How to choose what to write

I woke up this morning with the very strong idea that I should illustrate this post with a picture of potatoes. IDK why, but here we are.

Note 1: The Sea Queen is now available for pre-Order on Amazon! It comes out August 14, 2018. I can’t wait until I can share the cover with you, because it is stunning.

Note 2: Going forward, I plan to update the blog every Tuesday, at least, to give myself a little more structure here.

Now onto the post! A friend asked:

“How to choose what to write a book on for those who want to write but don’t know where to start: is it just keeping a journal of ideas? Picking a few topics and starting to do more extensive research? Basically, where to even start.”

Excellent question, and one of the hardest ones for a writer to answer. One of the nice things about selling a trilogy is that I know what I’m writing at least until I’m done with Book 3.

A while ago I read a post on Medium or Lifehacker about how to find your passion (or dream job, or calling), and the upshot was that it’s probably it’s something you’re already doing. I was always a passionate reader, and frequent writer of diaries, stories, Livejournal posts, even before I started getting serious about fiction. I was always obsessed with early medieval history, the moments when history and legend blur, Norse mythology, Scandinavia, cold places. It makes sense, looking back, that the story I was able to finish would be about Vikings. It still required a great deal of work and research, but since I was already very interested in it, spending the time writing and researching it felt worthwhile for its own sake.

When it comes time to pick the next project, well, I have a bunch of ideas, some of which are mostly written, and some of which need a lot more development. I plan to re-assess them all and work with my agent to help figure out what makes the most sense to write next, but no matter what she says, it needs to be something I feel like I can write and finish.

I get ideas all the time, but few that I come back to and work on, at least mentally, even when I’m in the middle of other projects. When an idea keeps coming back to me, that’s when I know it’s worth pursuing, worth putting a bit of research into, and seeing where it goes.

Not everyone works that way–I have writer friends who need their ideas to be fresh, and who have to pounce on them before they get stale. But I find that if an idea sticks with me for a long time, it’s more worthwhile to develop further.

So if you’re thinking of getting serious about writing for the first time, I would recommend trying an exercise like this:

  1. Make a list of all the ideas that currently call to you
  2. Rank them by what you keep coming back to, fantasizing about, etc.
  3. Can any of them be combined? Sometimes two partial ideas could be two parts of one idea. Don’t be afraid of using up all your ideas at once. More will come.
  4. Try writing a synopsis of your top 3-4 ideas–and don’t worry if the synopsis silly. No one is going to read it besides you. Still, try writing at least a paragraph and up to a few pages, about the characters, plot, and ending. If you’re not writing fiction, the question might be what aspects of the subject do you want to cover.
  5. Do you have an ending in mind for any of these ideas? I have learned through sad trial and error not to start a book or story without knowing what the ending is going to be. It may change along the way, but I need something to write toward. For a non-fiction project this might be: what do you want people to take away from the book?
  6. Try listing some scenes or passages from some of them that you are excited to write. If you can’t think of any, it may not be the right project for you at this time.
  7. Ask yourself: if I knew I was going to die in a year, what writing project would I want to complete? If I knew I was going to die in a year, what writing project would I want to spend my time on even if I might not complete it?

Hopefully something will stand out after that, but no matter what, it is a risk. That last question should make it easier to commit to a project and see it through–because the real test is not picking the right project but staying with it. There is no objectively right project, there is only the project that you can commit to.

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