Writers: How to Choose What to Write Next

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The question How do you get your ideas? always makes me laugh.

If you’re anything like me, you have ideas for novels coming to you from every which way at any given moment. They come from my past, they come from other books, from TV shows, from a snatch of overheard dialogue on the subway, from watching that kitten video on the internet.  Ideas are a dime a dozen. 

A far bigger problem for me is: how to choose which idea to turn into a story?

This is how I choose:

1. Don’t follow the trends I almost didn’t write this one because I thought of it as a given, but the number of people who keep advising me to write vampires/dystopia/steampunk/erotica/{insert current trend here} made me include it. Trends are trends for a reason; they come and go. If you’re writing to be part of the current trend, chances are very high that by the time you finish writing, editing, and publishing, that trend will be so prevalent that no one will want to read it anymore. You will miss the trend. If you don’t believe me, look at the number of agents who specify “no dystopia” in their submission guidelines. At this point, it’s overdone. Plus, do you really want to write what everyone else is writing about, potentially better than you, or do something all your own?

2. Do choose something different from your most recent project When I finished my loooong process of completing my YA mystery (which I now see still needs revisions) I felt like I needed something totally different. So I started on my first ever YA contemporary. I wrote it in single POV first person present tense (the YA mystery was multi POV third person past tense), which was a style I never thought I’d master. And guess what? Now it’s my preferred writing style.

Doing something different from what you’ve done before can help you gain perspective from your previous project, and can also really help you expand your skills as a writer. (In my experience. If you love to write sci-fi and only sci-fi, by all means, don’t let me tell you what to write about.)

And probably the biggest factor in choosing what to work on next is:

3. Do write what keeps you up at night Do you have an idea you can’t stop thinking about? Characters who are so real to you’re thinking up their dialogue even though you haven’t written a word about them yet? Ideas you’re just dying to get onto the page? Follow those instincts! For me, nothing is better than when an idea is hot in my head and I’m just itching to get to a computer and write it out. This is how my YA contemporary–probably the best thing I’ve written to date–happened. The idea came to me (childhood friends with a secret, what happens when they meet up again the summer after high school?) and I immediately went to my computer and started loose outlining it. I even interrupted another project to do it, because the idea was just that hot. And I didn’t stop writing it until it was done.

How about you? How do you choose what to write about next?

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