How to Choose What to Write

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I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head. The main characters vary; some are children with a really big secret, a woman whose friendship is about to take a startling turn for the worse, and a woman who remembers only fragments of the time she was kidnapped as a child and is trying now, as an adult, to put the pieces together.

I have many more ideas, and sometimes I’m not sure about which ones are worth my time. I’m learning a lot about which projects are better suited for me to write. For instance, I once wrote a novel that was all narrative voice and no plot. I have a similar idea (where the narrative voice is very strong but there is really no story), and I have decided not to pursue it. But I also have several ideas where I can clearly see the plot, so how do I know which project is the one I should be writing right now?

Well, what I do is try to decide which idea is the most ready. Can I see the characters clearly? Do I know the main character’s motivation? Is the main conflict apparent? Do I know where the story takes place? Do I have a good sense of the story’s tone? But most importantly, can I visualize the beginning, middle, and end (even if only vaguely)? If I can’t answer these questions then that generally means that the story isn’t ready, so I move on to one that is. After I narrow down the idea, I let it simmer for a while; I spend time thinking about the world of the story and imagining the main character in scenes (how do they move? Talk? What kind of place do they live in? Do they have a love interest? Where do they work? Are they really charming? Gorgeous? Hot headed?), and after a couple of weeks of that, the story boils over. I rush to the computer in a frenzy, write five pages or so that seems to have just been poured into my head, stop writing, and then I let the pages sit for a couple of weeks.

When I go back to it I ask myself if what I have on the page feels right; does the main character feel real? Do I buy the world that it’s set in? Does the writing feel authentic? If it doesn’t, I go back to revisualizing the world of the story, but if the pages feel right, that’s when I begin an outline. I know some people who outline before they write (and some who don’t outline at all), but I have to put my main character on the page to figure out who they are before I can decide what they are going to do for an entire length of a novel.

What about you? How do you choose what you are going to write?