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7: How do I beat “Shiny Object Syndrome”?

How many times have you reached a rough spot on your current project and a new idea pops into your head? It’s way better than what you’re currently working on. All you want to do is work on this new idea! But… how many times has this happened? How many manuscripts have been abandoned for the new shiny? This week, J Thorn and Crys Cain discuss how they deal with “Shiny Object Syndrome,” and hopefully share some tactics that you can try out.

Transcript

Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn. How’s it going, J? 

J: Oh, it’s going great. How are you, Crys? 

Crys: I am doing good. I will be doing even better tomorrow after I finish up my last chapter for a co-writing book. That will be excellent. The book of the month, the book of the month, and then I have to get to my butt on the next book. 

J: Oh my. How many books do you have planned with your co-writer for this year? 

Crys: What are we on? What are we writing? Four more? I think four more. I think we’re writing the second one in this series now. And I have four more solos in the same world to write this year.

J: Wow. Okay. 

Crys: And then hopefully I will have set myself up well enough that next year I won’t have to write romance, but I was talking with some friends this week and I have decided that regardless of how finances roll out as far as savings and investments, if I have to keep writing romance next year, I will, because I really want to prioritize the van trip this year because my kid is just at that age where now is the time.

J: Excellent. Well, that’s… I mean, you’ve got a plan, that’s important. 

Crys: I did want to bring up that we just had the episode about, “Do I have to be a full-time author?” Come up and we got a lot of really heartfelt feedback on that. 

J: Yeah. I was really happy about that. More so from our own community from within,  but even outside, I heard from a couple people who kind of in a strange way, thanked us for having that conversation publicly. 

Because I do think it’s been talked around a lot and I think it’s a reality that many people who are selling author services don’t necessarily want to approach because of the obvious financial consequences, but yeah, clearly there are a lot of people who do not aspire to be full-time writers and that’s totally fine. 

Crys: Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with that. I was just talking with JP this morning as we recorded an episode for the Write Away Podcast, about the understanding I am coming to have the toxic side effects of capitalism.

And one of the most pertinent, to us, is this belief that we have instilled in us from a very young age: if you are not producing, you are not of value. And if what you produce is not of monetary value, then it has no value. 

And that’s toxic. 

J: Yeah. Yeah, money is a very complicated. People have very complicated relationships with money.

I’ve thought a lot about it along similar lines and that if you’re not producing, you’re not productive, which is also false, you know? Yeah, I agree.

Crys: A whole nother conversation to be had on that, for sure. 

J: It’s definitely a, the time is right to be thinking about that kind of stuff.

I think that the big reset button we had over the past year is really having people go back and reevaluate their lives and their motives and their desires. And I think that’s all good thing across the board. 

Crys: Absolutely. The question I have for you today is a side question that came up in the community.

The question I have is: how do you beat shiny object syndrome? 

And we’re going to talk some about persistence and resistance. And most people I think are going to be familiar with Pressfield’s  The War of Art, his idea of resistance, but you had come up with this idea of persistence that you have trouble with.

And so I do want to dig into that. First of all, how often are you beset by shiny object syndrome, J? 

J: I think I want to– a lot– but I want to back up a second and I want to… maybe let’s talk about how we’re defining it first, because I always think of squirrels when I think of shiny object syndrome.

And that’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s like the old ” if you have ADD” and you’re like, “Oh, look, a squirrel.” And your attention goes there and shiny object syndrome is kind of like that. It’s being distracted by the next cool idea or the next storyline or the next character that you want to write.

 It’s not related to just work. Like it could be the next idea you have for the backyard garden you want to build, or an idea you have for finishing the attic or any number of things. 

But my definition of it is that the syndrome itself is not necessarily bad. It’s how you respond to it.

So I guess what I’m trying to figure out is does everybody have shiny object syndrome? And is it just in how they deal with it? That is different. 

Crys: That’s interesting because I do not currently struggle with shiny object syndrome, but what I do struggle with is allowing myself joy projects.

It’s kind of the opposite side of that. And I think the reason is because I’m very drawn to shiny objects. And I ruthlessly trained myself when I had low energy and high need to complete projects to have a financial return on those projects, I ruthlessly trained my ability to focus on joy projects out of me.

So that’s the negative side. If you are ignoring your shiny object syndrome 100%, there’s a negative side to that. 

J: Interesting. So yeah, so suppressing, it is not even necessarily a solution because it has other consequences, to it. 

Crys: Yeah. It’s definitely a tactic that can be helpful in extreme circumstances, but just like any kind of, for lack of a better word, trauma response, they’re useful for the extreme situation you’re in, but not normal life.

J: Yeah. Okay. Okay. So if we come back to the question, we were joking like in, in the Slack that I was going to, I– the idea was a shiny object that distracted me from my other work. I was like, I have another book idea. Now from this conversation, I was going to call it The More of Art featuring the force of persistence instead of resistance.

And clearly it’s a riff  on Pressfield. My idea was, and the reason I, that I was framing it that way is somebody was asking about shiny object syndrome. And I think that question in itself, me trying to answer it sort of clarified some thoughts about myself that I had. And I think that’s the great thing about teaching is anytime you’re doing any kind of teaching, you’re learning too.

And I love, I know we have differing opinions on Steven Pressfield, or his work, I should say. I’m sure you think he’s a wonderful human.

Crys: I don’t know anything about him as a human. So I have no opinion on him as a human. 

J: I don’t want to make that assumption either.

I love The War of Art I still do. And I think his idea of resistance is instantly relatable to anyone who’s any type of creative. If you say there’s this force of trying to keep you from doing your work, people go, yeah, I know what that means. And for years I used that framework to sort of describe what I do or what I don’t do.

And I think I had this aha moment where I was like, no, that’s not exactly right. I don’t really have resistance. I’m a workaholic. I have a blue collar work ethic, for better and worse. I know you’re the same way. You’ll work yourself to the bone before you just stop. So resistance is not a problem for me.

I don’t struggle to work. I have the opposite problem. I can’t stop working. And the reason I can’t stop working is of this force of persistence, persistent ideas, just non-stop like the muse instead of withholding is just dumping it on me. That’s why I was jokingly calling it The More of Art. It’s ” do more, here’s another idea. Here’s another idea.” 

And I think I came to that realization.  Might’ve been Kim’s question if I’m remembering it correctly, maybe. I think I’m just scratching the surface of that. And I think it was part of this conversation, but it is, I think it is a problem and I think it might be a smaller subset of creatives that have the problem of persistence versus resistance. 

But this idea of… just non-stop. And I know Zach has said this a number of times, he’s I have more ideas than I could ever write in my lifetime. That’s not my problem. 

And I suffer from that too. And I think a lot of people in our family have that same issue of: I don’t know where to go next. I have so many ideas. I have so many things I want to do. And I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t really know how to answer the question on today’s episode, other than to acknowledge that I’m kind of at base camp when it comes to persistence.

I think I’m just starting to explore that a little bit. 

Crys: I remember how the question came up now because the question that I asked the question of the week was, do you have a system for storing ideas or do you even store ideas? Or do you assume that if it’s a good enough idea, it’ll stick around a while.

And I sometimes will store ideas because my brain is like a sieve. My memory is like a sieve, and really good ideas that I then later remember enough that I wanted to do something with it, but can’t remember what the hell it was fall through my brain, that I do try to at least write things down so that if later they do come back to me, I can at least go and look and see what was the spark so that it can set me on that path again.

Your initial response was “no, I just assumed the ideas will come back.” But then you had a light bulb moment. 

J: Yeah. That my, my gut response was no,  I don’t need to remember them. And that’s true to a certain degree. Like I don’t necessarily, and this is how I think I ended up phrasing it was, I don’t write things down to remember them. I write them down to forget them. 

Because if that thought comes into my mind, I will ruminate on it and I will just turn it over and over. And usually that occurs between two and three AM and I can’t let it go. So I get it out. I write it down sometimes I’ll just dictate it into my phone.

Other times I’ll type it in notepad or I’ll write it on a scrap of paper, but I have to get it out so that it will leave me alone. And I think that’s the best coping mechanism I have right now. And it’s why I sort of initially said, I said, “absolutely, I don’t write things down because I’m afraid of forgetting.”

Cause that’s true. But I in fact do write them down, but it’s more of a head clearing process than anything else. 

Crys: Yeah, I have this quote from your comment that I’m gonna read. 

 “That resistance tells me I can’t swim. There’s no water. I’ll drown, so I should quit. But persistent sends a tidal wave across the Atlantic and convinces me. There are 17 ways I can swim through it.” 

We’ve talked before about how we make decisions and the fact that it kind of doesn’t matter as long as you make one and move forward on it. 

With this particular shiny object element, how do you sift through the ones that do pop up again later? Does it often just happen to be whatever one happens to come around when you have an opening in your schedule for a new thing?

J: It could. I’ve recently been using WorkFlowy more as just sort of an idea brainstorm capture device and. So I even wrote, I wrote The More of Art in WorkFlowy and I put a few general thoughts and I, and this was what a week or so ago. And then I just, I left it. 

And I haven’t been back to it. And I haven’t been thinking about it consciously, like maybe I have been subconsciously, but that’s been sort of my method now is I get the idea into WorkFlowy from whatever note I originally took it, so if it was on my phone or on a napkin or whatever, I get it into WorkFlowy. 

And then I’m looking at WorkFlowy every couple of days or so. And I’m just glancing and I see top level bullet ideas, project ideas, and some of them will sit there for six months and I’ll, and then I’ll pick them up. Some of them, I might never do some of them I end up deleting because, like here’s one I deleted:

I had this idea that I was going to buy a laundromat. And I was going to earn passive income by being a laundromat owner. And I couldn’t let it go. I was thinking about, okay, locations, how much  the machines are going to cost? Do I want to go coins or cards? I mean, I was way down, like I’m down the rabbit hole on laundromats.

And so I put some of those ideas in WorkFlowy and then I stopped thinking about it and two months after, I realized what a terrible idea that would be for me. And so I deleted it from WorkFlowy. But that was important that I left it there until it sort of rose or sank on its own.  

A lot of times, because I’m so impulsive, seven or eight out of ten ideas, eventually I just delete. But it feels good to at least okay, I’ve got them there, they’re out of my head and now I’ll just let the ideas kind of fight amongst themselves to figure out which one’s going to come to the top. 

Crys: I just had a thought as well.

You and I work very similarly and that we really enjoy working in partnerships. We really enjoy working with other people when we’re doing projects and we both have a lot of shiny objects when it comes to doing things with other people. 

And one of the ways that you and I both handle this is we will put it out there to the person or people that we’re interested in, and then wait to see if they come back with it. 

Because if they come back with it, then they are also excited enough to continue this project. But if they don’t, then that’s fine. That just takes that off the table for us. 

J: Yeah, totally. It’s this idea of if you’re forcing it from one side, it’s probably not going to happen. And that’s been my approach with collaborations, for every collaboration pretty much.

I mean, even like sort of one we’re working on behind the scenes. I wasn’t like “Crys we have to do this.” I was like, “What do you think?” And then if you came back and were like, “Yeah, that’s really cool,” and the conversation kept going, then I would know, okay. Then you’re as equally excited about it as I am. Whereas if you don’t say anything or you say you know, maybe sometime, and you didn’t put any kind of specificity around when we revisit, I go, okay, that’s just not really grabbing you that way. 

And that’s totally fine too, but that is a good litmus test because if the, whether that’s a book or any type of business opportunity, whatever it happens to be, if the other person doesn’t reciprocate pretty much right away, then it’s probably going to be an uphill battle and probably not worth doing.

Crys: In this particular instance, as the person being asked, Hey, what do you think about this project? I will by default put space between when we talk about it because I’ll be really excited in the moment. Everything, every damn idea, it doesn’t matter what I will be very excited in the moment. And I’ll say, Hey, let’s revisit this in X amount of time.

So this is a key for people who also have shiny object syndrome. Talk about it and then put a specific amount of time so that you can think about it and say, do I actually have time for this? Do I truly have energy for it now that the initial conversation has passed? And then you can say accurately, yes, I have the energy for this, or no, I don’t.

Or here’s a specific time in my calendar when I have the energy for this, because I really want to do it, but I don’t know. 

J: Time is such an important ingredient in this, whether you’re talking about partnerships or your own ideas and objects I couldn’t agree more. You’re most likely, if you’re a lifelong learner, you’re going to be excited about any new idea, pretty much off the bat.

That’s just a given. But how excited are you three weeks later or four weeks later or five weeks later? I think that is incredibly important because I have been in those situations both by myself with someone else where I had this idea and then I laundromat it and then I go, Oh no, this is not a good plan for me right now.

It’s time that does that. And what’s even more interesting about it is that time will benefit you, whether you are thinking about it or not. So in those four to five weeks, if you’re really thinking hard about it, you’re going to benefit from the time, or if you say I’m going to completely forget about it and come back to it and see how I feel in six weeks, you’re going to benefit from it.

You can’t lose by putting some space in between the ask and the commitment. 

Crys: I think that’s what you are by default doing with your lists. And you’re writing it down, dealing with your own individual shiny objects, because I think that’s what I do as well. My life’s pretty, pretty strongly structured, by deadlines, even if it’s not a specific point on the map– on the ?– On the calendar, like I have to have this done by this date.

I generally know okay, I have to have XYZ done this month. And so I know that after a certain period of time, I will have a space where I will be able to engage with shiny objects  after the project is done. And, you know, you say you’re struggling with like how you’re dealing with your persistence, but intuitively, I think you have built this system of “record, put time in.”. 

J: Yeah. Yeah. That’s fair. I mean, yeah. Was it a conscious construct? No, I mean, it’s more of a coping mechanism. It’s more of a reflex than anything else. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s the best approach. I just know it’s the one I’ve used.

And because I have my hands in a lot of stuff, I thought it was interesting, the conversation that you and JP were having too about being singularly focused versus being kind of, you know, spread out. I have a hard time with a single focus for a long period of time on a single project.

With so many things going on, I need some type of coping mechanism as the new things pop up and to be able to filter through those. And I don’t know, you know, if someone is dogged by persistence, and they haven’t tried writing things down to forget, you might want to try it. It might help you. 

And I think if you combine that with a little bit of time between the ask and the commitment, then at least it’s something. 

Crys: And I think for most people, if this is a writing shiny project versus a different writing project, that’s getting a little old and dull and tarnished, finish whatever stage you are on of the project you’re on. If you were first drafting, finish that first draft, if you are editing, finish the editing. And feel free to split up your day, but make sure that you’re continually working forward on the project that’s not as shiny. 

J: Yeah, I think that’s where persistence and resistance kind of gang up on you.

So like here’s a bunch of new ideas and by the way, don’t bother finishing that one you’re working on. And that’s a double whammy. Yeah. You need finishing energy. 

And I’ve always used finishing energy is more of a carrot. It’s okay, you’re going to be able to chase that shiny object, but not until you finish this one.

And if you can stay disciplined and do that, that makes a tremendous difference. 

Crys: Absolutely. Well, What is our question for our listeners this week? 

J: I’d love to know if people suffer from persistence. And should I write the book called The More of Art

Crys: Yes. And if anyone has any coping strategies that are different, please do share them.

Thanks for joining us this week. Comment below! If you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind

Comments on 7: How do I beat “Shiny Object Syndrome”?

  1. Catherine Hernandez says:

    To fight off going down the rabbit hole, I’ve come up with a strategy. Anything I related to my story is typed. Any fun ideas that demand my attention are hand written in cursive. Any notes or quick thoughts are hand written in print. If it’s written in pencil I know it’s not important and can be forgotten/tossed out. That’s how I keep writing what I should be writing and still get to play around with new worlds that pop up.

    1. Crys Cain says:

      I love how quickly you can tell in a glance what goes where with this system, no matter where you are or what kind of note it is!

  2. Lon says:

    I am not disciplined enough for persistence. I have found something that works for me. I allowed myself some “oh shiny” playtime, depending on when I get it. I had just wrapped up a major revision of a book and was waiting for it to come back from the copy editor. Had a week, and in that time I got a 12k fantasy zero draft done. I’m not going to go back and touch that until I have the time too. But when I get to the end of book two and waiting for reader notes and the copy editor, I plan on giving myself a week to do whatever. So, I allow myself a bit of chasing the “oh shiny,” after it is done. But unlike J, sometimes, I get a wild hair and have to write down something. For that random idea, I have a folder on the computer and plenty of notebooks. And I have found, if I can’t find where I wrote it down and it doesn’t bother me, it wasn’t that great an idea.

    1. Crys Cain says:

      I think those “oh shiny” times are so necessary, where you just zero in on the fun and the energy!

    2. J. Thorn says:

      I like this system, Lon.

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