What to Write Next?

Michelle Ule

Blogger: Michelle Ule

Sitting in for the traveling Wendy Lawton

I’ve spent most of the last week in a flu delirium haunted by a nagging question, “what to write next?”

As I floated in and out of consciousness, heroines whose lives I lived whispered and beckoned.

What did they want?

Completion? (Will Trish ever get off that attic beam?)

Consideration (What happened when David returned from being listed DOA not MIA?)

Recalculation (How can I update Confessions of a Rejection Writer?)

But as my mind has cleared (hopefully), I’m asking the same question many of you may be asking: what do I write next?

Four things to consider when deciding what manuscript to write next.write next

Here are some suggestions on how to choose.

What does your agent (or your knowledgeable friends) suggest you write next?

Four years ago I was in this same place.

I’d spent 2012 writing two historical novellas and one outlier Navy SEAL novel.

In January, I made arrangements to discuss what to write next with my agent.

Since my agent is also my boss at Books & Such, we decided to have our meeting at the end of the business day.

At 11 o’clock, she got a phone call from an editor in New York looking for someone to write a World War I inspirational romance.

Janet and I discussed some ideas–hardly believing it possible–before I suggested the Oswald Chambers story.

“What story?” Janet asked.

“He basically led a revival among the ANZAC troops in Egypt during the war. There’s an inspiring story for you.”

“Can you write it?” she asked.

When your agent asks a question like that, you have only one answer: “Yes.”

What is your brand?

If you’re unpublished, you’re free: write whatever you like.

If you’ve established yourself in a particular genre, you need to stay there and build your writing life in that genre.

I’d been writing inspirational historical novellas, writing a novel about World War I was well within the scope of my “brand.”

But the stories haunting me in my delirium were not historical fiction–they were the novels I wrote before I was published.

They’re all women’s contemporary novels.

What to do?

I’ll think about it when my brain is truly clear–and after I’ve talked with my agent!

Do you have old manuscripts that meet any of the above criterion?

write next

I’ll spare you this one

As a matter of fact, I have one.

It’s a Civil War novel I’ve researched, thought about, outlined and recast several times.

I also promised it to two friends who have researched with me.

It’s always there nagging me and IS in my genre.

I’ll think about it tomorrow.

What do you really need to be spending your time on in 2017?

In my case, 2017 is the year of Biddy and Oswald Chambers.

(In actuality, the fifth year of focusing on them!)

Mrs. Oswald Chambers (a biography) releases in October; I need to spend this year preparing for that launch.

As to what else I’ll be writing?

Everything I’ve written for publication has come from a prompt.

I’m sure whatever God wants me to write next will turn up–at His right time.

I’m not worried at all.

What about you? What are you writing in 2017? And why?

Tweetables

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36 Responses

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  1. Michelle, I’m so sorry you were so sick with the flu! There are some nasty bugs going around this year. Sigh.
    *For 2017, I’m going to be finishing up a story, and, hopefully, writing the next one. I’m excited about both of them….now to open up consistent time for writing. 🙂
    *Your WW1 story sounds fascinating!

  2. Michelle, you’ve given me inspiration with the first words in this post.
    * My next book will be called “The Traveling Wendy Lawton”, the story of a literary agent who witnesses the kidnapping of a refugee girl in San Francisco. When the girl’s family refuses to testify and the police show little interest, Ms. Lawton is moved to take matters into her own hands by mobilizing the resource she knows best…and her stable of detective novelists goes to work, for real and for keeps. In a pursuit that leads from California to the sleepy Midwest to deadly glittering Miami Beach, Wendy learns that it can be hard to tell the guilty from the indifferent, and that standing up to evil can come at a cost far higher then blood.
    * Here’s hoping that the flu’s after effects depart quickly, and that the Civil War novel does see the light of day!

  3. Aww, I’m sorry you’re sick!!
    I’m writing the 3rd in a 3 book series set in and around Flagstaff, Arizona. Unfortunately, my favourite part of Flagstaff, “Flag” to the uninformed, is the Panda Express near the Riordan Mansion.
    Okay, it’s not my FAVOURITE favourite part of Flag, but close!!
    Ahem, moving on…
    I know what my beloved agent, Saint Mary Keeley, wants me to tackle next. But I’m not going to say, just in case I get my big break with the Tap Dancing Amish Chiropractor Meets A Space Alien At El Capitan romantic thriller that I’ve hidden away.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Jennifer, you should have Mary see if Cerrillo Press will pick up that Southwestern romantic thriller. It’s a possibility….It has a better chance than you’d have finding gas between Roswell and Vaughn.

      • Carol, I’ve spent a wee bit of time driving from ABQ to Fort Sumner (40 East to the 84, then south an hour or so). A long stretch of ranch gates, 3 trees, and nothing else!!
        I have wanted to hit Roswell, as well as Pie Town!
        I’ve been to a mesa above Belen a few times, and chatted with a droll, witty, and freaky smart writer buddy and his lovely wife. We sat in the shade though, due to my ‘subterranean life form’ shade of skin. Ahhh, cold Pepsi and great conversation.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        You drove right past our road off Old 66 and probably a few hundred antelope before you got to Ft. Sumner. Next time you come to NM, be sure to flag me and we can get together. I live on the east side of the Sandias at 6700 feet, and we actually have forest here.

    • Carol, that would be great!! Thank you!

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    These are good guidelines, Michelle, and two of them describe right where I am: established brand and unreleased manuscripts. The novel I published in November is a story of “deep-seated conflict and difficult friendships that lead to love as one of the main characters discovers the joy of following Jesus, even when that choice could prove fatal.” The Roman Empire of the early 100s is the perfect venue for culture clashes and life-changing decisions that can get a person killed. Book 1 was the 3rd one I wrote in the series, but I brought it out first to catch the interest in Roman Judea that the new Ben Hur movie should have generated.
    *Right now I’m turning the first one I wrote into the polished version to be released next. The tagline is right on brand: “Sometimes you have to almost die to discover how you want to live.”
    *The brand issue is a constant focus for me. I keep writing articles to build platform with my Roman history site for homeschoolers and teachers, whom I hope will be avid readers looking for an exciting Christian historical. If anyone wants to learn how to make garum, the fish sauce loved by the Romans that’s made with fermented fish entrails, you can find that under Cook Like a Roman. I hope it tasted better than it sounds.

    • Michelle says:

      It’s an interesting niche market, Carol, which can be good.

      I assume you’re well aquainted with Francine Rivers’ books. You might take a page from how they’re marketed–especially since they were published in the last century–and see if you have find room there.

      Who was Gladiator aimed at, etc. If you can get some traction and since your brand is a theme rather than a specific genre–I guess it might be inspirational historical as well–that can broaden your parameters in which to write.

      Best wishes!

      • Carol Ashby says:

        *River’s Roman novels probably market themselves without any effort on her part because so many (>2 million) have read and loved them. The end of the first was so emotionally intense that I had to get the second immediately to find out what happened after reading the first chapter of #2 at the end of #1. An obvious marketing lesson in that!
        *Gladiator was aimed more at men wanting an exciting sword-and-sandals experience coupled with excellent acting and believable character development. It was a story of betrayal and vengeance, not rebirth. Probably minimal overlap with my brand, even though there is often some swordplay.
        *The Roman history site has been visited by people in 25 different countries, but most don’t click through to look at the novel at Amazon. If the ones from UK who did would click through to Amazon UK instead of Amazon.com, I’d be able to tell if I had any overseas sales. Who knows? Maybe someone who’s never read a Christian novel before will try one of mine and discover how following Jesus can be worth any price. That’s my prayer.

  5. I’m still waiting for my idea to come. I’m looking, praying … waiting. I’ll know it when I see it … I’d like it to arrive today. 🙂 I have two possibilities, but I need to sit down and brain storm them to see if they really are possibilites.

  6. David Todd says:

    I’m about 5,000 (or maybe less) words away from finishing my novel-in-progress, which will hopefully occur this weekend. At that point, I’ll let it sit a couple of weeks while I go back and make a few revisions to the novel it’s a sequel to. I’ll re-publish that, then edit and publish the sequel.
    .
    After that, I move to five books started, in various stages of completion. I’m researching for my civil war non-fiction, which is about 40% done, and will finish that next. Then on to volume 2 of my workplace humor novel, which sits about 25-30% done and is mostly programmed. After that it will be one of three other non-fiction books started, all less complete. Well, one may be closer to 80% complete, but the last 20% is going to be a killer, so I’ll do other things before it.
    .
    That, along with two short stories tumbling around in the gray cells, will be my 2017 work, and I’m unlikely to accomplish all of this. Clearly I have no brand to expand/defend/enhance. I’m hoping that by 2018 they will find a cure for my Genre Focus Disorder, and I can begin the process of branding.

  7. Fun post today, Michelle, on a topic I’ve banged my head against for a few years. (The H and C on my keyboard have rubbed off onto my forehead.) I’ve published and won awards in both historical and contemporary romance, and enjoy writing both. Lots of prayer directed toward a decision to pick one, and never an answer to helpful friends asking, “Which genre do you like best?” I believe the answer came this winter and I’m discussing it with my agent on Friday. Until then, I’m up to my ears in a 1910 silent-picture Western drama. And I’ve learned they weren’t called silent pictures until after talkies came out. Makes sense. Close to your Oswald Era.

    • Michelle says:

      So hard that would be, Davalynn, and a conversation with your editor is an excellent idea, of course.

      How do you determine the will of God? Examine Scripture, check the circumstances, get counsel and wait for peace.

      And of course, walking through open doors. Best wishes, co-writer!

  8. This is so timely for me, Michelle! I am in that “between” place right now. The book that I wrote in 2015 and launched in 2016 is on shelves, so it’s time to write my next book. I have a topic, but am not exactly sure how to shape it and keep getting stuck. I finally figured out what has been hindering me. Fear! Fear of making myself vulnerable again (because it will be another devotional that flows from a very personal story), fear that this time no one will want it, fear that I won’t write this book as well as I wrote the last one, fear of upsetting people when they read the book and learn things about me that they had no idea about…

    So my answer to your question is, I am pushing past the fear so I can write another devotional-that-sometimes-reads-like-a-memoir. At first I didn’t know why I wanted to write it. Because I felt pressured to put another book out there? Because people keep asking, “What’s next for you”? Now I know that I’m writing it because God has taught me some new things, so I have something to say!

    Thank you for this very helpful post.

    • Lara Hosselton says:

      Jeanette, our stories are a bit like our children in that each of them are different… created in their own unique way. The love and discipline that worked well with one child, might not work as well with the next and just because you use a different parenting technique doesn’t mean you’ve failed or are any less of a parent. So can be true when writing. Don’t look back, don’t compare, just do what you love.

    • Michelle says:

      And you still have a little flexibility, Jeanette, but how wise to consider a project that plays to the two strongs suits of your first book. Your agent, too, will know what’s best for the project you have in mind.

      Best wishes and guard your heart while you write it out.

  9. 2017 is the year that I’m bound and determined to finish a YA novel that I started in 2008 and “finished” in 2010 and have never actually sent out a query for. Even if it never gets published, I’m going to give this lost and forgotten story my very best before starting something fresh and new … which will either be a comedic romance about a wildlife photographer who loses her Scottish terrier in the wilds of Yellowstone and must outwit a hovering park ranger in order to find her pup … or the story of an all boy household who gets a huge girl puppy who turns out to be the ultimate princess and not nearly as fierce as they’d hoped. Did you visit Yellowstone last summer, Kristen? Um… Do you own a huge and wimpy 90lb princess dog, Kristen? Um… Hey, life is art, right? Whether I’ll get to these new ideas in 2017 … that is a really good question. We’ll see how long this old story holds out before I can smash the poor thing into shape!

    • Michelle says:

      Don’t underestimate the time between writing and finishing, Kristen. Stories I’ve sorted out in my mind for decades still are languishing on paper–not quite finished. You’ve learned a lot in writing the story down and now in editing, or even reediting.

      Writing is a craft and I cringe when I review the past, except I know the truth kernel from which the story came remains eternal. I’m just growing up every day–as a writer, but also as a believer.

      Best wishes and go for . . . all of it! 🙂

  10. Kiersti says:

    Thanks, Michelle! This was timely, as I’ve just finished a manuscript–though it still needs plenty of revision–but this “what to write next” question has definitely been on my mind. I know what I think I want to write next, but don’t know for sure if it’s what I should…so yes, definitely will be asking my agent sometime in the next few months. 🙂 But these questions are helpful reminders to run through.

    And so interesting that most of your stories have come from prompts! Blessings. 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      I’d guess, Kiersti, that you’re writing from a different place in life these days and what pulls at the chords of your writing heart may be different than what motivated you with the manuscript you’ve just finished.

      You might keep that in mind while you pray and consider where you want to take your words, dreams and ideas next.

      A little humbling the stories all came from prompts. Have I no imagination? LOL

  11. I’m glad you’re on the mend!

    This year WILL be the year I finish my WIP. My real desire is to finish the first draft in the first quarter of 2017. The rest of the year would then be spent polishing, polishing, polishing, then pitching, pitching, pitching.

    I’m at roughly 57,000 words now, and since it’s a historical fiction, I know I need at least 90,000 to really round out the story. If I am discipline, focused and adapt the B.I.C. technique, I know it can be done.