A few weeks ago, when I introduced the idea of how we can decide what to write next, I proposed several ways a writer can approach that decision. One was to write whatever’s next in sequence.
Write What’s Next in Sequence
If you’re writing a novel, tackle the next chapter.
Your short story will need the next scene.
A poem grows with the next line leading to the next stanza.
An article will expand with another paragraph or section.
If you write DIY tutorials, you write in sequence to show the viewer or reader what to do next in order, one step after another.
The sequential approach can be a logical way to decide within an existing project what to write next. In those cases, the answer is often right in front of us.
What’s the Next Action?
A simple way to keep those projects moving along is to ask the question “What’s the next action?” Answer that, and you often realize right away you must simply write the next line, the next stanza, and so on.
This question is an essential element in David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, also known as GTD. When you think of a project you’re currently working on or one that you’re considering, try asking “What’s the next action?” Answer it with a statement that begins with a verb.
Because we’re talking about writing, the statement will probably begin with “write”:
- Write chapter 17
- Write the last stanza in the poem “Chase the Sun”
- Write the promo video script
- Write about the puke-y flight from Brussels for the travel article (yeah…I won’t on it elaborate here)
“What’s the next action?” helps break down big projects into manageable actions so you know what to write next.
Instead of scheduling a writing block on the calendar and labeling it “Blog post,” you can add the specific action, like, “Write the last two paragraphs for blog post.” With this approach, you know precisely what to write next.
This focusing question works best when the projects offer obvious answers.
Why Not Write a Series?
But when you’ve closed out a project and you’re deciding what’s the next big undertaking, it’s not always so clear what to write next.
You can still think in terms of sequences, though. In fact, you could even have some fun creating a sequence—how about a series?
You could introduce a serial format to something you weren’t originally visualizing that way. It can hold your own creative interest as a writer as well as the interest of the busy, easily distracted reader.
Writing and publishing short-form work in sequence—in a series—can work well for short attention spans while encouraging people to return for more.
A series gives you a means to dive deeper into a topic, or explore it more widely in its applications, or look at it from many angles.
Publishing novels in a series creates multiple entry points for readers who can dig in and read the entire collection.
Want some ideas?
On your website, what if you release a series of short stories linked in some way? Maybe they’re all set in the same town or feature an ensemble of characters who alternate getting center stage from story to story.
Write and release a novel in serial form on your website. This should be a novel you didn’t intend to pitch to agents or publish traditionally; it would be something you just want to share with the world. You’ll be following in Charles Dickens’ footsteps, who his books in serial format in newspapers.
Or, as I mentioned, you could write and publish novels in a series—anything from a detective series or sci-fi trilogy, to a realistic world peopled with characters like Father Tim in Jan Karon’s Mitford series.
A lot of ideas you might publish on a website could be serialized in even shorter format and pushed out via social media. You could do this with a story told in segments. Or you could implement a visual theme with applicable captions that link a series of updates all together. Maybe you share a sequence of “lessons learned” or places you visit each week on a spring staycation adventure series.
Blog Post Series
You may have heard of the Write 31 Days writing challenge. Each October, bloggers launch a blog post series on a focused theme and publish daily, for all 31 days of the month. It’s a big commitment, but a lot of people sign up. You have to sustain ideas and energy for the entire 31 days, so make sure you can pull it off before tossing your hat in the ring.
That’s an organized event you can participate in, but you don’t have to wait until October to write a series at your website. Maybe you’d like to generate a theme with four elements to it, and publish one post a week for a month. Or you write seven posts and assemble them into an email challenge people can sign up for to learn a skill.
Like the podcast Serial, which I’m sure you’ve heard about, you could release audio episodes about some story or theme that holds listeners’ interest. Obviously investigating a crime is not really an option since Serial‘s already handled that, but the basic idea is to develop some story concept that unfolds in installments.
Years ago, I remember being quite taken with Emily Yoffe’s Human Guinea Pig project, for Slate. She did all kinds of crazy things and wrote about them. The idea was she would sign up to do something or go somewhere that people were curious about but couldn’t actually do or go to themselves.
She worked as an historical re-enactor, vacationed at a nudist camp, and totally bombed as a children’s birthday party entertainer. But that kind of series—undertaking a sequence of curious adventures—could be fun to invent and present in audio in audio format.
Multi-Media: Pick Your Favorite
It could be modified and presented using various media options, though, if you aren’t doing anything audio yourself. You could play with a video version or simply write about it, like Yoffe did originally for Slate.
Thinking about sequential writing, in series form, gives you a fun option when deciding what to write next. Use a serial mindset to discover the next action with an existing project or to develop something totally new.
- Write 31 Days
- The Power of Asking “What’s the Next Action?” (via GettingThingsDone.com)
- Dickens & Serial Fiction
- Serial (podcast)
- Human Guinea Pig (Slate series, by Emily Yoffe)
- Ep 115: You’ll Write More When You Use an Editorial Calendar
- All articles in What Do I Write Next series
- All podcast episodes
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The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.
52 Creative Writing Prompts: A Year of Weekly Prompts and Exercises to Boost Your Creativity
Sure, you can poke around the Internet collecting prompts and creative writing exercises.
Or you could buy an ebook that collects 52 in one place.