Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I open this blog to discuss the writing craft and what it means to be a writer, the stuff hardly anybody else talks about.

I’ve now had books published for four decades, and almost every time I’ve put a book to bed, I’ve known exactly what I wanted to write next. In fact, I could hardly wait to get started. But not this time.

Oh, I have plenty of ideas. Most writers do. There are books I can write, but nothing that won’t wait. There’s a nonfiction book so far along in development that I have a huge box of reference books getting in the way under my desk. Two potentially strong characters each want to have a book, perhaps a series each. They’re also happy to wait.


When not writing, I’m a shopaholic online and off, whether for myself or as gifts. One day a friend, AJ Macpherson, writing as Maggie Gilbert – – shared the rule she uses to decide whether to buy a particular item. Is it a gotta wanna must have? Running potential purchases through this filter saves me a ton of money and shopping mistakes.

Can this useful phrase help you decide what to write next? Is this project a gotta wanna must write?

If an idea has stuck around for months or years without pushing you to write it, then the answer might well be no. The best stories are those that keep you awake at night thinking about them. The best characters are the ones insisting you write about them.

A gotta wanna must write story doesn’t give you a choice.

Successful New York Times’ best selling author, Chuck Wendig, says the answer is to “art harder”. Bryce Courtenay recommended “bum glue” – sticking your anatomy to the seat of the chair and getting on with it. Both work – some of the time.

But at a time when the book market is awash with books, either indie published by their authors, or trad pubbed, does bum glue work? Yes and no.

Thinking about writing doesn’t get anything written, far less your master work. And as you battle to get the words down, you can’t know whether you’re writing a bestseller or wasting your time. Not one successful author knew which they were writing. Not J K Rowling, not George R R Martin. Not even Shakespeare. Okay, maybe James Patterson, but he’s in a category all by himself.

Beacon Earthbound, Book 3 in my sci-fi series is out May 12

Beacon Earthbound, Book 3 in my sci-fi series is out May 12

There are three things you can do to get yourself moving again.

  1. Stop fretting and write.

In this, Chuck Wendig is right. The harder you art, the more likely you are to stumble on what you need to be writing. It may mean discarding the current words and tackling something else, but at least you’ll know what you don’t want to write.

  1. Fall in love with the words you’re writing now.

Writing books is like an arranged marriage. Sometimes you have to take the step and hope to fall in love later. Many times, a publisher has asked me for a book that is far from a gotta wanna must write, but I’ve taken on the project and surprised myself by enjoying the journey. Not always. The book I was asked to write about doing your own plumbing comes  to mind (yes, it was a real thing). However, saying yes to that project made me determined to write books I could put my heart into, leading to a long career as a romance novelist.

  1. Don’t be afraid to stop writing

If you’re a born writer, and only you know that, the drought won’t last forever. I was there when writers of the stature of Morris West announced their retirement from writing. Yeah, sure, whatever. You’ll be back. And they were. Story ideas will nag at you until one becomes that magic thing – a gotta wanna must write. Then you’ll be lucky if you can art hard enough to keep up. Welcome back, writer.

Are you struggling to find your next project, or to finish one that’s gone cold on you? Share your thoughts in the comments box below so we can all benefit. This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


PS Since writing this blog, a new idea pushed its way into my head – a gotta wanna must write idea. Stay Tuned!

On Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

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Beacon Starfound OUT NOW

Beacon Earthbound released MAY 12

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Full list of titles and publication dates








Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring May 2016 – what to write next when you don’t have a clue" (3)

  1. What? No comments yet? Where is everybody? Writing a gotta wanna must write? The Faith half of this team just finished one of those. The Joy half is wondering about being able to come back… Both of us have been discussing the book series we’ve been wanting to write together since almost forever, but Joy says it’s hard to start with two. The Faith half wrote a book set in our mythical kingdom years ago (which still languishes amongst the unsent, unpublished). But back when there were three of us, we invented the place, and it’s been with us ever since. Joy thinks because John isn’t on earth any more, we can’t get started. Faith agrees that could be part of the problem. Also, having moved since we began, umpteen years ago, we still haven’t located the maps Faith drew. (They must be around here somewhere. Unless the movers lost them. Like our piano bench.)

    Joy prefers writing on a typewriter. (Know of any place one can find typewriter ribbons for an old Underwood?) Faith manages just fine with anything from a quill pen to a computer.

    So what’s holding us back? We know we want to write the book(s). We have vague characters drifting around in our brains. (The characters in the book Faith wrote probably wouldn’t translate well from their tiny island to the mainland.) We have all kinds of information about the place–names, inhabitants, cultures… We know they’re mysteries. Not suspense. Not romances (although some romance may definitely be in them). Not fantasies. Not science fiction. Not “women’s fiction” or westerns or literary fiction. Just…mysteries with a comic twist, set in a fictional country of our own devising, hopefully amusing.

    Have you any advice for us, o great Bard of the Romance Genre (who has thankfully escaped from writing about plumbing)? We wait anxiously with bated breath.

    Marion & Barbara

    PS Congratulations on your new gotta wanna must write! 🙂

    • Hi Marion and Barbara, some days are quiet, people busy. They still drop by and read, which is fine by me. I’ll do my best to help. I hear that you may be feeling John’s absence more keenly than you’re acknowledging to yourselves. Can well understand that. Are the stories those you worked on together? Or have you tried some new stories that work better for the two of you? How you write – typewriter, quill or computer – doesn’t matter as much as IF you write. Creating your fictional world may also have been enough to satisfy your creative urges. Could you try writing something completely different? That worked for me going from romance to sci-fi, like a breath of fresh air. Our creative brains love new challenges.Play with some flash fiction – 700 words for a complete story. Or come up with brand new characters and a new part of your island world. My Beacon sci-fi series is set in my world of Carramer but in a province I’d never used before, but always knew I would. Create a new part of your world and play in it. That’s the beauty of our own worlds, we are the benevolent dictators and can do whatever we want. Let me know if any of these thoughts are helpful. Hugs and best luck to you both.

      • Yes, they are helpful, and we really appreciate it! Very good advice. We were actually brainstorming while in traffic on the way home tonight, and did come up with a new character whose storyline will be interesting, we think. Who knows if this will turn out to be a mystery…. It might just turn into a romance! OR a romantic mystery. Or…. We discovered, while brainstorming, that she’s an American who’d gone to the islands to visit a friend from college, and, while there, had to fill in as music teacher at one of the public schools after the music teacher was murdered (and yes, this occurred to Faith as she was typing this to you!). And is now staying on a work visa. Aha. Now. Who was the music teacher and why was he or she killed? And how much do we need to know about British public schools? Research!
        Thank you so much!
        Hugs from Marion & Barbara

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