How to Decide What to Write Next | #11

In this week’s episode of Inside the Writer's Soul, I’ll share 3 tips to help you decide what to write next, and share my mindset trick to help you finish your first or next book. You'll also learn:

  • When to push yourself to write
  • My mindset trick to help you finish your first or next book
  • 3 Tips to help you decide what to write next
  • The story shared in this episode: Details of my writing process

“If you have not planned what you’re writing for 2020 yet, that’s perfectly okay. You are not behind, you are going at your own pace and that is completely okay. But if you struggle to decide what to write next, of if you’d just like a few fresh ideas or a couple of different ways to think about what to write next, then today’s episode might be for you and here are three tips to help you.”

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3 Tips to Help You Decide What to Write Next
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You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and more. Find links to all the apps here. If you like listening to the audio on video, you can also watch via my YouTube channel, or just read the transcript for the episode, too (you'll find it at the bottom of the page). You can also support the podcast (and me!) on Patreon

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[00:00:00] In this episode, I'll share three tips to help you decide what to write next, and I'll share my mindset trick to help you finish your first or next book. If this sounds like something you're interested in, please keep listening.

[00:00:11] You may write alone, but you are not alone. Inside the Writer's Soul focuses on how personal experiences can inform your writing and help you speak from the soul to really connect with readers and other authors as well. Your writer's soul doesn't need to take the writing and publishing journey alone. Join me, your host M. Khan, and let's move forward together.

[00:00:12] Hello and welcome! Today we're going to be talking about something which a lot of writers face, especially around this time of year when we're reaching the end of one year and we're trying to plan for the next, and that is how do we decide what to write next? Now, for some of us, this could be much easier to do, or maybe we've already done it. I needed to start thinking about my 2020 back in the summer because of the availability of my editors who tend to get booked up fairly quickly.

[00:01:02] If you have not planned what you're writing for 2020 yet, that's perfectly okay. You are not behind. You are going at your own pace and that is completely okay. But if you struggle to decide what to write next, or if you'd just like a few fresh ideas or a couple different ways to think about what to write next, then today's episode might be for you. And here are three tips to help you.

[00:01:25] Tip number 1, clarify what really inspires you and what you really want to write about. Now, I get inspired by all kinds of things as I'm walking around, or even as I'm scrolling through social media. There are lots of things I find beautiful or that I find inspirational or people or stories that I find inspirational as well. But not all of that inspiration will end up in the stories I write. It's like music because you can love a certain song without loving the entire genre that song typically falls under. That song can inspire you or motivate you, but that doesn't mean you want to listen to that or a similar piece of music all the time because it's not really your style. So you need to decide what it is that you really want to write about and define your writing themes and styles.

[00:02:10] Let me give you an example. One of the first series I wrote under my pen name was written a little bit to market, and by that I mean it was a popular trope in that genre at the time. It wasn't that I didn't like the stories I wrote because I did and I do. But they weren't really the stories I wanted to share most. I was inspired by stories I'd read in those tropes and I really enjoyed them, nut it wasn't the stories that my heart and my soul really wanted to share because I was initially afraid to write those stories. Once I got past that fear, the next series I wrote after that was much more in line with what I'd really wanted to write, and that made me a whole lot happier. When you write in a certain genre, there's not just one trope or one storyline you can go with. There are thousands and thousands, even millions of different ways you could go. We don't always see those possibilities in the stories published out there, but you can still write them.

[00:03:05] Decide what stories really inspire you and what stories you want to see out there in the world. Now, under my own name, I'm working on stories that deal with Muslim families because as a Muslim, something that intrigues me is the culture and how some of the things that I don't like about the culture conflict with the things that I do. But I also love fantasy, and so I'm working on a really big fantasy series as well. And through that fantasy series, I am telling stories about a strong female lead that I want to see on the page. It's not that I haven't read fantasy stories out there with strong female leads. There are absolutely stories like that out there. But there are stories I want to tell through my own voice. And I want the woman I'm writing to be out there too, because she has certain characteristics or certain traits that I typically don't see or haven't seen in all of the books I've read so far. I want others to feel inspired by her and to feel that they aren't alone if they have those traits, too. One of the reasons I write is because I'm inspired to write stories that I want to see out there in the world. It doesn't matter which genre you are or what trope you're writing. Write the stories you want to see and are proud to share. Being true to yourself is really hard and it may never get easier, but you'll be a happier writer for it.

[00:04:22] Tip number two is know your deadlines, plus my mindset trick to help you finish your first or next book. Now, tip number 2 is about knowing your deadlines. If you have a traditional publishing deal, for example, then you already know what deadlines you have. You know when those books are due to your editors, and you already have a sense of the timeline for your book. If you've written or self-published books, then you also have an idea of how long it will take you and all of the things you need to do for each book, but you may not have finalized the release date yet. One of the biggest things we face as writers is when to push ourselves to write vs. when we should just let the words come to us and that can be a tough decision to make. I'll talk a little bit more about this in the next tip, but some of this also depends on the stage you are in your writing career. And the only thing I mean by that is whether you're on your first book or whether you're trying to decide your next book.

[00:05:15] If you are thinking about starting to write your first book next year, your thought process is going to be a little bit different than someone who's already finished a book, even if it hasn't been published yet. If you finished and published a book, then you're trying to decide the next book to write and your thought process could be a little bit different there, too. And the main reason for that is just experience and knowledge of your own writing process and style. When I wrote my first book, I had no idea how long it would take me, so it was tough to set a deadline for that book. I had no idea when the book was "done" and realized I needed to define what done meant for me in that book.

[00:05:54] One problem you run into is that you want that book to be amazing, so you delay finishing it because you want everything to be perfect. But done is better than perfect. Published is better than perfect. Knowing that sense of time and that sense of effort and investment I would need to make, and the sacrifices I would need to make by say, giving up some of my personal time in order to make writing time, or things I had to learn along the way. And the time it takes to finish a book changes from your first book to your second book to even your 20th book. When you go through anything the first time, it always takes you longer because you're learning how to do it, how the workflows are set up, and how your brain processes information for the task that you're trying to do. All that means is that if you're writing your first book, it may take you longer because you're learning how to do it.

[00:06:43] But if you're writing a second book or you're even your tenth or twentieth book, then the process is a little bit different because you've kind of honed down your workflow. You know what all the steps in the process are, or at least most of the steps, and you've planned those out and you understand how much time you need for each. You can more efficiently find the time you need to write because you know exactly how long it's going to take you. So you might find it easier to meet those deadlines. If you're a first-time author and you don't have any real deadlines yet, take some time to decide what done looks like for your book and decide what your goal for that book is.

[00:07:18] If you want to finish that book and publish it, then you need to push yourself and you can do this by setting a deadline yourself. So pick March or June or September or whatever month or a specific date that you'll remember. Pick a date that's significant to you that will help push you to finish. Maybe say your birthday if you don't have a support system or a writers group that can help push you and keep you to that deadline. Then you can try something I did when I first started writing and did not have any support, and that was to push myself by setting interim deadlines leading up to the main deadline.

[00:07:51] When we don't have someone requiring us to finish something, if we don't have that deadline sort of looming over us, we don't always push ourselves to finish it or we'll push ourselves only around the deadline and we'll procrastinate up until that point. So I would set an interim deadline that would be say I need to finish chapters one through five by the end of this month. I then break that down into weeks and days. So to finish five chapters by the end of the month working backwards, that means I need to write a chapter a week. And if one chapter is maybe five thousand words as an estimate, not a goal, then I need to write twenty five hundred words across each weekend, which was when I wrote. The words don't have to be edited. They don't have to be polished. They just need to be finished and on the page.

[00:08:39] One of the problems with writing a book is that we don't always treat it with the same mindset we do other things, and we don't fully commit to it. The truth is, when we have something we need to do or have to do, we just figure it out and we finish the task. If you have or have had a day job, this is what you do every day. So you need to start thinking about your book in a different way and not as something optional you can do, but as something you're required to do.

[00:09:04] This mindset trick is what helped me finish that first book, my next book, even my 10th book, and on and on and on. You may see writing a book is a hobby, so you may not want a deadline to finish it and that's okay. But if finishing and publishing a book is something you really want to do, then try using this trick to help you do it.

[00:09:24] So how can a deadline help you decide what to write next? Well, just think about everything you have coming up for the following year. If you're working with a traditional publisher, then you've already worked out what stories and what characters you might like to write. But if you're working on your first book or your next book or you're self-published and you have more leeway with the deadlines that you've set, then you can choose something that's inspiring to you but still works within that timeframe and within your timeline. If you're trying to write an epic novel, that's over a hundred thousand words. You don't want to set a deadline for that in March because it would be tough to write a hundred thousand words by March,and it would require sacrifice in other parts of your life in order to make that happen, because you'd have to give up time somewhere else to make that time for writing the book. But if you, say, set a deadline by your birthday and your birthday's in September, that's a more realistic goal to set. So understanding and knowing your deadlines can help you choose the stories and the characters you focus on by giving you an accurate timeline to work with.

[00:10:27] Tip number three is to understand how you write. This probably took me the longest to learn. I've spoken before about a fast drafting course that I took and that really helped me to learn about my writing process. But it wasn't enough to help me define my writing process because I was still early on in my career when I took it. I tried so many different writing methods, even different fast drafting methods, but I found I really needed to modify them to work for me. I'm a pantser, which means that I write by the seat of my pants, in contrast to a plotter, who plots out the book before they start writing. It took me a few books before I honed down my writing process and before I knew what I needed to have with me when I wrote, how much I needed to have sort of plotted out or thought out ahead of time before I sat down to write. And yes, pantser do still think about the book before they sit down to write. I personally don't do scene or character breakdowns, but I do write my synopsis for the book first to give me a general idea of the plot and the arcs of the main characters.

[00:11:32] If you're a plotter and you know that you'd like to have character and scene breakdowns and all of those other sort of beat sheets completely filled out before you start to write then, you know, you maybe have two to four weeks of plotting time before you sit down to do the actual writing, which could take another two to four weeks or more. And so that's time you'll need to build into your overall writing process.

[00:11:54] Understanding how you write is not just about the preparation time needed. It's also about understanding how you write when you actually sit down to do it. I can tell when I sit down if I'm in the mood to write or if I'm not. Now, sometimes we have to push through because of deadlines or because we know we have to finish something and we need to get the word counts in. But usually if I'm not feeling it, I move on and do something else. Understanding that about myself was a tough lesson to learn, but now I just move on during those days and work on other author-related tasks. Sometimes that could come back to bite me, say when I have a deadline coming up and I haven't written enough, especially since I mostly only write on the weekends. But you need to understand and accept that part of your thought process. Sometimes if you try to force yourself, you're not going to be inspired. And while you put some words on the page, they won't be as many as you would have gotten while you were in your best writing zone.

[00:12:50] My best writing zone is weekend mornings or mornings in general. Whenever I try to write at other times, I don't get as many words in and I don't feel as good about the words I've written. If you get distracted easily when you write, maybe try a distraction free app or distraction free software that could keep you from surfing the net or from going on your phone every five seconds because you've gotten frustrated with a scene, which is something I sometimes do.

[00:13:16] A great tip to help with this is trying something called the Pomodoro method, where you basically work in short sprints. So you may work in, say, 25-minute sprints and then you'll take a break. Or you can change the time, so you could work at 15-minute or 10-minute or even 5-minute sprints and then take a break. That gives you a chance to get up and walk around so, when you come back, you'll tend to be more focused because you're not just sitting in one place for hours and hours, just writing. I often dictate my books, so if I feel myself getting frustrated and I'm not sure where I want the scene to go, I'll just take a break and walk around, and I'll get some water or some tea and I'll come back in to just think about the scene before I start dictating again.

[00:13:58] Another thing to keep in mind is something basic: food and water. I realized that when I write I like to drink a lot of water or tea, so I'll use my breaks between writing sprints to refill either or both. But when I'm editing, I like to snack. So I figured out some relatively healthy foods that I can snack on throughout the day to help me and keep me going. Understanding little things like this about your writing process, and your ideal writing zone can have a huge impact on your writing and help you get in the right space and the right mindset for it.

[00:14:32] So now that you've set your deadlines, think again about the stories you'd like to write. If you want to write that hundred thousand word novel by March, then understanding how you write in your ideal writing zone can help you achieve that goal and write faster. So you could choose to write it with that deadline. If you know that January through March are too busy with your day job or family life or something else, ten figure out when you can find that writing zone from April until your deadline. As a pantser, I don't plot out my books necessarily, but I do plot out when I'll write my books as best I can. So I encourage you to work backwards from your deadline and do the same.

[00:15:11] If you realize that you don't think you can feasibly write the story you were originally thinking of and you're not required to turn that story into an editor or haven't promised it to your readers, then choose another story. It can be really challenging to put aside one story to work on another but, as writers, it's something we sometimes have to do. If you don't want to put this story aside, then reassess your deadline and change it if you need to. But don't change it just to change it. Change it because it's more realistic to finish with the new deadline. Remember, commit to finishing the book if that's what you really want to do.

[00:15:46] If you've told your readers that you'll be writing one story but decide to write another one first, just explain it to them. This is something I've done, and while you may get some backlash from it, most of your genuine readers and fans will understand. I found readers loved to hear about my writing process, so if I explain some of what's going on in my personal and family life, or if I explain that I was more inspired to write one story over another, they often understand. Just be genuine and be truthful and you'll be just fine.

[00:16:16] So those are the three tips I have for you today. Tip number 1, clarify what really inspires you and what you really want to write about. Tip 2, know your deadlines, plus my mindset trick to help push you to finish your first or next book. And Tip 3, understand how you write.

[00:16:34] Part of what I talked about today, like finding your ideal writing zone, is something I teach through my free email course "How to Write Faster in 14 Days", which you get access to when you sign up for my newsletter. The link, if you're interested, is in the show notes.

[00:16:49] Now I want to hear from you. Have you started planning your 2020? How do you decide which book or books to write? Head to the blog or join our community on Facebook to let me know. The links are in the show notes. I'd also be very grateful if you could leave a review for this podcast wherever you like to listen. Thank you.

[00:17:08] Thank you for listening to this episode. Check out the show notes for links to my blog and our community where you can get involved in the discussion and support others. While you're there, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to get to free and powerful tools to help you. One: access to my growing library of free resources for authors; and Two: you'll also get access to my exclusive writing challenge "How to Write Faster in 14 Days" where I share all my tips and techniques that helped me finish over 20 works in five years. Check out the show notes for all the links and thanks again for being part of this community.

M. Khan

M. Khan has authored over 20 novels/novellas/short stories under a pen name, and is now working on a fantasy series under her own name. She teaches others how to plan holistically to get all the things done, and provides guidance and coaching to fellow authors.
3 Tips to Help You Decide What to Write Next
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