Creativity,  Discipline,  Uncategorized

“An Open Oven Bakes No Bread” – choosing which great idea to pursue.

by Christine Hennebury.

You are free but you have to choose. An open oven bakes no bread.

                                                                                     -Paulo Coehlo

Sometimes we get stuck, not because we don’t have any ideas but because we have too many. And if you are like me, you want to work on the ‘right’ one at the ‘right’ time so you don’t ‘waste’ time and energy. 

Of course, the truth is that, aside from pieces with a deadline, there is usually no ‘right’ one to work at any given time.  And if choosing a ‘right’ one is keeping you from writing at all, then all that matters is getting started again.

I don’t think you need to figure out which one is ‘right.’  I think you need a way to choose between your ideas.

A yellow circle on a white background with black text that reads 'An open oven bakes no bread. Choosing which great idea to pursue. By Christine Hennebury."

Here are some techniques I use to get myself out of ‘too many ideas’ trap.

Let yourself off the hook about choosing ‘correctly’

Unless you have a deadline (in which case your decision is made) then it probably doesn’t matter which idea you choose.

If they all seem equally important,  pick an arbitrary way to choose between them. I sometimes flip coin, toss some dice, or write each idea on a slip of paper and draw one. 

This method will probably confirm that you just need some way to choose. Or, if you rebel against certain results, you’ll have some criteria for making further choices. 

Yes, it seems a bit ridiculous to make a decision this way but as long as you can start writing – who cares how silly it is?

Alternate between all of your ideas

If you have a lot of different ideas brewing and you genuinely don’t want to choose between them, you could try my ‘open all the windows’ approach.

You can’t work on all of them at once, of course. You can, however, work on them one after the other.

Here’s how I do it:

I open one document for each idea and set my timer for 10 minutes.  I work on the first one until the timer goes off, then switch to the next one. Then, I repeat the process until I have cycled through all of the documents.  

At that point, I usually have a reason to pick one idea to keep working on. If I don’t, I just keep cycling through.

This approach would be really draining to do for an extended period of time but it works in the short term.  When I am feeling especially indecisive, it can really help me feel like I am making progress.

Brainstorm (kind of)

This is one of my favourites because it involves making lists.

When you are brainstorming which idea to work on, start with a list of all of them. Then, expand on each idea – making lists of reasons to choose it, and ways you can approach it.

This usually helps me see which of my ideas are more fully developed and that makes my choice clearer.

Pick the one with instant gratification

Is there one project that will be easy to do? More fun to work on? Will one make your Mom happy? Or maybe get someone to stop bugging you?

If you look at your projects and one has a feeling of instant gratification, choose that one. It doesn’t matter if that feeling is ‘I just like it’ or ‘It will make money’, you don’t have to justify your choice, you just have to make it.

And, please, don’t get caught up in whether you *should* work on it. Just go ahead and pick the rewarding one.

After all, if this is a problem of getting started, then getting any idea moving will help you to get to the rest.

Let someone else pick (knowing they are waiting for it might help)

If you don’t want to pick a project, ask someone else to do it for you. Give them a quick rundown of your various ideas and ask them to pick one.

This approach has several advantages: it takes the burden of choice off of you,  it makes you (somewhat) accountable to another person, and it gives you some insight into how you feel about your projects. 

(Just like with the coin toss, you may quickly discover which projects you definitely do NOT want to do.)

Ultimately, you need to find a way to get started. 

Having trouble choosing between creative projects makes a lot of sense. It’s exciting to have ideas and to consider the possibilities, even if actually working on them can be a lot less fun.

However, if you want to be writing and you want to have a finished story, you’ll have to choose.

I hope these techniques can help ease the angst of that choice, at least a little.

Photo of the author, a white middle-aged woman with dark blonde hair. Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  or visit her on Facebook .