Deb Vanasse | What to Write


I recently entered one of my favorite phases of the writing cycle—sharing a manuscript in draft with a group of trusted readers. It’s always satisfying to reach this significant juncture in a novel’s evolution. But I get even more excited about turning my thoughts to what to write next.

Most of us have no problem generating ideas. I’ve got enough stashed away to last a couple lifetimes at least. That’s because generative writing is fun and easy. As with tapping into a fresh cask or keg of your favorite libation, you can turn giddy in short order, intoxicated with the stuff that bubbles up from your brain.

But first thoughts aren’t always best thoughts. Before you run with an idea, it’s good to assess its potential, determining whether a project has the chops to warrant your considered attentions and, more importantly, the attentions of readers.

But wait, you say. Won’t your creative juices dry up under that sort of analysis?

If you over-analyze, yes. But your creative juices may also dry up if you end up abandoning a project halfway through because you failed to vet it up front. As the adage goes, you can’t fashion a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and the truth is that some of our inspired ideas just aren’t silk purse material.

Here, a few strategies for deciding whether you should move forward with what you think you want to write next:

  • Pluck from your generative work the threads that seem most important and compelling. Brainstorm out from each thread to see the various direction a project developed from those threads might go.
  • Consider your project from a reader’s perspective. How would you pitch it? Which aspects of it would appeal to readers?
  • Flesh out a character bible of the key players. Consider self-regard, agency, desires, and what’s unexpected about each character. Which ones merit the most focus? Whose perspectives might you explore?
  • Be gentle with yourself. It’s early in the process. You’re exploring. Your assessment has nothing to with your talents or potential as a writer. It’s about this idea and whether it has legs.
  • Set the material aside and return to it in a few days. Better yet, wait a few weeks or a few months. Then return to your notes with fresh perspective.
  • If you decide a project’s not viable, don’t despair. No writing energy is wasted. Your inspiration will resurface, and when it does, you’ll have more clarity about how to shape it into a viable project.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the author co-op Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books. Among her most recent are the novel Cold Spell and a biography, Wealth Woman, a True West “Best of the West” selection. She also works as a freelance editor.



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