It didn't take much of a spark to turn the brush to flame. Inspiration rarely requires a great incitement — a word, a glance, even a snatch of music can turn into a plot (time still remains the judge of whether it's worthwhile or not). In this case, Emilia was making herself lunch at the kitchen counter while I was toiling away over my chemistry homework (not much scope for the imagination there!). As my sister worked and I attempted to stay focused on rate constants and equilibrium, she began humming a few notes of a song, following the melody with the lyrics.
The spark was released, the flames lept high, and my mind swirled. The song's lyrics intertwined with a photo of a young woman I had recently seen on Pinterest, a small plot long ago set aside because it held little promise, and the concept of Chesterton's quote about how "something must be loved before it is lovable". Less than five minutes had passed, and yet I felt as if a story existed at my fingertips — I only needed to dig deep enough, and I would reach it. (Am I the only writer who views a new story in this manner — as if the characters already exist on their own, and I only chanced to stumble across them at an opportune moment?)
Needing a less busy place in which to process my thoughts, I stepped outside and settled on the porch steps, where, head cradled between my palms, my elbows balanced precariously on my knees, I sorted through the hurricane of my thoughts and settled on some concrete facts. New plots with little to bind them together can choose virtually any course; the trick is reigning them in until they reach some semblance of a legitimate story. When I finally returned to my chemistry, which was growing less romantic by the minute, my mind still felt like it was about to fly to pieces. My carefully crafted schedule of the day before was in grave danger of being tossed heedlessly to the wind, my current work in progress sacrificed, and every other daily practice ignored in favor of the small sunbeam I had caught.
This isn't the first time this has happened to me. Though few of my original ideas actually become full-length novels (and they're hardly recognizable when they do), that is not to say I'm not constantly bombarded with the adorable and terribly irresistible plot bunnies. They come in any form and at any time, whether I'm at my weekly tutorial, at dance, or wasting time on Pinterest under the guise of literary research (an event that rarely occurs, I assure you). Not every idea is so dramatic as the one I depicted above, but each wreaks havoc on my schedule and my writing. One of the qualities of a plot bunny that makes it so very deceptive is the power it holds to turn your current W.I.P. from living color to black and white. Plot bunnies are known for their propensity to bully other more developed books into the background, while they claim center stage for themselves. They charm you into following them into a new idea, abandoning any and all of your previous projects, until you're caught up yet again by another distraction, and the cycle starts all over again.
Lest you think I'm dismissing every form of inspiration as a meaningless distraction to the writing process, allow me to explain better. Without inspiration's occasional lightning bolts, our stories would be undeniably dull and horribly predictable. No one receives the whole plot for his next book in a moment — it comes in snatches and glimpses, and it's up to the writer to stitch all those pieces of human existence and truth together until they make up a story. Rifles in the South Field was quite basic at first conception, but since then it has progressed not only in word-count, but in plot as well. This would not have been possible without the occasional plot bunny who scampered across my path. There is, however, a way of managing them so they don't run out of control.
how to manage the plot bunnies
Write the idea down. A common mistake among writers (myself included) is to ignore Inspiration's call and believe that the character, plot twist, or piece of dialogue will remain in your mind indefinitely, ready to be dredged back up again at a moment's notice. But if an idea can enter your head, it can just as easily exit it. Unless the notion is highly ridiculous and you know for a fact you won't have a use for it, write it down! It doesn't matter how insignificant it may seem at the time — you'll always regret the alternative.
Make a Pinterest board. This is a rather new-fangled concept, and while it took me a while to hop on the Pinterest bandwagon, I confess that the site does have some measure of practical use. If the plot in question shows promise that extends beyond simply jotting it down in a notebook, I might consider making a Pinterest board for it, where I am free to collect bits of inspiration as I encounter them on the highly addictive website. Note that this is not a necessary step by any means, but for those of us who are more visual and like to have pictures to attach to our characters, it's quite helpful (not to mention fun!).
Read the Greats. When I refuse to expend my energies on anything else until I'm practically intoxicated by this new idea, I find it difficult to see the holes in it. Dragging my head back out of the clouds, cracking open an old favorite that has been left to collect dust, and putting some space between the plot bunny and myself gives me the necessary dose of reality I require to decide whether it's a worthwhile pursuit or not. Reading good books is undeniably helpful, as it tends to burst the self-indulgent bubble that tells us we've just invented the next Tale of Two Cities. It's not a terribly enjoyable process (who doesn't like to think he's the next Dickens for a minute or two?), but it's vital if we ever wish to improve.
Remain loyal to your W.I.P. Just because you stumbled across a new plot that just might become your next novel does not mean you have cause to abandon your current work, which is most likely a great deal more promising at this point. For about five minutes last Friday, I felt that Rifles was dull, tired, and not worth continuing when compared with my new idea — a concept riddled with plot holes that can only lay claim to three characters as of yet! Inspiration can make us delusional at times, but its alluring countenance is no reason to forego a work into which you've put countless hours.
And of course, when all else fails, you could simply stop your ears to every new concept and never seek Inspiration out again. But I wouldn't recommend it.