Writing My Novel: Idea ADD is Just as Bad as Writer’s Block

focus I recently said that I’ve never had writer’s block, which is true.  I have never stalled out while writing, having no clear idea where to go next.  I have, however, been pulled in so many different directions that simply settling on one project felt impossible.

I call what happens to me Idea ADD.  My attention wanders from one project to another, working out this detail here, another detail there, until I’m trying to tackle a combination of three to five writing projects all at once.

And then none of them get finished because I can’t decide where to focus my attention.  In many ways this is just as debilitating as writer’s block because while many small things get done, nothing ever comes to fruition.  I have thousands of words of notes, ideas, and chapters, but nothing cohesive enough to even be considered a work-in-progress.

So what does it take to beat Idea ADD?


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: nothing helps improve your writing than just sitting your butt down and doing it.  You have to be disciplined enough to treat the writing like the job you want it to be, and in turn, you’ll improve.

Beating Idea ADD requires the same determination.  If you’re like me, then you’re easily distracted.  I have an idea and think it’s the best thing in the world…until I have my next idea.  Then it’s the bee’s knees…until the third idea comes along and trumps them all.

After I finished my novel this summer, I started working on short stories.  I have 4 stories submitted to contests/publications right now, with 4 more needing revision.  Now I’m back in the mood to write a novel, but my semester is just starting, which limits my time in that I can’t wake up, force myself to write, and then relax.  Being a contributing member of the workforce is lame like that.  Because I don’t have chunks of time to write (which is how I found that I work best), I find myself thinking of many different works, fragmenting my ideas, and not really doing anything with them.

So the discipline comes in with just picking one idea and running with it.  Right now, I’m tossing around ideas for three additional novels—two new works and a sequel to my first manuscript.

Pretty soon, I’m going to have to pick one and see where it takes me.  Then, the ideas that I keep getting from others can be put on the backburner, while I focus my efforts on actually finishing one project.

I use two programs to help me with my backburner ideas: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote.  Whenever I have an idea that doesn’t directly correlate to what I’m working on that moment, I toss it down as a note to keep for later.

Sometimes they’re useful, and other times, they’re not.  But putting my main creative energy toward a single project should not mean that I disregard others.  The discipline part comes in with making the note as detailed and useful as possible without getting carried away and beginning work on the project then and there.


Rhii pointed me toward the awesomeness that is OneNote.  It’s a part of the Microsoft Office suite, and it allows for users to create notebooks that can be divided into pages, subpages, groups, and categories.

My heirarchy of over-organized notebooks looks like this:

  • Fiction
    • Novels
      • Four  separate folders, separated by the novel’s working title.
    • Short Stories
      • Separate folders for each short story
  • Nonfiction
    • Blogs
      • Writing My Novel
      • Guest Blogs
      • Misc Ideas
    • Scholarship

When I have an idea that I need to keep track of, whether it’s for my current project or one on the side, I can just open up its spot in OneNote and save it for later.

My biggest complaint with OneNote is that I just can’t figure out how to use it on-the-go.  There’s an option for “use on multiple computers,” but it hasn’t worked for me when I try on my laptop, nor does it allow syncing to the web so I can access it from my iPhone.  As useful as OneNote can be, I feel tethered to my desk when using it.


47e8a_Evernote_Icon_256I love my iPhone, but the default “Notes” app it comes with is really lacking.  The only way to save notes off the phone is via email, and then you have to deal with sorting through inboxes and saving/archiving them.  It was more than I wanted to deal with.

Enter Evernote.  I all but replaced the Apple Notes app with this the moment I first loaded it up.  It allows not only the emailing of notes that the Apple one does, but it also automatically syncs to the Evernote servers, allowing users to access their documents from any computer with Internet access.

I use Evernote whenever I want to keep a train of thought going when I know I won’t have access to a computer for a while.  I keep track of to-do lists with it, even story ideas and faculty meeting notes.  This particular app allows me to collect side-thoughts and organize them when they come to me, so that I don’t keep mulling them over, taking away precious time I could be thinking about my main project.

Because it’s on my iPhone, it’s always with me, and I can access the ideas from anywhere.  The downside to Evernote is that unlike OneNote, my ideas tend to be far less detailed and organized.  I don’t have the resources to write out anything at length like I do within OneNote, but the portability and accessibility more than make up for that.

Pulled in Every Direction

It’s easy to get distracted.  I’m the world’s worst.  I get on kicks with everything where that’s all I think about it.  If I had to self-diagnose myself with pop-psychology, I’d say it’s a form of hyperfocusing.  I can tune things out that don’t directly relate to whatever my attention is on.  Unfortunately, a side-effect of that is that whenever a new idea does make it through my wall, it automatically becomes my new kick.

It takes discipline to be able to work through these new ideas and keep track of them so that they’re productive.  I don’t want my Idea ADD to stop.  It’s great having new ideas come to me all the time.  What I want is to be able to organize the ideas and keep them all from becoming my mind’s Next Big Thing.

And through the use of various note taking apps and a healthy does of self-discipline/awareness, all those novels and stories and essays and blogs will get written.  Eventually.  One at a time.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I just use a sketchbook. Since many of my ideas are “worldbuilding” sorts of things, I tend to like the option of making little sketches along with writing down ideas. Some of them I’ll even turn into real illustrations or maps along the way. I’m sort of multidiciplinarian that way, though, and I always have been. I love math, writing, science and art, so I get all sorts of ideas that flit through various implications and applications.

    …so yeah, a sketchbook is my current favorite place to tuck those ideas. Nothing beats paper and pen.

    1. I’ve always wished I had that kind of artistic talent. Some of my favorite novels and series of all time have come with maps and illustrations of their concepts, but I don’t have that skill. I’m thinking for my first novel (and its sequels) that I may work on a map or maps to go along with it, or maybe light sketches as things go. But visual art has all but eluded me.

      I tried to do it with a Moleskine notebook or two, but I never end up going back to them later, so the point was moot. For some reason, I access digital documents and notes far more often than I do paper/pen ones. Maybe I’m weird that way.

  2. I completely sympathize about the “hyperfocusing” thing, and thanks for defining that because I feel so much better knowing I’m not alone. I doubt being able to put a name to the phenomenon will make my wife feel any better about the 16 projects I have laying around the house (it’s that bad… here are two words to illustrate one of the latest: toothpick bridges) or the fact that I somehow missed an entire conversation we just had. But it’s still reassuring somehow.

    And speaking of idea ADD, the worst part is when you think you just have a few short story ideas, but when you sit down to write one of them it suddenly becomes clear that at least three of them actually need to be novels… with a glossary at the back.

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