Writing and Publishing

How to Always Know What to Write

By following these four simple steps writers should always be ready to write

A common complaint among writers is not knowing what to write. With a dearth of ideas they procrastinate, wasting time at the keyboard or even failing to sit down. They wait for inspiration or need a looming deadline to motivate them. And this is seldom the situation to produce our best work.

By knowing what to write next, we can avoid not writing when we intend to write. Here are four tips:

1) Don’t Trust Your Memory: I used to think I could remember my great ideas. Sometimes I did; usually, I didn’t. For a while, I deluded myself into thinking the good ideas would come back. I don’t think they did. I’ve lost many a blog post this way but no more. Now I document my ideas.

Once I envisioned a novel. I had a theme, an arc, a chapter outline, the characters, pivotal dialogue, and plot twists. It was so clear, so compelling, that I thought I would remember it forever. I was wrong. After a few distractions over a couple of weeks, I forgot everything except a vague concept and the opening line: “George was dead.” And so was the novel. Instead, I should have made notes along the way.

2) Keep a List: Since I no longer rely on my memory to keep my ideas alive, I have a running list. Actually I have multiple lists: one for blog posts, another for short stories, one for each content marketing client, and another one for book ideas. These lists have a mixture of ideas, concepts, titles, talking points, or an outline. As an item on my book list takes shape over time, I’ll pull it off the list and give it its own file.

With these resources at my ready, I always have something to write.

3) Do It Right Away: It amazes me how fleeting an idea can be, especially if two or more hit me at once. Write down ideas on your list as soon as they come to you; don’t delay. My list is on my computer, and if I can’t access my computer when the idea comes to me, I note it on my smartphone, leave a voicemail message, scribble a note, or repeat the idea until I can document it.

Often ideas will come to me when I am working on something else. For example, the four points of this post came to me a couple of weeks ago when writing a different one.  I jotted them down and will have them for later. And a title and outline for a future post just came to me now.

4) Know Your Key Idea Times: When I finish one piece it is often the best time to make notes for the next one. I have finished writing, but my mind is still in a creative mode. That’s when new ideas often come. The shower is another idea-generating place for me, as is going for a walk or doing any mindless activity. By being especially alert to these key moments, I am looking for ideas and primed to capture them.

However, these are all backup systems for me. Often when I sit down to write, I ask myself, “What do you feel like writing today?” Usually, a fresh thought will hit me within seconds, and then I write. If nothing comes to mind I pull up my idea list and pick one of the items there.

Either way, I am able to immediately write when it is time to do so.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

4 replies on “How to Always Know What to Write”

Good post, Peter.
I like your four main ideas and your “click to tweet” sentence.

Though I am doing more editing than writing lately, still, sparks come to me as I work on a specific topic, or even ideas for other parts of the book. Most end up on the page, expending or complementing the topic. If not, I file them as possible posts for my blog or even Facebook..
Many ideas come to me before I fall asleep or if I wake in the middle of the night. They usually disappear by the time morning comes. So, I have a pad and pen next to me and even in the dark I can jot down a sentence or just a few words.and phrases. Next morning, I make sure to make those thoughts more clear and concrete and either include them to something I am working on or file them as future ideas.

I also have a folder with cut pages from magazines or newspapers with wisdom that I want my grandchildren to read as they grow older. I plan to incorporate them in my memoirs.

Have a wonderful weekend, Peter,
I always appreciate your wisdom.

I keep paper and pen on my nightstand as it seems most of my ideas come as I’m drifting off to sleep. I started writing ideas and scenes for a novel a couple years ago and kept building the list. Now I am starting that novel and I’m so glad I jotted down those notes.

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