Finish What You’ve Started: Surviving Shiny New Idea Syndrome

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

October 31, 2022

For the love of October

When this post goes live, my husband and I will be in Mexico City! That’s right, we’ll be celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead in style. I love everything about Dia de los Muertos. The traditions, the xoloitzcuintli, the beautiful ofrendas to honor and remember the memory of our lost loved ones… It’s all so beautiful and meaningful. And being there for it, to see it in person, to witness the amazing parade made it even more special in my heart. 

I also just love October in general. It’s probably my favorite month with November being a close second (because feasting season begins). October, though, is a creepy month. I get extra jumpy. I write horror, so my overactive imagination is primed and ready for some jump scares. Even if they are self-imposed or from seeing a weird shadow or nothing at all.

I also love costumes. If I really enjoyed sewing more, I would say I should have taken up with a theater troupe as their costume designer.

At work, in the before times, I was sort of the queen of Halloween. Ooh, that rhymes very nicely. I won costume contests year over year. Only once being beat out by my co-worker Jill who, in her probably fifties, dressed as a retired Hooters girl, saggy support hose, hair net, and all. She deserved the trophy that year without a doubt.

So what happened was, year after year, I strived to outdo myself the year before. I never recycled costumes. I always had something new and amazing. I’m an amateur seamstress, so I would whip out my little sewing machine and pour my blood sweat and tears into my costumes.

What do you think happened?

Aside from creating amazing costumes, I mean.

Halloween Burn Out

I ended up burning out. Halloween was no longer fun for me. It was stressful!

What does this have to do with this post’s topic? Well, Halloween and creating costumes became the equivalent of Old Musty. You’ll learn what Old Musty is soon enough.

Basically, when we are in the midst of our current work in progress, the magic of that story tends to ebb and flow with peaks and troughs. Sometimes when we’re at a low point in the magical-ness of our WIP, we are more prone to be lured and distracted by…

Dun dun dun!

Shiny new Idea syndrome!

A monster we all face as writers

It comes out of seemingly nowhere. It pulls your attention away from your current manuscript. It promises to be more exciting and more fun than anything you’ve ever written before. 


a book with pages fluttered open and magical letters flying out of it.

Ooooh… so shiny

You are a creative person. You likely have a bank of ideas just brimming with the energy of wanting to be written. Not to mention how many ideas come flying at you on a day to day basis.

Dreams, news headlines, snippets of dialogue, random thoughts, the muse whispering sweet nothings into your ear—or dark nasties, if you write that kind of thing (wink-wink nudge-nudge)—the susurration of water running over you in the shower is enough to bring on a slew of ideas.

SNIS arises when a new idea steals your attention because, “holy cow, this is a full-fledged story that just presented itself to me.”

Perhaps the story idea is so attractive you just cannot wait to finish the manuscript you’ve been working on for the past three (*cough* twelve) years, so you don’t.

Your little bird brain flits off with the new idea.

Your current manuscript withers and rots. It throws jealous looks at you and your new idea.

You swear you’ll come back to that old musty thing in the corner. And you probably will. But there is a chance you won’t.

As a new writer, you are free to explore all the ideas that come your way. But at some point, if you want to be serious, you must finish something. You must take your writing seriously if you want others to take you seriously when you tell them you’re writing a book.

If you’re a “seasoned” writer, SNIS is especially troubling. 

By now, you likely have at least a handful of adoring fans who are impatiently awaiting your next book. 

Or you may have an editor at a publishing house tapping her foot and looking at her watch while you cavort around with this other idea.

We are fickle. Our minds wander. We daydream.

This is why we do what we do, and why we are so good at it. 

When Shiny New Ideas present themselves, we want to follow them as they lead us away from our current work in progress, singing their siren song and making promises they cannot keep.

In the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this. She believes, “ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form,” and if we don’t acknowledge them, they will go away to someone else. She has a pretty compelling story in her book that supports this.

Old Musty

Spend a few minutes (only a Toucan20 session) with this Shiny New Idea. Acknowledge the idea. Thank it for coming to you. Write it down in your idea notebook with as much detail as you can. Tell the idea you will come back to it later, when you’ve finished with Old Musty over there.

An old book with cartoon eyes

Isn’t he cute? How can you ignore him?

Old Musty will give you a toothless grin and maybe, just maybe, having written down this new idea and spent a little time with it, you’ll feel refreshed to come back and finish that book.

And that’s the key. I want you to finish your book. I know you want to finish your book (otherwise you probably wouldn’t be listening to me prattle on and on).

Even if you’ve already finished a book before (and therefore this isn’t your first rodeo), every book is different!

I don’t know about you, but I have learned something from every novel-length manuscript I’ve ever written (and I’ve written a lot).

Don’t be afraid of shiny new ideas. But also, don’t let them steal you away.

Recognize them for what they are, acknowledge them, spend some time with them, but don’t give in completely to their wiles. They are tricksy little hobbitses and will keep you from finishing old musty. Trust me. I have a whole folder on my hard drive called “Unfinished” full of partially finished manuscripts I never came back to because of Shiny New Ideas.


Next week, I have part one of a special two part post for you all about how to plan for distractions! So exciting, right?


Happy Halloween! Set your timer. Go write!

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