Are you a fan of Chasing Life? It is a relatively new ABC Family television drama that features a 20-something female journalist who discovers she has leukemia.
In the most recent episode the main character, April, has decided to write a novel and meets with a publishing house interested in hearing her ideas. She tosses out a few fiction novel concepts, the first three of which are hardily discarded as overdone, trite or not currently of interest. She finally pitches a young adult, futuristic idea that the publisher gets excited about.
“That would be perfect and if all goes well; you’ll have a book on the market in three years!”
The publisher is clearly excited but April is suddenly hit by the fact that the process is long and she may not have three years.
So she begins to contemplate the fact that she may only have a shot of leaving one book, one story as her legacy. With that in mind, she realizes that a young adult novel isn’t the mark she wants to make.
She returns to the publisher and pitches the idea of a memoir and is summarily dismissed. Yet, she is determined.
“If I can only have one story to tell, one story on which to leave my mark, I need it to be a story that is important to me.”
If you could only write one story, what would that story be?
Joe Bunting is a published writer and entrepreneur and offers 6 tips for coming up with your next story idea:
- Come up with a lot of ideas.
- Kill the wrong ideas.
- Ask your Muse.
- Second guess yourself.
- Once you’ve chosen, be committed.
My favorite part of his article is the information connecting with numbers 2 and 3. Coming up with a lot of ideas can be fun but the real work begins when you start to kill off the bad ideas.
The more ideas you start with the more likely you are to find the one idea that will be the focus of your next, or first, book.
This is true regardless of whether you are writing fiction, non-fiction, children’s stories or poetry. You must first start with an idea and then commit to that idea. No matter what, this is the idea you will follow through until you reach “the end.”
Here are some of Joe’s ideas for the exercise of coming up with a lot of ideas:
What can I write? I just finished a story in first person and it went really well. What else can I write in first person? What other story can I tell about this character? What story will showcase my skills and personal voice?
What story will help me become a better writer? Can I write a better first person story? Should I experiment with third-person? Or even second-person? Should I write from the perspective of a child? Or a woman? In other words: How can I test my skills with my next story?
What does my audience want to read? Right now, I’m writing for literary magazines. What kinds of stories do the editors of literary magazines want to read? How can I tailor my story to suit their needs?
What do I want to write about?What have I been thinking a lot about lately? What is going on in my life that I need to process? What experience from my childhood needs to be mined for meaning? Is there a story that I need to tell?
Courtney Carpenter of Writer’s Digest offers three really important questions to ask yourself before selecting your story idea:
Is this a story you can write?Do you have the experience, insight, understanding, and voice necessary to address this story to this audience? If not, can you acquire those skills?
What are your qualifications?Do you possess the skills to write authoritatively about the subject, background, or time period you’ve chosen?
What drawbacks will you face in writing this story?Where can you find the additional resources and information you need to make your story believable?
Start with the exercise of writing down as many ideas as possible and then apply your answer to these questions to those ideas and narrow your focus.
Finally, put yourself in the shoes of April from Chasing Life and imagine that you only have time for one story. What should that story be?
April learned that the big publishing houses were not supportive of what she was compelled to write and even if they were, the time frame of idea to book-in-hand was far longer than she imagined.
One more benefit of the self-publishing process. I like to tell my authors that if you have a dream of writing and publishing a story, self-publishing is the most efficient way to get that idea in the form of a book you can sell.
Bottom Line: It all starts with an idea. What will be your next story?