How to know what to write

Feb 8, 2023

How do you decide what to write?

I get this question a lot. I think people who are deciding if they want to write a book spend a lot of time thinking about the external landscape—trends, state of the publishing industry, what agents want, what’s hot on one bestseller list or another.

And look. It’s important to know what’s going on out there. What’s selling, what types of books are piling up on people’s nightstands and bookshelves, what publishers are buying. This industry changes a lot and can be complicated—and frankly, a little wacky—so it’s good to be in the know.

It’s also really important to not force yourself to write something that doesn’t actually seem meaningful to you.

Stephen King talks about writing what you like then infusing it with your specific knowledge about life. The example he uses is about plumbers who are fascinated with space who write about a plumber in space. There are many examples of this, including, say, a vegetarian vampire. Imagine what an interesting story that could be!

And it might sound silly, but if it’s something that you’re called to write and you do it well, that will be a story that’s unique to you. And it’s going to be a story that resonates with a specific audience.

So when people ask me, should I write about insert latest trend because it’s hot right now, my answer is always a resounding Not unless that’s the thing you’ve been called to write from the very beginning.

Also if you’re just starting from scratch writing this book, think about the realistic timeframe from writing to publication. Even if things line up perfectly—you write your first draft in, say, six months, revise a few times, get an agent straightaway and sell it on your first try—you’re still looking at a two-year path to publication if you’re going the traditional route.

And let me tell you, it’s very rare in this business that things line up that perfectly.

I’m not saying that to discourage anybody from writing a book. It is a long process regardless of where you are in it. That’s okay. Also it’s just reality. By the time you finish the book and it hits shelves, the trends are probably going to be a lot different because they change at a moment’s notice.

Just like today we’re buying high-waisted jeans, and tomorrow we could be back to skinny jeans. (I hate high-waisted jeans so I’m not following that trend, in case you were wondering.)

My point is—write what you care about. Write what lights you up. Write about those characters who won’t leave you alone. If you love it, chances are the world will love it. Everything else will follow.

Don’t ignore what’s calling you.

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