I wrapped up my second novel, Picture Perfect, at the end of June. Since then, I’ve been in the writing mode I call “discovery” where I feed my imagination with movies, books, games, conversations, meditation – basically anything and everything. I had in my mind that the next book I’d focus on would be one I started writing about three years ago. Set in Paris around a young and ambitious advertising exec who opens her own boutique agency in the Seventeenth Arrondissement, it had all the makings for a fun and fabulous read. But, after several weeks of pondering Paris and my heroine’s journey, I found that I just wasn’t that excited about writing it. Instead, another story, another cast of characters, kept creeping into my thoughts. They tugged at me when I was sitting at stop lights, brushing my teeth, and making dinner. And as much as I tried to keep my mind trained on France, Beverly Hills continued to beckon.
Writing, just like yoga, requires a bit of flexibility. Many of my yoga students believe they can’t do a certain pose because they aren’t strong enough or bendy enough or fearless enough, or whatever other obstacle they can invent. But the key to progressing in your practice is not in pushing your body beyond its limits, but in expanding your mind to open wider, see further, and (most importantly) take risks. That doesn’t mean I’m going to shove a beginner into an advanced pose. Not hardly! It means that a willingness to discover and explore methods and practices that will eventually take a beginner to an advanced level is required.
I think writing requires that same willingness to explore, to take risks. Sure, I could ignore that story and those characters that continue to invade my thoughts. I could forcibly shove them aside and narrow my gaze on my Paris idea. But why fight it? Obviously, something in me needs to be expressed. And it’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. The Paris storyline is familiar and friendly. This new Beverly Hills one is full of holes. I don’t know who these people are, or what they want. I don’t know why they live in Beverly Hills, as opposed to, say, San Francisco. There is a lot of work to be done if I’m going to follow this story.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you should indulge those nagging characters, or just focus on the book you’ve already started. And usually, I would advise a writer to stay the course. Not to be dazzled by the shiny object in the corner of her mind. But in this case, I’m injecting a little flexibility into my plans. I’m only about three chapters into this Paris tale. I haven’t visited them in a long while, and in that time, I’ve grown and matured as a writer. I have to honor where I’m at now, not where I was three years ago when this idea first took shape. And honestly, my heart isn’t in Paris (as much as I want it to be), and I’ve always believed in following my heart.
How about you? Are you often battling different storylines in your head? How do you choose which one to focus on?