how to decide what to write next

I’ve noticed that I usually blog about things I’m struggling with. If I write a pep talk, it’s because I need one. If I’m talking about the smallness of my life, it’s because I’m genuinely struggling/wrestling with those ideas. So you can probably guess from the title of this post that I have NO IDEA WHAT TO WRITE NEXT.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas.

I have reams of ideas. Some of them are tiny little specks of hmmm, I wonder if, and others are bigger and more brainstormed and fleshed out. Some even have endings. (Endings are my Kryptonite.)

But which do I choose?

I told myself that I would not write another thing until I’d finished with TTG edits because, honestly, I felt like I needed to dive down deep into that manuscript, and not come up for air. That worked well for me, but now that I’ve moved on to copyedits, I find myself presented with a question: what next?

Well? Well?

I don’t know what next.

But here are some markers I like to use for deciding whether or not to pursue a project:

1.  Goosebumps: do I have them? Goosebumps are a very good sign. They indicate that I'm excited to write something, and I believe that books that come from a place of deep excitement/soul-stirring are always, always better.

2.  Music: when I listen to music, does my mind wander toward the story? Can I picture scenes, a setting, a main character?

3.  A title: I’m weird, so I like to start with titles. I love them and I don’t feel like I can quite begin until I have a title I love. (THE TURNAWAY GIRLS has had the same title from Day 1.)

4.  A “why”: why am I writing this book? There has to be an abiding idea at its heart that pushes me along like a tide. Usually the “why” is a fear or issue I’m dealing with and want to explore.

5.  Do I “know”? You know when you ask someone how you know when you’re in love and they go, “You just know”? Yeah, that. It’s kind of the same with a book idea. How do you know you want to write it? Well, you just know. Gut feelings are important here. Pay attention.

Okay, so here are a couple of guidelines:

1. Feelings, not thoughts:

Don’t try to logic your way into a new idea. Go with your gut. Choose the book you’re dying to write. The idea you’re in love with. Even if it seems a little crazy. In the early creative stages of making a book, I really give very little credence to logic. (Logic is for copyedits, trust me.)

2. Don’t ask other people:

This might be a controversial opinion, but I really don’t believe in sharing ideas before they’re ready. An idea for a book, when it first starts to grow, is delicate and easily killed. One stray comment (“But how would that work exactly?” “You can’t write about a girl with birds for hair!” “That genre is dead.”) can snuff it before it even has a chance. For this reason, I like to write in secret until my ideas have grown spines and can make two firm fists.

3. Do not wade—dive!

You know that feeling when it’s really hot outside but you can’t make yourself get into the pool? You dip a toe in and the sheer difference between this heat and that cold is enough to make you balk. You stand on the step for ten minutes before deciding it’s not worth the trouble. In my experience, drafting is the same. If I um and aw too much about where to start, what the main character’s name is, or what the inciting incident will be, I’ll never get started. For me, discovery happens while writing, so there’s little point in trying to decide how everything is going to pan out before I begin. I have to dive in head first.

Conclusion(s)?

Whatever tactics you have for deciding what to write next, one thing, I think, will remain universally true: choose love. Choose thrill. Choose the most unlikely possibility. That way lies the most affecting, and the most original, story.