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What Should I Write?

by Sandra Bishop
MacGregor Literary

What should I write? What should I do next? “What’s Hot?” Should I write that?

I get this exact litany of questions often. And while we’re an agency that prides itself on career management and guiding our authors in their writing journeys, I’ll confess, answering the “Should I write what’s Hot?” question in is not one I ever like to answer too quickly. Honestly, I rarely feel it’s my job to tell an author what to write. On occasion, I’ve discussed what seems to be selling well, and worked together with an author to help them shape an idea or concept to see how it fits, but I don’t think I’ve ever picked up the phone and said “Hey, Jane, you should write the next… .” (Okay, so one time I did that. But it was Amish. And I was right, because it fit the author perfectly AND it seemed clear the buggy wasn’t going back to the barn anytime soon.)

But it’s rare. And not at all helpful to a beginning author who may be wondering where to start.

The question “what should I write next” should, of course, take market trends into consideration on some level. But, rarely, if ever, should a new writer attempt to tackle jumping into the fiction scene by trying to predict what the next hot genre will be.

There is so much speculation about what editors need these days of book-over-abundance. By the time your novel is complete, it’s likely the market will have shifted anyway.

It’s always a good idea to strive for high concept, the big idea, the “hooky” concept – regardless of what’s hot. But, all that aside, every author needs to write stories that inspire them to want to dig into research and keep writing.

Start with – and as you progress, don’t ever abandon — choosing a setting, a character, a time and/or place that engages your curiosity and energizes you, compels you, disturbs you, makes you mad, brings you joy. Makes you want to research and learn and write.

Whether you stumble across a piece of history that makes your heart race, or you are deeply moved when visiting a contemporary locale, and find yourself saying, “oh, what I could do with this setting in a novel…” Write it!

At first, don’t ask if it’s important or what someone else might think. Get into the location and figure out why it drove you to want to know more. Stories are everywhere! Get out your writer shovel and dig until you find one.

When you encounter a character on the train or in the mall or at your child’s school whose actions compel you to stop and watch – whether it’s how they engage with another person, or move, or seem especially content, or agitated, or aware or unaware of the world around them- and say to yourself, “Wow, if I could only figure out how to create a story around a character like him…” Set to it!

Think about what diabolical or perilous or hopeless situation you could put this poor stranger in that would have him or her end up or start out right where you found them.

Regarding genre, there are exceptions, but I like to recommend to new writers to stick to the tried and true genres. Doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to pitch that particular first work when the time comes, but writing in a genre that’s established gives you a better chance of figuring out the “rules” so that later, you’ll have more confidence – and possible credibility – for bending them.

In the end, in my view, good novels are and will always inspire readers to feel moved in some regard while they read – and perhaps even after they’ve put the book down, or clicked the “off” button.

But that connection between reader and writer is best made when it starts with writer choosing to dig into that something/someone/somewhere that inspires them on a personal level. I find it amazing, and true how it’s often the most personal and smallest of things which we also find are the most universal.

A writer’s first job is to tell the best, most inspired story they can, and, for the most part, let the market worry about itself.


Sandra Bishop is the Vice President of MacGregor Literary. Visit the agency website at www.macgregorliterary.com. You may also visit Sandra and the other MacGregor Literary agents on Facebook.

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5 Responses to What Should I Write?

  1. Rick Barry says:

    Sandra, thanks for this. I, too, have often compared story ideas to buried gold. I ask the Lord to show me where to dig.

    Perhaps part of your value as coach is to suggest what NOT to write? In your career you will likely realize which waves have crested and begun collapsing before a writer would.

    Blessings to you!

  2. Thanks, Sandra, for the suggestion that we newbies stick with the tried-and-true genres. When Big Name Author writes something different and exciting, it’s tempting to think that we can and should do the exact same thing. And maybe someday we can.

  3. Cara Putman says:

    Great advice on a tricky topic, Sandra!

  4. Sandra Bishop says:

    I’m curious … how do YOU decide what to write next.

  5. I will simply say awesome. Writers should also be an observant, look out for what is happening on d street and develop ur writing from there. Writers are d voice and u must speak to d people through ur writing.