Every day, a writer wakes up and asks, “What do I write next?”
And the answer varies from writer to writer—even your own answer may change from week to week. Sometimes it’ll be obvious what to write next. When you’re approaching a looming deadline and that article or chapter must be completed, the decision is made for you. You sit down and work on that.
But other days you have flexibility. You can write anything you want. How do you choose? Can we be sure the next thing we write is the right thing to write, or the best thing? Do we need to be sure?
I don’t think there’s an absolute right or wrong answer. You choose. But you usually choose based on something, whether consciously or subconsciously. And if you make the choice based on something that rings true with your values and supports where you’re at in your journey, you can feel good about your decision.
Ways to Decide
The next few weeks, we’ll go through various ways you can decide, so you’ll feel a little more confident moving forward on whatever you do write next.
Write Something That Moves You Toward Your Goals
When you’re trying to decide what to write next, you may already have clear goals in mind. You want to submit poetry to literary journals in hopes of being published this year, or you want to put together a book proposal and send it to an agent this fall.
Knowing your goals can help you start with the end in mind and work your way back so that you know what to write today and the next day. For you, the question “What do I write next?” will be easily answered by those goals—your next thing to write will be whatever moves you closer to that goal.
But you may not be that clear about your goals. You may not know where you want to be in a year or what you want to do even in the next month or so.
Or you’re re-evaluating your goals.
Or you just want to write.
That’s okay. You don’t have to overthink it or get uptight about your decision.
But if you want to give it some thought, I’m going to toss out various filters or motivations that might help you begin to think about your next writing project and make a decision.
This list will serve as an overview, and then in the weeks ahead, I’ll go into more detail on some of them.
So…How do I decide what I write next?
Write Something That Increases your Skills
One way to decide what to write next is to take stock of your skills and experience. Do you need to work on something? You could pick a project based on its ability to help you hone the craft and develop yourself as a writer.
Write Something You Can Finish and Ship Fast
If you’re working on a long-term project and have been for years, you may realize you’re not going to get any real feedback on it for several more months and you won’t know what readers think for months or even a year after that. An occasional shorter project lets you enjoy quick turnaround and a sense of completion. This could be something as immediate as a social media update or as formal as a poem sent to a literary magazine.
Write What’s Next in Sequence
If you’re writing a blog article series, write the post that explains the next step or stage. If you’re writing a novel, tackle the next scene. Your short story will need the next beat. A poem grows with the next line leading to the next stanza. An article will expand with another paragraph or section. The sequential approach can be a logical way to decide what to write next.
Write Something for Validation
You may want to write something in hopes of a magazine acceptance. You’ll get that feeling of being chosen. “Hey, they picked me! They picked my article! Someone other than my spouse and mom says my writing is worth publishing.” After that, you may have readers responding and enjoy another layer of objective outside affirmation and validation. Though we should be careful not to rely on the trends and whims of the market to help us feel good about our writing, it’s an honest desire and drives a lot of us. Seeking outside validation can be a way to decide what to write next.
Write Something You Get Paid to Write
You can try to make money with your writing. That’s a legit way to drive your decision about what to write next. If this is the goal you’re aiming for, you can absolutely make choices that send you in that direction of seeking payment for your words by exploring what you can write that will sell.
Decide What to Write by Thinking Like a Business
As you begin to ask what you can write that will sell, you’re a step closer to thinking like a business. What are ways to monetize your work? How do you set yourself up like a business and think like a business professional? When you make decisions with a business mindset, you’ll run your options through that filter every day, choosing to write whatever will enhance the overall business plan, however formal or informal that may be.
Decide What to Write by Thinking Like a Publisher
Magazine publishers narrow their focus, as do book publishers. They’re watching the market. They know their readers’ likes and dislikes and make decisions around all of that. You can start pondering how to narrow your focus, watch the market, and then write content that supports that overall mission to serve a particular audience.
Decide What to Write by Thinking Like a Writer
Is it the art and the story and the form that drive you? Do you tell people, “I can’t not write”? If you feel compelled by the muse or you have characters that speak to you, you’re thinking like a writer and will move forward with the pieces that suit where you’re at with a kind of creative energy. J.K. Rowling is attributed as saying, “I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.” That’s deciding what to write by thinking like a writer.
Decide What to Write by Thinking Like a Reader
As noted earlier, publishers think about their readers and try to serve up the best content for people who pick up their magazine or pay attention to their latest book releases. You can make decisions about what to write next in this way, too, by thinking about the reader you want to reach and studying his or her interests and needs. What will entertain him? What’s the problem she needs solved?
Write to Expand Your Repertoire
Maybe it’s time to try something new—to break out of your comfort zone and move into a new genre or type of writing. This may be the way to decide what to write next…moving toward the project that intrigues you, that will stretch and challenge you, helping you discover untapped potential.
Write Something That Makes You Famous
This really is a motivator for some people, and yet fame happens to few writers. You can make a decision based on that, but your chances of achieving that goal are kind of low. But you never know—you can always try. And if you don’t mind infamy as your path to fame, you can always aim for shock value. If you realize fame isn’t really what you want or need, some of the following related ideas might be more realistic motivators.
Write Something That Builds Name Recognition
You might want to be known for your poetry. You may want people to connect you to your essays. You might want to become a nonfiction author known for addressing a particular topic or a fiction author known for a certain genre. This may not be fame in a universal sense, but in certain writing subcultures and for certain readers, you could become a household name.
Write Something That Gives You Authority
You may want to be one of the leading voices on a certain topic. The more you write about it in many places, the more likely you’ll develop that level of knowledge, credibility, and authority. You can decide what to write next by zeroing in on that topic, researching and writing about it again and again and again from as many angles as possible.
Write Something That Makes a Difference in Someone’s life
You may be driven by a desire to change people’s lives—for the better, presumably. Maybe you want to write nonfiction work that answers questions, solves problems, inspires, encourages, and persuades. Maybe you want to entertain through short stories or challenge how readers think through novels. Maybe you want to write a tribute or shake up someone’s world through poetry.
Write Something That Makes You Happy
Or maybe you want to write something that makes you laugh. Maybe you want to have fun with your writing and feel joy. If writing feels like work and life has gotten heavy, you may want—maybe even need—to play. That’s a legitimate way to choose what to write next.
Write What Sparks Interest and Exudes Energy
Sometimes an idea or project exudes a kind of energy when you think about it and start developing it. The idea sparks your interest and ignites curiosity. If so, that could definitely be the way to choose.
How to Decide?
How will you decide what to write next? You may have lots of ideas already that you can run through these filters to see if they’re a match with where you’re at. Maybe one approach stood out as the right choice for you today.
If it all seems confusing and overwhelming, don’t worry. Just pick something and write. Maybe let that last idea free you and write something that sparks interest and exudes energy. Or simply write for fun and joy, playing with words.
Whatever you choose—and however you choose—I hope you’ll get to work feeling at least little more confident you’re on the right track.
- Ep 32: What’s the Thing You Really Want to Write…That Scares You?
- Ep 30: Action Creates Clarity
- Ep 132: This Is the Year to Tackle That Complicated, Unfamiliar New Writing Project
- Ep 121: Out of Ideas? Be an Idea Machine
- Ep 114: Make the Most of Your Time with a Writing Pipeline
- All articles in What Do I Write Next series
- All podcast episodes
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