How Do You Decide Which Story You Should Write?

Most writers don’t have ideas because they’re writers. They write because they have ideas. Mountains of ideas. Hordes of ideas. Overwhelming oceans upon oceans of ideas. For me, just looking at my overflowing idea file can sometimes give me a rather counter-intuitive bout of depression. How am I ever going to live long enough to write all these ideas? If you relate, then which story you should write?

If you’re like me, every time you finish a story you find yourself faced, not with an empty idea bucket, but with the prodigious task of figuring out which story should be written next.

Following are five suggestions for culling the legitimate story contenders from the wannabes and also-rans.

Write the Story That…

1. You Want to Write

Listen to your gut. The first and foremost factor in deciding which story to write should be your desire to write it.

I’m a linear person. When I get a new story idea I write it down in a list of other ideas, with the plan of writing each idea in the order it comes to me. But that’s never how it works.  Inevitably, one story looks up at me from the list and screams to be written, whether it’s “next” in order or not. If a story wants to be written and I want to write it, that’s the one I’m going to go with every time.

2. Fits the Market

We’re always being told not to write for the market. This is because by the time we’ve finished our own sparkly vampire tomes, the trends will inevitably have moved on to glittery werewolves (or angels or zombies or purple boogie men). But if one of the ideas you’re particularly excited about seems ripe for the market, go for it. You may hit it just in time to fit into the latest boom.

3. Is Ready to be Written

Sometimes I’ve been all set to write a particular story, only to realize it just wasn’t quite ready. Usually, this sense of unreadiness is just that—a sense. Excited as I may be about the idea, whenever I imagine actually writing it, I just can’t quite see it working. Again, this is a matter of trusting the gut. It’s even more important to be able sense when a story isn’t ready than to sense when it is.

4. Appeals to Others

Although outsider opinions can only carry an author so far, you may benefit from running your ideas past trusted beta readers and asking them which appeals most to them. Even if you don’t take their advice, hearing what they have to say may help you sort out your true feelings about which story is the right one to begin next.

5. Challenges You

If you’re trying to choose between an idea that’s similar to your last story and one you know will require more authorial skill, consider pushing yourself to new growth. Don’t let yourself fall into a comfortable rut. Always reach for the next rung on the ladder of your writing craft.

***

Although sorting through our idea folders can sometimes seem like an overwhelming challenge, an abundance of ideas is an author’s greatest blessing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do you decide which story to write next? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. That first paragraph is a perfect description of me! Whenenver I look through my lists of story ideas I get the urge to write faster so I can get to them all…but I know by that time I’ll have created another backlog of new ideas.

    And I definitely agree with your third point. I have some stories that I’ve been sitting on, so to speak, for years, and know that I probably won’t try to write for a few years more. They’re not developed enough, and I’m not ready to write them yet. I feel I’m not mature enough as a writer or as a person to do them justice.

    Whenever I’m wavering between a couple of story choices, I usually go with the one that’s more fully developed in my mind. I like to have an idea where I’m going so I don’t get stuck in them middle.

  2. Like you, this is a terrible problem and I’ve made it worse. I’ve written three children’s novels and labelled each Book One. Now which sequel do I write first, or should I be editing the three books for grownups that I’ve already completed? Argghhhh!

  3. I have the same trouble. Too many ideas and not enough time. Right now I’m working on something I wasn’t sure I could write. It’s definitely a challenge. But as you said, if I don’t challenge myself then my craft will be unlikely to improve beyond a certain level.

  4. With my first novel nearly complete I am having a hard time NOT starting the second one, the ideas are banging away at my skull! Like you, no trouble getting ideas, terrible time organizing WHEN I will write the next one.

    Love your blog, the wealth of info so beneficial to this 52 year old finally getting into what she always wanted to do.

  5. @Elisabeth: Knowing where I’m going is vital to me as well. I’ll never begin a story without having at least a general idea for the ending.

    @Carole: That’s one reason I’ve never written a sequel – too many new stories to be written!

    @mshatch: Art *should* be terrifying. If we’re not scaring ourselves, we’re not only not pushing our technique, we’re also probably not being completely honest.

    @Donna: The wealth of ideas at our disposal does make it tempting to start writing the new and shiny ideas as soon as they occur. But it’s so important to resist that temptation until we’ve finished our current project. Not finishing is a mortal habit for writers to get into.

  6. The next story to be written is the one that screams the loudest that it is its turn. ;o)

  7. Once again, you’ve written the perfect post for the perfect time. I have so many ideas begging to be released into the world, and it’s so difficult to decide which one to begin working on next. This post will definitely help me sort through them. Thanks, K.M. Weiland!

  8. @Lorna: Stories know how to throw effective tantrums, don’t they?

    @Eldra: Glad it was timely! Choosing the next story is both exciting and a little scary, since we want to make sure we choose the right one.

  9. It’s usually the story that is screaming out to be written that gets written.

    However, sometimes the extreme urge to write the one story ends before the full novel is complete. Another story screams out to be heard instead. I can only write what urgently needs to be written right then.

    It then happens that Part I of Novel I is finished first, but Part III of Novel II is done before the end of the first novel ever gets written. It’s like giving birth to your second child first!

  10. KM, great blog!
    I read somewhere recently about reading the best books first – there isn’t time to waste on 2nd rate ones. The same goes with writing the stories in the first place – go for the ones that turn you on as a writer, forget the rest. That said, sometimes you need to start writing an idea down because it’s only after you get a few thousand words that you realise that it’s a non-starter for whatever reason. I have several of these already.
    I also agree about being challenged by an idea and pursuing it, even though that might be quite hard to do. As I’ve just read on Twitter, if you swim with the tide you’re nothing more than a dead fish. 🙂 So you have to go against the current to be producing something that is different.
    Great blog, you hit the nail on the head with every sentence – and you say it in very few words, something a lot of bloggers could learn from. 🙂
    Cheers!

  11. @Aya: Writing a story out of order works well for some authors (just read an interview with Diana Gabaldon, in which she indicated that’s her method of choice). Personally, I’m too linear (read: OCD) to work that way. Just thinking about it makes my eyes cross!

    @Mick: Storytelling is definitely not a science. I’ve started my share of stories, thinking they were ready, only to realize they were false starts. We can do our best to avoid those situations, but they’ll still come up. It’s important to realize that’s just another part of the process.

  12. Great blog as usual. I have a list of ideas for books and they fight for first place in my head. I choose the one that feels right. I don’t know how to explain that any better. It’s a feeling. I know the idea needs to be a book and I begin. I have been wrong and have several half written works, but I still listen to that little voice that screams “pick me.” At time it is right and I finish the book. Thanks again for all the advice.

  13. Most writers will know exactly what you’re talking about when you mention that “feeling.” For all the discussion of technique and craftsmanship, art is still a gut instinct.

  14. I’m probably in the appeals to others boat at the moment. I have a novel I wrote last year collecting dust because my current project has generated so much interest w/ my reading circle. So, I am resisting writing what I want. It’ll sit for another year. I have another idea itching to be narrated, but it’ll sit, too.
    Since I want to write 7 books in the series I’m working on now, those will be the ones written and put to bed before I move on. So, I agree. Never a point when I don’t have something to write about.

  15. Some of the things you mentioned Katie, I never do and never take any notice of.

    Appeals to others; It’s like pulling teeth to get anyone I know to even express a slight interest in what I’m writing, so I’ve given up and canvas no one about my ideas for stories.

    No one is interested in you unless you are someone, or unless you have made it. It’s my opinion that you are wasting your time asking people to rate or give feedback on ideas, let alone on an actually written story, unless you are someone.

    I could spend the rest of life figuring out what the “market” wants, is, likes, or will buy. Doubt I’d get much writing done if I went down that path to select a story.

    For me the choice of story is all about passion. If you are passionate about a story, it will show, and if you can write well, your passion will come alive in the minds of others.

    I’m always hearing, write what you know, but for me, write what you are really passionate about. That will have more of a chance of getting sold and read.

    Rob

  16. @Pedro: My linear side vibes with the idea of finishing out a series before starting another, although I can see how waiting that long to begin something new would grow tedious and frustrating at times.

    @Rob: The opinions of others is almost always the last factor I consider in choosing my own stories. But it can be helpful to consider the advice of others when you’re otherwise stuck.

  17. @ KM: Thanks for the post. I find it funny that someone would want to write but have no ideas to write out. That’s bizarre! I think they must want the supposed notoriety which could be produced from being known as a writer. I can’t think of why they would want it if they weren’t already writing out ideas.

    @ Rob: I don’t think it’s a bad idea to run ideas by people, but you have to be selective about which people you run them by and when you run it by them.

    I let an idea percolate in my mind for a long time so that it gains strength and becomes less nebulous to me. In this stage, I’m not likely to discuss it with anyone other than my critique group and my immediate family. Once I have a strong vision for it and the direction it will take, I develop it through more tangible methods. At this stage, I’m not likely to tell other people what it’s about, because most people I know don’t really care much about the story content or the writing of it. If you have a published book in your hand, they are impressed. Otherwise, most simply aren’t interested.

    My writing is primarily between me and my story. I don’t expect anyone to care. It’s not their story.

  18. I’m very careful about with whom and how much I talk about young ideas. I’ll mention vague details, such as setting and character type (i.e., “it’s about a fireman”). But I rarely discuss intimate details of a story until after I’ve finished the first draft. For me, looking for the advice of others is always based on just a basic question or two (“Which would be better – a story about a firefighter who time travels or a princess who wants to be a chiropractor?”) rather than a detailed explanation of plot and character.

  19. Most of my stories originated from an idea inspired by a song, a movie, another story, something somebody says.. or sometimes a question.
    I never know what story I’ll write next until I get that idea.
    What bugs me is that I often get my best ideas in the middle of the night. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to slip from under cozy blankets, locate the flashlight, pencil and paper, and proceed to write an idea that has been fading ever since you left the warmth of the bed.

    thnx for another insightful article, K.M. 😀

  20. Shows you how dedicated writers are when they’re willing to forsake the warmth of bed and sleep in order to salvage a story idea!

  21. Ah, great advice. I’m kind of like you. I seem to have all these ideas, but I never know which to focus on. This is a great way to figure it out! Thanks, girl~ :o) <3

  22. I faced the same decision lately! I am working on my fantasy novel write now, and I finally decided to do that because I just hate to see it just sit there. It’s a novel gathering dust and if I don’t work on it and finish it, it will always torment me! So, now…I’m working on it for that reason alone. Even if it doesn’t get published.

  23. When I’m sleeping I start writing all kinds of things in my head and have rushed to my desk to write them down so I decided to have a pad of paper and pen close by so I wouldn’t have to do that. I started doing that because everytime I said I’ll remember in the morning I always forgot.

    Thanks for sharing.

  24. @LTM: Crazy how something as wonderful as too many ideas can be so frustrating sometimes. At the rate I currently write (one novel every three years) I figured I only have enough life to write about 20 more ideas. Must. Keep. Typing.

    @Nicole: That alone is a fabulous reason. It’s so important for us to finish our stories. With the exception of those that are just adamantly not working, we have to push through and finish every story we begin. An unfinished story is always a travesty.

    @Lee: I’m so bad at getting out of bed to write things down – and, considering how slippery my memory can be (especially when in the comfy grips of incumbent sleep), that’s usually a disaster in the making.

  25. Thanks for this post! Overwhelming amounts of ideas is my usual problem too.

  26. Not a bad problem to have, is it? 😀

  27. Excellent blog. Thanks for sending the link along. Keep up the good work. This is an excellent resource for new writers.

  28. Thanks so much for stopping by! Glad you’re finding the blog useful.

  29. Kat I am starting to write down all my ideas of stories, I did one of the most bizzare of my ideas this semester in creative writing. Not only was it challenging it showed me that I can write some of the weird out there stories. Also wrote my first science fiction stories which showed me I can write those too.
    Short stand alones are a wonderful escape from big projects and they don’t require all of ones time and energy; thus sapping away voluable time and energy from one’s WIP.

  30. Generally, I’m not a big fan of story assignments, just because I feel that if the story doesn’t have organic inspiration, it’s probably not going to be as good as it might be. But there are definitely exceptions, since assignments can force you to write stories that you never would have thought of otherwise, thus forcing you to stretch your horizons in unexpected ways. A couple of the best short stories I’ve ever written were the result of assignments in a writing class I took years ago.

  31. This is so timely as well. I have finished two stories which I have published and am working on my next. well looking in my collection of stories and ideas to see which is the next and they are all screaming. I have even gone so far as placing slips of paper in a hat that contain the stories and pulling out one. That one will be the one I focus on. I have written a blog post with what to do with the Characters when they are waiting their turn. Stop by my “Place” and read about it.

    I think I will try the suggestion of seeing which one I am more thinking of to work on next. K.M. Your words are so inspiring. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes I find that if I flip a coin (or draw a name), I’ll find out what my gut *really* wants. If it doesn’t like the answer that comes up, that’s usually a sign that I should be going in the other direction.

  32. I have a problem. I am outlining my WIP and have already written ten pages of it, but something just doesn’t seem right. I have another idea I want to work on, but I don’t know if I should stick with the first one and discipline myself to finish what I start, or go with the new idea. What should I do?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The great thing about outlining is that it allows us to explore a story without committing gobs of time to it. It could be you just need to brainstorm some more and figure out what, exactly, it is about the idea that doesn’t feel right. But it could also be that your gut is telling you this isn’t the right story to be writing right now and that you need to move on.

  33. Maria Kite says

    I’m writng a book right now that I don’t think I’m ready for. My mother says I should continue, but, after reading this article, I think I should change my book subject.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Trust your gut. It’s rarely wrong. But it’s always worthwhile to sit down and logic it out as well. Write a list of reasons you’re ready – and reasons you’re not. Then weigh them.

  34. Been there know that 😀
    I have a huge idea folder myself, many of stories in it are screaming at my ears
    “Write me,, no mee”
    And I have to tell them “Okay okay, I will write you! Just wait a second. Otherwise I won’t be able to complete any of you guys” ;D

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