it did!

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  9. Ah, I like this post! It is so easy to be distracted by a new idea, by something that 'seems' easier than what I'm currently working on. I have a story-idea file where I toss those ideas to wait until I'm done with the WIP, but I never considered incorporating a SNI into my WIP. Very cool! I shall have to ruminate on that for awhile!

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    1. Hi Erica. I like that you put seems in quotes - it's a nod to the saying that the grass always looks greener...

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  10. Wow, you've captured it exactly--the Shiny New Idea is perfectly described as a siren, and I am not nearly as faithful about plugging my ears as I should be. I have started noting down the SNIs in a document with all the brilliant details that have come to me (and often turn out less brilliant later on anyway), and it helps a lot; then I can put it from my mind, knowing that I don't have to worry about forgetting anything.

    The real trouble is when I make the mistake of venturing down the research rabbit hole for that SNI; that will distract me for days. If I can head myself off before then, I'm a lot more successful.

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    1. Rachael, I love the description of the SNI as a siren! So true!

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    2. Hi Rachael. I used to fall into that trap as well. I think setting a timer for how much time you'll allow yourself to focus on the SNI is key. Otherwise we (me) will just lose ourselves in the bright, new world of the SNI.
      One thing you can do to fend off the UTR (Urge to research) is to jot down notes in your file of what things you want to research, then occasionally, when you've met your goals, give yourself permission to dive in. But make sure the WIP has priority.

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  11. I call SNI's "squirrels." They capture my attention and I forget all about the project I HAVE to get done. Because you're right! That next idea on the horizon is A LOT more fun than solving the story problem that's bogging down my WIP.

    I also have a file where I jot down those story squirrels as they appear. I'll even dedicate a week between contracted writing projects to spend time researching and fleshing out the squirrel, testing to see if it could be the next series idea.

    But at some point, I need to tamp down the enthusiasm of the NSI and get back to the WIP...like now. I'm just past the half-way point in my WIP, the deadline is breathing down my neck, and I really can't afford the luxury of playing with other characters.

    And it's so much fun, too! *sigh*

    Thanks for the great post, Winnie!

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    1. Oh Jan, I LOVE that you call them squirrels! I immediately pictured that dog from the movie UP who was always getting distracted by squirrels. Thanks for the smile!

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  12. Winnie, great post. Sometimes, that SNI seems like it will be so much better, more exciting, easier to work on than my current WIP. Truth is, though, if I want to write the SNI well, it's going to take work too...just like my current WIP. I work to keep myself disciplined at finishing my current WIP by remembering that there is a sense of satisfaction in finishing my current project, and in remembering that the new project will take lots of work to flesh out, just like my current one did. So, I take notes on ideas for the new story, save them in their own file, and get back to work on the current project. It's where I keep my mind that helps me stay focused. :)

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    1. Thanks Jeannie. And it sounds as if you have a fabulous approach to handling this and tons of discipline to boot!

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  13. I literally just went through this. I sat down, wrote the first chapter of my SNI, and then went back to what I had been working on. That let me get it out of my head so I could focus. Glad I am not the only one who deals with this. :-)

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    1. Hi Amy, and no, my friend, you are far from being the only one! It is a common problem among writers. As for me - it happens me. Every. Single. Time

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  14. Glad to know that other writers have the same problem with all those tempting ideas that so often can cause distraction.

    What has helped me is that I make a file of a subject/character I would like to write about and then whenever I run into something that would fit with the file I add it for future use.

    When stuck combining some ideas or files to your current project is brilliant. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Dorcas, as I said above, you are definitely not alone. But it sounds like you are well on your way to taming the beast. And glad therre was a nugget in there you found helpful!

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  15. I suffer from acute SNIS. And that is how I find myself working on five WIP's at once. In the early years of my career (meaning when I was eleven to when I was fourteen) I jumped from story to story never finishing any of it. Except my ideas came too fast. It didn't come 20-30% through my stories. I was lucky if I made it past the first chapter before a new idea came.

    But then I forced myself to knuckle down and write my first book. Since then, however my SNIS has gradually returned. Hence the five books that I'm working on right now. I've learned that I won't be able finish any stories if I keep going from story to story so if I do add on a story, I'll have to keep working on my other ones too. Hence the five WIP's.

    I'm currently trying to finish one of my WIPs, by the end of this month. Then I'll finally allow myself to work on a shiny idea that has been waiting (not so) patiently to be written for some time.

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    1. Oh Nicki, you're a much better multi-tasker than I could ever be! There's no way I could ever keep all the characters and story threads straight if I tried working on that many stories at one time.

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    2. And you're much better at focusing at one task than I am. There's no way I would be able to focus on one WIP with the ideas of a hundred more banging on my mental doors.

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    3. :) That's why no one process works for every writer - we're all so different

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  16. My SNIs are scribbled on scraps of paper and tossed into a box. Not very efficient. I like the idea of actually creating a file (and I think I will title each SNI 1, SNI 2, etc.). Meanwhile, every November I search through my box and work on one SNI for Nanowrimo.

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    1. LOL - your SNI box sounds like my photograph collection that I keep saying I'll organize 'someday' :)
      And what a fun way to tackle them - by turning yourself loose on one during Nano!!

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  17. Oh my this is so me. Should I even admit that I currently have 7 wip. I have written The End on 3 more. But none are ready for publication.

    What I am focusing on now is the first one with a complete rewrite and new name. I needed time away to completely recharge and develop as an author.

    I do plan to finish all these. Now when I get those creative ideas I type out the ideas. Name it. put it in a binder and return to what I am writing.

    I always thought it was because I have ADHD. All my life I have several projects going at once like 30 books being read at the same time.

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    1. Another multi-tasker! My hat's off to you and Nicki.

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  18. Hi Winnie:

    I've had to deal with SNIS for decades as an advertising copywriter and editor. New writers, when stuck on a project, often 'come up with a better idea'.

    They want to drop the old idea we've been working on and use their new idea instead. They often think that their new idea is so strong the ad will "almost write itself."

    When this happens here are some approaches I would take:

    1. Monkeys are distracted by shinny new objects. You are better than that. Say five times: "I am not a monkey". (Warning: expect to have three copywriters mimicking the three monkies: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, when you come back into the room.)

    2. If you are young and new to writing, then always drop your WIP and start on the new shiny idea. Do this until you're jaded. Become like the person with five ex-spouses who finally realizes that spouses are the same and it would be better to have made the original marriage work in the first place.

    3. If the writers are new to writing and they want to pantser, then -- like little kids who play in the streets -- they need to be spanked while they can still be saved.

    Pantsering invites major writing problems.

    Here's how it can happen. A writer has a great shiny new idea! All options are open to make this story the great American novel. The imagination can just 'see' the wonderful story this idea can create. Such infatuated writers even use 'creative visualization' to experience how great they are going to feel once their wonderful reviews come pouring in.

    The idea is so hot in their hearts there is no time to plot out the story line. They must strike while the iron is hot!

    Then reality sets in. Each page they write closes story options that can be taken. By the time they are halfway into the story, so many options have closed that they don't know how they are going to go on…to say nothing of how what they have so far can even be publishable! It's the sagging middle! When things are darkest, there will always come a new shiny idea. Rather than wallow in the slough of despair, they follow the light to the next shiny idea as helpless as the children following the Pied Piper of Hamelin into the unknown!

    How James Patterson sells more fiction that anyone else!

    He spends two to three months coming up with an outline that is so powerful ordinary people can't read it without asking him when they can buy the book. Every scene is its own chapter. Every scene asks questions that readers absolutely must have answered as soon as possible. Every scene is so important to the story that it changes the trajectory of the plot outcome.

    Of course, if you try to write such an outline you really, really, must have a bright new idea because the outline will prove it or disprove it. Most writers do not want to wait until they really have a bright new story. They don't want to see into the future. They want to dream into the future. They are like pilots without instruments flying into the clouds relying on the seat of their pants to get them safely to a destination they are not even sure is out there!

    Pantsering is great for creating the great outline…the proof the idea really is great. Of course, you'll find this out ahead of time…long before the sad sagging middle! Pantsering, like carbohydrates, is a major cause of sagging middles!

    A world famous economist once said when asked if he played the commodities, "Whenever I get the urge to play the commodities I go into a room alone and wait until the feeling goes away."

    That might also work for SNIS. :)

    I'm just playing…go pantser all you want and enjoy what you do.

    Vince


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    1. Hi Vince. I love this phrase you used "They don't want to see into the future. They want to dream into the future. " That fits so many folks...

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  19. Thank you so much for sharing your process. I've had some of those shiny distractions before. I also have to force myself to go back to that WIP. That can become an inner battle. You have provided encouraging words that will help me get back to work!

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    1. Hi Bettie. Thanks so much for those kind words - glad I was able to help!

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  20. Oh, yeah, I've had shiny new idea syndrome many too many times to count! Thanks for the great tips, Winnie.

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  21. I'm hiding under my desk after reading this one. I'm a self-diagnosed chronic plotter. I'm really great at planning, outlining, mapping out GMC and character arc. I've got something like nine full novels planned out with scene lists and everything. And...not a single complete draft for any of them.

    Please don't judge me, Seekers! :D

    I also struggle with getting 50-75% of the way through a story and then have a brilliant idea for that story that entirely deconstructs it, refocusing on a different plot line or character, and feel like I need to start the same story over from scratch. It's more than a bit of retooling...it's a complete rewrite from the first line. Ack!

    I keep all of my shiny ideas in a single Scrivener file with different binder folders for different genres. That way it's all in one easily-accessible place.

    Now I need to just buckle down and actually finish my wip....

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    1. LOL Megan, no judgment here. But you know what they say, the first step to overcoming a problem is recognizing you have a problem... :)
      As long as you're enjoying your process, go for it. But of the indescribable joy of finally typing THE END!!

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  22. Winnie! Thank you so much. I definitely have fallen victim to SNIS. Your tips are great. I will be opening up a file for these in the future and setting a timer up!

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  23. Hi Kelly. So glad this post resonated with you and added some tools to your writer toolbox!!

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  24. Winnie, I have SNIS right now. I didn't even know that was a thing. :)

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    1. Oh it is most definitely a thing! :)
      And you have my sympathies, as well as support - you CAN beat this!!!

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  25. Thank you! Great steps for what do with those ideas!

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  26. Hi Winnie. I'm not a writer. I just read what others write, but I just wanted to say hi to another Winnie, and tell you I enjoyed your post. There aren't too many Winnies out there, so I have to connect when I find one!

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    1. I've actually chatted with you on FB before, but it's been a looooong time.

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    2. Hi Winnie! You're absolutely right, there aren't very many of us around, but I rather enjoy the uniqueness of it :)
      I was named for my grandmother. How did you come by it?

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    3. I was named for my aunt--my mother's only sister.

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