Writing Problem: One Project, One Deadline, Too Many Possible Directions

Note: This article was originally published on my blog in October 2009.

A friend of mine came to me recently with a challenge. She was asked to write a book proposal based on a brief article she’d written, but she wasn’t sure which way to go with her story. What direction would make the best book? There were so many ways she could go, but she wasn’t sure which concept would be the most compelling.

Here’s what I suggested.

Writing Exercise: Try Everything

1. Grab a stack of blank 8 ½” x 11” paper. Put it in front of you on an empty table or desk.

2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

3. On your first sheet of paper, write out your first idea for where the story could go. Use big handwriting. Don’t get bogged down. Think high school. Think “thesis statement.” Think movie pitch brevity: three or four sentences, max.

4. Flip the sheet over, face down.

5. On the next sheet, write your next idea.

6. And so on.

7. Keep going, as fast as you can, until the timer goes off.

8. Gather up your completed sheets of paper and slip them into a file folder or drawer.

9. Go do something else for at least two hours. Take a walk or a nap. Call a friend. Watch a movie. If you can, sleep on it.

10. Check your notes, and see which story seems the most compelling to you. That’s your winner.

What do you do with the non-winning ideas?

1. Remember that there are no bad ideas; there are simply ideas that come to you at the wrong time.

2. With that in mind, send your unused ideas to Writing Castaway Island—a box, a file folder or a place on your hard drive where your castoffs can frolic until you have time to spend with them.

As for my friend—she reported back that the exercise was helpful. She came up with a book concept that excited her and made her eager to write.

Leave a Comment