I think most writers have this question at some point. At the beginning it's great - we get tons of ideas, we probably mash a bunch of them together in our inexperience. Or we write them all at once, leaving unfinished drafts everywhere. (Or you're great from the start and tell one solid story at a time... Who knows?)
But then you realize how many separate, individual ideas you have. You begin to want a finished piece, or at least a finished first draft! But which idea do you start with? I mean, they're all fantastic (or most of them, anyway). You could go with the one you've been working on for two months that is half-finished, or you could start the new idea that came to you in a dream last night.
You should probably let your new idea sit for awhile.
Yes, it's new and shiny. If you give it a couple weeks worth of attention, you can probably turn it into a fully developed plot. Or, if you're not a planner, you can just jump right into the action. And this idea is fun. Right now, it probably looks better than all of your other story ideas combined. The first thing to ask yourself in this scenario is this: If you think of a better idea, will you drop this story for the new one?
If the answer is yes, let the idea sit. That is such an easy way to jump around from project to project, never getting anything finished. And if a finished piece isn't that important to you, go for it! But otherwise? Wait.
The longer an idea sits, the better it becomes.
This isn't to say that writers should sit around writing nothing, waiting for the day they're good enough to do their ideas justice. That's another common trap.
But if you are currently working on one idea, stick with it. Your new idea - the one you probably like more right now, anyway - will only grow as it waits. Keep it in the back of your mind, let the ideas come - don't close yourself off to them, even though this isn't your current project. It might be your next one! (And if you're this excited about it, it should be!)
That said, write down any and all ideas. You don't want to forget what you have in mind. Even if you're sure you will remember it forever, write down everything. Character concepts, scene ideas, the main plot.
You might also find that, if you let your ideas sit long enough, you can combine some of your coolest plots. For example, I have a concept about fairies sitting around right now. The other night I thought of writing a love story between a writer and an editor. These characters and their story were vivid in my mind, and I knew I had to write down at least the basics. Then I thought, which of these stories will I write first? I'm not near ready to write either, but I felt so excited for both at that moment. And I realized, why can't a fairy be an author? An editor? The love story is now planned right into my fairy story, and it's a lot cooler in that setting than it was before.
But, there are times when you should write that new idea right now.
I don't know if this is just me, but sometimes a character comes with a specific voice. They get in my head and I can immediately tell that they need first-person narration. I begin writing my immediate ideas (which usually come with a few scenes that I will write out in full) and realize that the voice is completely unique to what I've written before. And that I want to write more.
If your story comes with a unique tone or voice, write immediately. Like I say, maybe it's just me - but this is the one and only time I have ever regretted not completing a story right away. Because I have a very difficult time mimicking that voice, and many times I can't later on. It's gone. And although I can tell a fine story without that specific writing style, I don't usually want to. The initial voice is better.
The only other time I can think of that you would get to a story immediately is if you don't have any other stories in progress. If you're not writing anything else at the moment, and none of your other ideas jump out at you, write the new one! You're not pushing another project aside. There's no risk of unfinished projects due to this one. And it's always, always better to be writing than waiting around. Writing before the idea is ready is better than writing nothing at all, every time.
How long do you let your ideas sit?
I used to be the person who wrote them right away, working on a million projects at once. But now, I'm a writer who works on only one or two projects at a time. It works much better for me, personally.
But each writer is different, and I want to hear from you guys! How long do you let your ideas sit before you jump into them? Do you write them right away, or could it take years before you write that shiny new idea?