By Brian Kaufman
Perhaps you just finished work on a successful project and wonder what sort of book can match the emotional impact of the one you just finished. Or maybe you are amid fielding rejections and wonder if you’re writing in the wrong genre.
There are variations of the questions you face, but they all boil down to two words—what next?
The question assumes you don’t have a contractual or strategic answer, like a book deal or an ongoing series. If so, you may come to envy the freedom that my central question implies.
I have two answers for you. The first answer is, do something different.
This might not be good advice from a marketing perspective. Projects are best staged to build and support previous work so that the release of a new book is a marketing tool for your backlist. But doing something different is great for your writing.
My poet wife once announced her attention to write a villanelle—a nineteen-line poem with two recurring rhymes. (The one you know is Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.) I asked her why on earth, anyone would ever do such a thing. Her answer was simple. “It’s new, and I need to stretch.” Enough said.
My second answer to the question of your next project has to do with your calling as a writer.
If you have more than one book in you, then you may have a project that you’ve been keeping on a back shelf, waiting for the skills to pull it off. Or perhaps you have a vague idea of writing the perfect book. Or the Great American Novel. Or maybe just a book that matters.
I had three such books in mind. One was a multi-chapter, multi-character novel that I couldn’t wrap my head around in any structural way. The second was an epic historical. The research and plotting seemed beyond my abilities. The third book had a touchy theme that might prove too contentious.
Then my folks passed, one after the other. That kind of loss will give you pause.
I started writing when I was twelve. More than five decades had gone by, and I still hadn’t written the books I was meant to write. So, I got busy.
If you have bucket list projects that have been on the back shelf, let me encourage you to get busy yourself.
If, on the other hand, you have a desire to write an important book but don’t know exactly what that looks like, here are a few ideas to help your thought process:
- Poke a wound. If a subject makes you uncomfortable, touches a raw nerve, or leaves you conflicted, then that subject is worth exploring.
- Remember what made you want to write. Was it a certain kind of story? A theme that resonates with you on a cellular level? That’s an excellent place to start your project search.
- Change the world. Is there a cause you believe in more than any other? (I’m not suggesting you write a polemic. In fact, you might even start with the other side of your issue, knowing that by fully understanding counter-arguments, you can avoid a superficial story.)
- Reveal the meaning of life. Aristotle said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Literature gives us both good and bad truths. Tell us yours.
- Write something beautiful. The world is full of ugly things. Balance the scales a little.
The search for your next project can improve your skills, put a checkmark on your bucket list, or change the world. Don’t let the search frighten or frustrate. A world of possibilities awaits!