How do you decide what to write about?
Besides editing and revising, this is probably one of the things I have struggled with the most as a writer.
I will get in the mood to get some good writing done, I’ve eaten so I’m not hungry, I’ve removed all the distractions, I turned off my wifi so I won’t waste time, I have my computer ready to go, but then nothing comes.
What I’ve found, however, is that there are two things that I’ve done (you may be different, but you never know!) which have helped me get that bolt of inspiration.
- Force yourself into a deadline. Whether this means entering into a writing competition, or preparing something for an event (someone’s birthday, or Christmas), having a final deadline forces your mind to sift through the thousands of ideas and finally pick one. If you know it takes you a month to write a 20-page draft, and you have two months to go until the writing competition is over, then you know you have a few days to think, a month to write, then a couple weeks to edit. No matter what your idea is, you have to run with it. Sometimes it’s a great idea at first, other times it’s terrible, but it inspires you to write something else, both are “wins” in my book.
- Get out. I grew up in Utah, so we always had some place breathtaking within driving distance: the Uintah mountains, Arches National Park, sand dunes, mountain lakes, desert plains, red rock canyons. If you’re serious about wanting to write, there is almost no better way to get inspiration than going camping, or at least getting out into nature. Don’t go with a notebook or your phone, don’t worry about taking notes when you have ideas, just let them wash over you as you actually experience the world. Lay down at night and look at how many stars there are. You’ll remember the best ideas when you get back. I’ve always had my best ideas while I was walking a mountain trail, when your mind can think freely without distraction.
Now, imagine combining those two! That’s a recipe for a flood of inspiration. Your mind, your subconscious, has ideas and knows what you will enjoy writing about, you just need to figure out some method of figuring out what they are. Everybody is different, and you may have better methods of opening up your mind and setting your good ideas free, but these two have worked wonders for me.
I’m writing a story with 5 super-powered heroes in it so far there are 2 males and 2 females but should I make the 5th member a male or a female?
Are you actually writing a story, or are you thinking about writing a story?
From the implication of the question, it sounds like you are thinking about it, and haven’t jumped into the actual writing process yet, which is fine. We all need to start somewhere.
However, if the stage you are at is developing the characters and are getting hung up on an (arguably) minor detail, my suggestion would be: forget it.
Write your story with this fifth character in it, but always talk about them using their name, never a pronoun. (FYI, Using a gender-neutral name like Alex will help in this endeavor.) If you do this, you can actually get some concrete plot and character development happening, you will see how they interact with each other (and sometimes surprise you). However, the most important part of this process is realizing how you imagine them in your head. When you go to sleep after writing a few pages in which this character is featured, do you imagine them as a woman? A man? What do you see when you imagine these scenes?
Keep in mind that nobody, not even the greatest of writers, had a perfect book the first time they hacked it out on the keyboard or typewriter. Names, places, events, genders, and even deaths all change in the editing and the revisions. The more important thing is what they’re doing. I don’t care if Harry Potter was Mary Potter, they would be a good character either way.
The only way to get that good character is to start writing.
I’ve written three books but I hate them all after I finish them. How can I break this cycle and meet my own standards?
I think the best thing for you to realize is: you’re not alone.
Writers especially, but every kind of artist has expressed dislike, disgust, and yes, even hatred, of their work when they finish it.
Remember Michelangelo wrote a poem about how much he hated working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And there are numerous examples of the authors we all love saying they didn’t like what they had written. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even disliked writing about Sherlock Holmes so much that he killed the iconic character so he wouldn’t have to anymore.
I think this is a good thing.
I believe it means you have a standard for yourself that is extremely high, which forces you to make the hard decisions in your books that make them better and more engaging.
Think about the alternative option, for a moment.
Imagine if every book you wrote met your standard, however high it is. You sent it to the publisher, (or self-published, whatever you choose to do) in what you believe to be a “good-enough” form, and then never looked at it again. After all, if it meets your standards, what use is there in going back to it? If you’re able to be completely satisfied with your book every time you write one, then you’re either the most talented writer that has ever existed, or you have very low standards, and your books are probably not going to be very interesting.
But if you struggle to meet your own standards, if you end up going back to your books because something “just didn’t feel right” or could have been just a bit better, every book will build on the success and your lessons of the one before it.
The worst thing you can do is to lower your expectations of yourself, and your books.
The “cycle” you describe, seems to be the natural life-cycle of every writer and author. It is a cycle that forces you to improve, to grow, and produce things that people actually want to read.
We’ve all read things that went out as “good enough,” or were written by authors with low standards. They’re forgettable, or memorably terrible.
For a good writer, there are always more ideas we want to force into a book, more events, more conflict, better ways to write a witty line, more imagery. We know what we left out, but the reader only sees the best, the cream off the top, that we only were able to give them after long hours and late nights of hating what we wrote.
All answers can be found on my Quora here.