January 9, 2018

What to Write Next: Playing Favorites

Field of identical-looking sunflowers with text: Can We Play Favorites with Our Writing?

The vast majority of us will write more than one story during our writing career. Even if we think we have just one “story of our heart” that we’re eager to get onto the page, we’re likely to get bitten by the writing bug during that experience and discover we have more to say.

That means at some point in our career, we’ll have to decide what we’re going to write next. The question then becomes, how do we decide?

The Logical Approach to Making Our Decision

I’ve written before about some of the things we need to keep in mind when making that decision:

Do We Have Contracts or Other Obligations?

Sometimes that might mean that we have to work on X when we’re really in the mood to write Y. In that situation, the best we could do is find a way to be excited about X.

Or we might work backward from our deadline to figure out how many words a day (or week) we need to write. Then we could let ourselves play with our preferred story after we’ve met that word count goal on our contracted work.

What Would Be Best for Our Career?

This consideration can be a little trickier, but focusing on our goals might help:

  • If we’re focused on income, we might pick the idea that’s in line with current trends or work on our most successful series.
  • If we’re focused on keeping our readers happy, we might pick the idea our readers have been asking about the longest or the loudest.
  • If we have different goals (expand our reach, explore a new genre, feel accomplished, etc.), we might go for the unexpected.

What Do We Feel Passionate about Right Now?

Ah, now we’re starting to get away from letting logic run the show. Let’s dig deeper into the possibilities and discover how we can tap into our emotions even when we have to make our decision based on logic. *smile*

Writing Is Emotional—What Do Our Emotions Say?

If we don’t have obligations or if several of our ideas would help with our goals, we might decide based on gut instinct. In that case, we can ask ourselves if there’s one idea we’re more excited about.

In that post from a few years ago, I brought up that we can ask ourselves why are we excited?

  • Is it a “stronger” story idea?
  • Does it resonate more with us plot, theme, or character-wise?
  • Do we feel more confident that we’d be able to finish it?
  • Does it speak to or seem more helpful to our current mood?
  • Or is it just a shiny distraction because we’ve gotten to the hard part of our current idea?

But I recently thought of another reason that might play into our emotions: playing favorites.

Playing Favorites with Our Writing

A common description writers use for their writing projects is to compare them to babies. We might take rejection, negative reviews, or criticism personally because we feel so connected to our stories and characters—as though they were our children.

Logically, of course, it’s not healthy to view our writing that way—no one likes their children being criticized after all. But there’s another reason why it might be a bad idea to make the stories-equals-kids comparison: favoritism.

Most parents try to avoid playing favorites with their kids. So if we’re taking the stories-as-kids idea to its logical conclusion, we might think that we’re also not allowed to have favorites of our writing (whether that’s blog posts, articles, stories, or characters).

The truth, however, is that we’re allowed to have favorites with our writing. In fact, the more we know about our favorites, the easier it might be to write—or work on projects that are more about the logical reasons above than passion.

Do You Have Favorites?

We hope we won’t ever hate something we write, but there are many reasons why we might have favorites among things we love:

  • Maybe one project feels rushed or less developed due to deadlines.
  • Maybe one character was difficult to dig into, and we’re never sure if we got to the real heart of their issues.
  • Maybe one story was absolute hell to write (or another one super easy).
  • Maybe one story required us to slog through research (or another one gave us an excuse for interesting research).
  • Maybe we related to one character extra well, or we’d choose them as our best friend.
  • Maybe one villain was super-entertaining to write.
  • Maybe one story’s themes or messages resonate deeply with us.
  • Maybe we pushed ourselves to finish the project, but we never felt the passion for the topic that we hoped for.
  • Etc., etc.

In other words, it really is okay if we feel more strongly about some of our writing projects than others.

Our Favorites Can Give Us Clues

Here on my blog, I have over 750 posts, and you’d better believe that I have favorites. *smile* I have opinions about which posts are more helpful, or which ones I’m most proud of, etc.

Can “playing favorites” help us decide what to write next? Click To TweetThe same can apply to our fiction writing. While I love all my stories and characters, there are some I’m more proud of, or some that are “easier” to love (such as with less hair-pulling-out baggage).

So when we’re trying to decide on our next writing project, it’s okay to think about what past projects have been our favorites and try to figure out why. Those reasons might hint at which of our options for a future project might become a new favorite.

My Favorites: Understanding and Insights

Let me share a bit about my favorites to show what we might learn. Again, I love all my stories and characters, but there’s one story that always pops into my head first when I think of my favorite.

With some of my stories, I might love my heroine just a bit more than the hero, or vice versa. Or I might love the main plot more than the subplot, or I might still shudder to think of the drafting or editing process, etc.

With Ironclad Devotion, the third novel in my Mythos Legacy series:

  • I love the hero and heroine equally
  • I’m proud to have succeeded with such an “unlikable” heroine
  • I like how the story delves into healthy family relationships beyond just the romance (the heroine’s foster dad is my all-time favorite secondary character)
  • the worldbuilding was great fun to play with, going further than the other stories in the series
  • the story was relatively straightforward to draft
  • editing was a breeze, with so few changes from my editors that I was concerned they hadn’t done as thorough a job as usual (because I can’t leave well enough alone *rolls eyes*)
  • it also won the biggest award of my stories so far, winning the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award for Paranormal Romance

In other words, this story brings up nothing but good memories for me. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my “best” story as far as readers are concerned, but for me, there’s no negative baggage.

It’s easy to think good thoughts about it, so it’s no surprise that it pops into my head as a favorite.

What Can Our Favorites Tell Us about Potential Projects?

But what can I learn from that? When deciding between potential projects, I might look for ideas where:

  • I feel strongly about the hero and heroine.
  • I’m excited to take on a challenging aspect of the premise.
  • The story includes extra depth in secondary aspects, especially in regards to family or other themes that resonate with me.
  • The story lets me play with worldbuilding more than I have before., etc.

Of course, none of that guarantees one story idea would be easier to write or edit than another (much less that awards would follow), but this exercise did get me to think about what aspects I love most about each of my stories. That knowledge might help me include more of those aspects in whatever stories I decide to write—and that’s my point.

If we get away from feeling like we’re not allowed to have favorites, we can analyze what favorites we have or what our favorite aspects of each of our projects are. We might then learn more about what we enjoy writing (or what we don’t enjoy).

The more we know about ourselves and our writing, the easier time we might have with debates between projects. Or we might be able to tweak our ideas to hit more of those favorite elements.

If we’re feeling stuck by obligations or a need to continue a series for readers’ sake, we might struggle to feel excitement about our writing. With the knowledge of what makes certain projects our favorites, we might be able to bring those elements out in any story, enabling us to enjoy our work more, no matter the circumstances—always a good thing. *smile*

Do you have favorite writing projects? Or do you feel guilty about “playing favorites”? If you have a favorite, what makes it your favorite? Are there some elements that are your favorite in any story situation? Could you bring out those or similar elements in future writing ideas?

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Deborah Makarios

This is a really interesting idea!
I find I’m drawn to stories where people realize that the right thing to do is impossible – but it’s the right thing to do so they do it anyway!
My current prime directive is to Finish What I’ve Started. So I published the fantasy novel Restoration Day last week, and next up (once i catch up on a bit of housework) is finishing a detective ghost-story stage farce.

Clare O\'Beara
Clare O\'Beara

Yes we can have favourites of course. Skipping between series can stop you going stale. But it can also be hard to get back into the mindset of characters when you return to them, even your favourites. Re-read the most recent book in that series.

Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane

Oh, I don’t believe I have favorites per se, since I love every story for different aspects. But usually, my “current favorite” is the story I’m working on right now, and indeed, my WIP is my present favorite. I tend to love stories with significant friendship and sometimes family dynamics, so not just romantic relationships. My latest stories also have more LGBT+ characters. My WIP might have the most trans characters out of all my stories so far too. Sometimes, just sometimes, I favor my trans characters over my cis characters, haha.


[…] Writers usually have a ton of ideas they want to work on. So how do you decide what your next project should be? Jami Gold tells us to play favorites when deciding what to write next. […]

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