Choosing the Right Project–what’s right for YOU?

As part of my Writing Life, I often ponder the following question:  how do I know which project to write about?  I am usually bombarded with snippets of ideas or “what if’s” or unusual situations that could blossom into a wonderful range of possible projects.  It’s not always easy for me to recognize from that mess of tidbits what is the right idea.  How do I know if an idea is worthy of the amount of time I’m going to spend writing about it?  


When I ask these questions of more established writers, I usually get some variation of the following advice:


  1. Go with the idea that you are most passionate about.  This is the idea that won’t leave you alone.  You find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about it, getting up to jot down a few notes.  
  2. Put away all your ideas, walk away from them for a week or two, and then pull them out again.  Often times, your ideas will weed themselves out when you puzzle over why you ever thought it was a good idea in the first place.  
  3. Throw away the first three ideas, because they’re the obvious ones, and go with the fourth idea.  


That’s what I did when I chose to write about Nell Letterly, my martial artist amateur sleuth.  My fourth idea turned into Nell, a menopausal single mom of a teenager.  


Years ago, one of my critique partners–Dolores Johnson, author of the Mandy Dyer dry cleaner’s series–kept suggesting that I write about a martial artist amateur sleuth.  Dolores had been a journalist specializing in the dry cleaning trade, and she turned her insider information into her wonderful, humorous series.  At the time, I was training in the martial arts while writing adventure science fiction.  Dolores advised–as many writers do–to write what you know about.  Well, I have never journeyed on a spaceship (although I would dearly love to!) but I did rack up many hours in the dojo.  


I decided to give it a try.  I wanted my sleuth to be an instructor.  Most of the instructors I knew were young hotshots, late teens, early twenties, with energy to burn.  So I started writing about a young twenty-something woman martial artist.  After a chapter or two, I ran out of what to write about her.  I just couldn’t get into that character’s head.  She was nothing like me, and I couldn’t understand where she was coming from.  When I came up with a middle-aged mom who was more like me–dedicated and hard working, but not exactly gifted athletically–her character leapt off the page.  


Now, Nell won’t let me alone.  She makes me write about her.  I think she’s become a more original character because she also has something of me in her.  You can’t go wrong with a project that chooses you!  


9 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Project–what’s right for YOU?”

  1. No, you can’t. I feel the same way a lot of times. The story just won’t leave me alone. When I wrote the story that was selected for the LUCKY CHARMS anthology, I intended to write new characters. But I couldn’t get the story started, and then my series characters started talking to me. Why was I trying to give away their story? The minute I gave in, the story started flowing. So yes, sometimes the project chooses you!


  2. Great points! In the first series I wrote (unsold) my protagonist was an ex-cop who was now a taekwondo instructor. I still love those stories. I hope to get a chance to rework them someday.

    My police secretary character was the one who wouldn’t leave me alone. She was the first character who nagged me to tell her story. This was the book that got me an agent.

    And the protagonist in my new series is the same way. She’s making sure I get her story right. I just hope she knows what she’s talking about, lol!

    I’m going to have to read your martial arts book! And Mary–I love your Laurel Highlands stories!


  3. I have a story that’s been following me around for quite some time. I only now figured out how to write it. Must be handy to have a martial artist hanging around. 🙂


  4. Every once in awhile a new idea grabs me and I can’t stop thinking about it. Sometimes I write a page one longhand just to capture the energy, and then I tuck it away for later. When I rediscover the information, I’m always shocked at how I was so gripped by an idea that it took over my spare time (while I was working on something else!). It’s like putting deposits in the idea bank that I can withdraw later.


  5. Totally agree about giving in to the story that wants you to write it!

    See, Mary? That must be why your story was selected!

    Joyce: I hope your ex-cop/taekwondo instructor makes it off your desk! It sounds super to me.

    Theresa, dontcha wish that muse would be a little faster sometimes??

    Diane, I love that — the idea bank!

    Cynthia, a new subgenre??

    Absolutely, Kathleen! Never enough time to write them all (back to work).


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