This is an interesting post about the “top idea” in your head — the thing that your thoughts will drift to in the absence of anything else to occupy them.
For me, it’s almost always stories, of one kind or another. When I’m mid-novel, it generally ought to be the project at hand; that’s how I work through my plot complications and worldbuilding ideas. But it isn’t always, because sometimes my brain gets tired of all that heavy lifting, and searches frantically for something else to do. This is part of where the “new shiny” phenomenon comes from: inspiration strikes for something else, and it briefly takes over as the top idea in your head, pushing aside thoughts of what you should be doing. It’s also why I’m not good at working on two large projects at once; then they vie for dominance in my head, and I ricochet back and forth between them in a way that sometimes works but doesn’t always. That’s my current problem, actually. At any given moment, my thoughts may drift to the novel, or to a proposal I’m preparing to send to my agent, or to the game I’m running. Right now I’m stuck in gear #2, and I need to shift to gear #3, but it isn’t so easy to change out top ideas on command. (Today is a day off from the novel, which means five minutes from now I’ll probably be thinking about Dead Rick instead of what to do
to with the PCs in our session tonight.)
And it’s very much why I have a problem with conflict. If I get into an argument, it instantaneously takes over my head, so that every three seconds I find myself rehashing what the other person said, or what I said in response, or what they might say in reply to my response or what I should have said but didn’t and gngaaaaaaagh. I disagree with Graham that disputes “have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance” — unless he’s specifically defining “dispute” as an argument without substance — but even if they do have substance, they often cripple my ability to get anything else done, up to and including dealing with the problem the argument is about. I really ought to just stay out of them, but that’s easier said than done.
Anyway, I like the phrase “top idea” as a descriptor for that thing you keep going back to in idle moments. (I also like “ambient thinking” as a descriptor for that process.) It’s worth thinking about how I can manage that more carefully, so that I neither burn myself out, nor get distracted by the shiny things trying to hijack the position.