You may have many ideas swimming around your head or your notebook. In fact, you may have so many you feel confused about which one to pursue. You may feel pulled in several directions, starting many ideas but finishing only a few. You may end up frustrated because it seems you're working an awful lot but not getting too far. Sometimes as writers we worry we'll run out of ideas. But in this case it's the opposite problem, you have too many.
Not too long ago, I wrote an entire story during a successful writing exercise. I had a significant personal breakthrough because of it, so I felt compelled to keep going with the idea. But I had already started another story that was taking me in a new direction and I was excited to see where it would go. When it came time to write, which one to pursue? I dove into the new story and played with the storytelling. Then I felt guilty for neglecting the other idea because I felt it had so much potential. In the middle of all of this indecision and guilt, I rediscovered some other gems in my notebook and felt even more torn. What's a writer to do?
I realized I had to choose one to work on first. I couldn't concentrate on anything and therefore nothing got the time and devotion it deserved. So I analyzed my candidates. I thought about the stories, the characters, how original and interesting they were, and how original it was for me. Have I written this story before? Are these characters reprised roles of others I've already explored? Am I taking any risks writing this? After thinking about it, I chose the story I'd started before the exercise. Why? A few reasons:
1) It was entirely unlike anything I'd ever written. I saw techniques I'd practiced melding in this story unlike ever before.
2) It was original. I had these unusual characters in an odd situation that stood out as different.
3) I couldn't wait to get on with it. I wanted desperately to finish that story, find where my characters were headed, and see what the end would bring.
With those three realizations, I had my winner. The story from the writing exercise served a purpose but it lacked the spark and originality of the first story. It may become something more someday but for now it is what it is.
There are many reasons you can choose to work on one idea versus another. My sister remarked that some of her ideas just had something about them "that [wanted] to be written" and she couldn't let go of them or they wouldn't let go of her. That's the way I felt about the story I chose. It wouldn't let me go.
So when you're torn ask yourself:
Do I love the idea?
Am I dying to write it?
When I put it down, does it keep coming to mind or do I let it go?
Is it original - in general or to you?
Analyze your ideas based on these suggestions and the mist will part in no time.
If you're torn between ideas, spend some time analyzing them. Are they original? Or at least original for you? Are you excited by the direction it's taking or that it's taking you? Out of them all, is there one that just insists you write it? Which idea intrigues you the most? Remember, you can always return to an idea later. It will still be there.