What to write?

by Doc Coleman on August 14, 2013 · 3 comments

in Writing

It is the first question, and the last question. Though it may take many different forms, it remains essentially the same question. It is a question that dogs the heels of every writer. You may fend it off for a while, but eventually, if you intend to take up the mantle of writer, you will have to face this question and find your own answer to it: What do I write now?

This article is partly inspired by a recent post over at Dawning Sky wherein our heroine, Veronica, managed to complete two separate novels within two weeks of each other, and thus find herself without a writing project. And thus, she returns to the beginning and must ask the question: What to write next?

The other part of this article comes from my daily journeys on the Magic Spreadsheet treadmill, and the need to write something new every day to continue my writing chain. Currently I don’t really have an active writing project, I have an active publishing project. I have two other novels back burnered, and edits to do for a short story, plus writing this blog, two podcasts, and a tech blog. So, yes, for each day I have a rich variety of things to choose from when deciding what to write next, but still I find myself asking, each and every day: What do I write today?

In many ways, it is much easier when I do have an active writing project. I schedule specific days for addressing each of my other writing commitments, and on the other days I write against my primary project. But sometimes, something else still intrudes. An idea will grab me so strongly it must be expressed, and I know that for that day, I shall take a detour in my writing.

And then, it is back to the question.

Some days the answer to the question comes easily. A particular scene springs strongly to mind, or a deadline looms, or a character speaks so loudly to me that I must transcribe his words, record his voice, before he will be appeased and grant me some peace. Other days… not so much.

Of course, those are the days that we’re really interested in. The days when nothing speaks to you. When you call upon the muse but the bitch won’t pick up her damn phone because she’s too busy two-timing me with some two-bit hack who just signed a lucrative contract to write knock-off romance novels and cheap porn for a major syndicate. No I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?

These are the days when you want to just curl up in front of the TV and congeal into a quivering mass of mindless jelly. When the words don’t want to flow, and all ideas seem far away, or trite, or derivative of something else and you just want a day off. How do you make the decision then? You have a daily quota of words. How are you going to make it? What are you going to write?

Of course, as far as the daily quota is concerned, it doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write. Any act that assembles words into a coherent narrative is part of the act of writing. Some might argue that “coherent” isn’t necessarily a requirement, and, no doubt, reference this article as an example, but the narrative is a must.

Indeed, some writers embrace this idea, and launch into their writing routines by sitting down and writing on any subject that comes to mind, from what they did the day before, to how they felt when cut off in traffic on the commute home, to the difficulty they have in figuring out what it is they will write today, or even endless diatribes on their inability to write because they have been struck with a writer’s block and the words will not flow from the lips of their muse, down through their brains and out from their fingertips onto the page. While these smatterings of random writing, are typically thrown away, except, for some reason, the endless complains about how writer’s block has forever ended the writer’s ability to put words to the page, they do serve a useful purpose. By writing about nothing, or at least nothing in particular, you can engage the creative side of your brain and get that side of your psyche to answer the question. For many writers it is easier to change gears between one type of writing and another once the creative brain is engaged than it is to engage that creative side in the first place.

In a very real sense this is why tools like the Magic Spreadsheet work so well for so many writers. Not in the aspect of showing writers what they should put their creative efforts into, but in the sense that once a writer has gotten engaged in writing 250 or so words on a given day, they very rarely stop at that threshold. Quite often, once that minimum quota of creative expression has been met, the creative mind has been fully engaged and NOW the words flow and the writer ends up producing hundreds, if not thousands of words on a day.

So, next time you’re staring at a blank page or an empty computer screen and you’re asking yourself “What am I going to write today?”, take some time out to write about why you don’t know what to write about, how it makes you feel to be unable to choose a subject for the day’s writing. Then, once you’ve engaged that side of your brain, move on to something else. To a project that you’ll be proud to share with the world.

What are you going to write about today?

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