The Birth of a Universe in Your Head

It happens without warning. You could be walking down the street, iPod plugs in your ear listening to Spice Girls and enjoying the day when BANG! Suddenly an idea hits you and it feels like a tanker has jumped the sidewalk and crashed into your sorry ipod listening distracted self (because damn who listens to Spice Girls anymore?). It happens to all creative people at some point. It’s a wonderful, yet terrible feeling. Wonderful because YAY INSPIRATION. But terrible because now it’s going to consume alive you until you do something with it.

(Sidenote: Sometimes, when you feel you’re in a dry spell, you wish that it would. Oh to be knocked over onto the sidewalk by an idea 16-wheeler, wondering what kind of epic sci-fri space opera just hit you. But that’s not what this entry is about… I will talk about finding inspiration and dry spells in another post.)

Now you have this idea, and it’s haunting your dreams you’re thinking about it so much. You can’t drink your morning coffee without thinking about what your main character needs to overcome to get the boy and win the science contest while taking out demons that have started to destroy the school’s football field. But oh no, you are already in the middle of something else. What do you do? Drop everything and work on this new thing? Put the new idea off until a later time and hope that it’s just as fresh and awesome two months from now when you have the time to do something about it? WHAT DO YOU DO?

This happens to me a lot. I’m one of those unfortunate people that are afflicted with a terrible disease– story, character and shiny-thing distraction disorder, or SCASDD… okay that was funnier in my head. But it’s still true. The disease is a killer for a writer and twice as damning for a comics creator. What is SCASDD like? Imagine a jumble of worlds floating around in your head, all with different characters, different tones, shouting at you at all times. It’s a little 面倒くさい (troublesome) when you need to sit down and create.

But Aja, you say, why don’t you just work on multiple projects at once? Well I do… to a point. And it’s to that point that I want to discuss. Have you ever tried juggling several series in your head and creating content for all of them at once?

A long time ago, in a faraway land, I wrote a ton of fanfiction. Nope, I’m not ashamed to say it! In fact, from time to time, I still do. I find it a nice outlet to give my writing muscles a workout when I am not actively working on something. Anyway, I was pounding out 4 to 5 pages a day for a large number of stories. At one point, I think I had ten open series that I was working on plus some oneshots– usually all from different fandoms. So yeah, it’s possible. But now ask me how many out of those series I finished? Some, but definitely not all. I still have like 5 or 6 long series that I never finished, and now I don’t even have an interest in finishing them, as I have moved on from that fandom or just as a writer (which makes me feel so guilty when someone contacts me about finishing a story…). I burned myself out so bad while writing, I just had to say “enough’s enough!” and focused on one story at a time.

I keep a folder on my backup harddrive back in the States that has at least 20 to 30 stories that I either dropped halfway through or started but never got very far because of this habit. It’s a folder of shame, basically, but I keep it around. Why? Well, for starters, failed ideas can help create new ones that don’t fail (I’m one of those clingy writers that keeps every draft, just in case that paragraph I deleted three months ago turns out to be a gold mine and I want it in the final draft). But also, I like to keep it as a reminder to never let myself again get too in over my head writing wise. I call it the dump folder.

Because of this experience, it’s now my working hypothesis that I can only spread my attention out so far. Jumping from one story to another can really mess with your focus, and jumble your style if they are vastly different projects. It’s hard to write a melancholy story about a girl losing her boyfriend to demons rampaging a school and then stop in the middle and switch to writing a historical drama about two sisters. Now imagine switching between those stories while creating art for them. The subject matter alone dictates two completely different art styles. That’s enough to drive an artist crazy.

Now I can hear the cries of ‘CLAMP manages it!’ CLAMP is a TEAM. There are four women and any number of assistants (they don’t use them a lot, but they use them). They work together to create a final product. It’s not all up to one person. They also work in clumps. They finish a chapter of one thing, then move to the next, or do they? That’s just their release schedule. And even if they do work on one chapter of one story at a time, I’m more than willing to bet they at least have detailed outlines for the entire story, if not complete scripts before a scratch of pencil is put down. It’s a bit easier to have at least one of the steps completed before jumping to something else. Pro comic writers working on several series don’t hammer out 3 pages of one script and then jump to the next. They finish one script and then go to the next. Key word: finish.

So if all ideas are important, but I need to focus on finishing one thing at a time, how do I work? Well first off, as the new ideas come, I make sure to put them down, either in sketch or note form. It helps combat the SCASDD. At least then I have the idea down on paper, so I know I can come back to it later. In the process of writing it down, it’s like I’m taking it out of my brain to think about later. I know it’s cliché, but I carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go. Luckily, Japan has an insane selection of stationary. I find these notebooks incredibly helpful. It’s small enough to fit into my purse, and the dotted format is visible enough that writing is easy, but drawing on the paper isn’t distracting either. In fact, I drafted this entry and the format for the site in the same book this week.

But to make sure that I stay on target, I make goals! At the beginning of the year, I type out a plan for the entire year. It’s kind of a to-do list. Here’s my goals for the first five months of this year:

Superhusbands fic drafting
30 day challenge

Superhusbands drafting

Reverse BB art
Outline begin!
Superhusbands finishing

Outline finish
Character sheets

Illustration concepts

As I finish, I cross them off my list. However, I try not to chain myself to this schedule. There’s no way to know in January if you get a sweet project dropped in your lap in June. Or, like for me last year, I unexpectedly moved to the other side of the world and pretty much had to scrap the plans I had at the end of last year and start from square one. So, it’s important to come back to your list and change it as needed. I like to come back and reevaluate every two months. If I’m running ahead of plan, then I can move other things up, or if something is taking longer than expected, then it gets bumped down. For example, right now I’m pretty sure I won’t finish the Superhusbands thing I’m working on by the end of this month. I’ve been otherwise occupied by this new site and trying to get other things ready for the outline writing. I still want to get it finished to get it out of my system and help me concentrate on the next project. So at the end of March, I may move some things around on the schedule so I can finish it before moving to the webcomic outlining. You’ll see I don’t really cram things onto the schedule either which makes things easier to switch around should the need arise.

So, do you suffer from SCASDD? How do you combat it?

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