Writing and the Creative Life: The Curse of Shiny Object Syndrome

“It’s not quite ADD/ADHD. It’s more that a new idea captures your imagination and attention in such a way that you get distracted from the bigger picture and go off in tangents instead of remaining focused on the goal.”

Ever had this happen?

You discover a great story idea. You leap into it, both barrels of your creativity blazing. Research! Brainstorming! Characters! OMG, this is so incredible, a sure fire spec script sale in the making!

One month later: You’re still into it, but the prep work has become something of a slog. Once you’ve dug into the heart of the story, there are some difficult choices to make in terms of the narrative and characters. You’ve tested out a bunch of them. Some of them work… maybe. Others, not so sure. But you’ll lick this problem! It’s a million dollar idea!

Two months later: What exactly is keeping you from starting the script? This nondescript sense of unease. You know something is just not right. Well, you’re still not quite sure about where the story is going. And the concept. You keep trying to reach back through time to remember being excited about it, but what exactly was it again…

Three months later: You started writing the script, but then out of the blue, BOOM! You came up with a new idea and it is freaking amazeballs! So of course, you set the first project aside because, hey, this one is the real deal, and you’re so excited, you just leap into research, brainstorming, characters…

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

A year later, have you finished even one script? Maybe none at all?

My friend, you have been done in by the curse of the shiny object syndrome.

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I just Googled the term and this article was at the top of the list, so let’s grab their definition:

It even has a name: SOS — Shiny Object Syndrome. It’s not quite ADD/ADHD. It’s more that a new idea captures your imagination and attention in such a way that you get distracted from the bigger picture and go off in tangents instead of remaining focused on the goal.

We think of a new idea, we hear of a great new gadget or marketing technique, and ZOOM, we’re off! There’s great energy and excitement in starting something new.

Of course what happens is that that everything always gets started, but nothing ever gets finished. In addition, countless hours and dollars are wasted in pursuit of the new, shiny object without having thought through whether this new item, technique, service or product is “right” for your business.

The author is talking about it in relation to a business owner, but face it, screenwriting is a business, so her points are apropos. And perhaps nothing kills the creativity-productivity nexus more than SOS.

Having experienced it myself from time to time, I have two takes on the subject. One is pragmatic. The other psychological.

Pragmatic: The single best way to combat SOS is to make sure that story concept you are working on is the very best idea you can conjure up. You should have vetted it for its commercial viability, made sure you could ‘see’ the story springing up from the concept, and most importantly identified a specific point of personal resonance you have with it. If your concept falls short on any of these three fronts, chances are your commitment to it is pretty thin. And that right there is the soil into which the seeds of doubt can be planted by this new story idea or that new story idea popping up around you like the Sirens’ song.

Psychological: It’s one thing if SOS happens occasionally. However if it is a recurring phenomenon, then it’s probably time to get away from your day-to-day existence and spend some time alone with your Writer’s Self. To wit: Do you really want to succeed? If you do, you know — rationally and every other way — you can’t sell a script unless you write it. And by write it, I mean complete it. So if something is keeping you from producing tangible results in the form of actual completed scripts, time and time again, you may have something else going on in your psyche well worth exploring. Perhaps it’s fear of commitment. Anxiety about putting your creativity out there. The enormous pressure you feel due to all the attachments you have accumulated tied to your writing. Whatever. If it’s persistent, it is something you must deal with or else you put your writing dreams in jeopardy.

Let’s face it, when we write a story, we get to know its ins and outs intimately. That process reveals all sorts of warts and imperfections within the material. Plus our relationship with the characters and the story universe can be torturous in trying to bring it to life with our own words. The sheer unpleasantness of that can feed the allure of the Shiny Object, sitting there off to the side in all its pristine beauty. But we must remind ourselves, once we start working with that new story, invariably we will go through the same process.

So embrace the mess. Learn to love your story with all its fissures, faults and flaws. It’s a long term relationship that requires your full attention and acceptance.

Without that type of commitment, each of us is subject to the seductive call of Shiny Object Syndrome.

Anybody out there ever confronted shiny object syndrome? If so, how did you deal with it? What advice do you have for others who may be in the midst of its clutches right now?

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

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