Deciding What to Write

By Linda O. Johnston

 If you’re a writer, how do you decide what to write?

 Often, it’s the kind of story you love to read:  romance, mystery, paranormal, historical fiction, whatever. That makes sense.

 Or maybe something you believe others will want to read, so it’ll sell well. But that’s not something totally predicable. So I go with what I enjoy.

 With me, my preferences have changed over the years. Oh, I’ve always enjoyed romances, romantic suspense and mysteries. I’m not as much into historical stories as I used to be.  Same regarding paranormal stories.

 But you could probably tell what my favorite stuff was at any time of my life in the past many years by seeing what I’ve written!

 My first published fiction was a short story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I won the Robert L. Fish Award for first published short story! Yes, it was a mystery of sorts, a humorous one: “Different Drummers.”

 My first published novels consisted of time travel romance, and most revolved around places or things I particularly liked. For example, one of them, Point in Time, took place in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. Another took place in Alaska, in the Klondike, and I’ve always loved visiting there: The Ballad of Jack O’Dair. And of course there’s Once a Cavalier, featuring my babies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

 I wrote other paranormal romances too, including Stranger on the Mountain, and the Alpha Force miniseries I created for Harlequin Nocturne, about a military unit of shapeshifters.

 I loved paranormal romance! But notice that’s in the past tense. So is my focus on paranormal stories. I still read some, but I’m not writing any now.

 I’d always enjoyed mysteries and romantic suspense. I still do—and that’s in the present tense!

 That’s why I write them both: romantic suspense for Harlequin Romantic Suspense—and formerly for Harlequin Intrigue—and mysteries, over time, for multiple publishers including Berkley and Midnight Ink, and—upcoming!—Crooked Lane. Most of the mysteries, and as many romantic suspense as possible, include animals, especially dogs. I love to write about dogs. Why? Because I love dogs!.

 So that’s how I decide what to write: again, what I love to read. But also what I most enjoy writing about.

 How do other authors decide? Based on conversations with fellow writers, I gather they, too, mostly figure out something they enjoy, then pounce on it and pour out a story they love.

 It’d be hard, after all, to write a story if you didn’t like its subject or genre.

 Those writers who are reading this blog, I’d love to hear in comments where your ideas originate and how you decide to write about them. And how you enjoy writing about them!

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

15 thoughts on “Deciding What to Write”

  1. Linda, your post is certainly food for thought, and were I a gourmet I’d probably write about cooking. As an immigrant lo these many years I do still miss my own hometown, St. Ives, a fishing village in Cornwall, UK, and that is why I write about someone like myself who has come to live in America but still misses jolly old, as we say. Writing about our roots brings them alive again, I hope pleasantly, and I am sure other writers have the same experience. Your writing reflects your love of dogs and I enjoy reading your books for that reason, among others.

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  2. P.S. It is 5.41 a.m. here on the East Coast ands my brain is a bit sleepy. I should have written “were I a gourmand” instead of “gourmet.” Coffee time.

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  3. I’ve asked the same question to other writers, and I’ve been asked many times what inspired my stories. It can be an interest, a family secret, a snippet of a story that cries out for embellishing, or an idea that pops into our head as a “What if….?” thought. I also agree with Jill, especially as we grow older and move around the country. Looking back sometimes has great appeal to us as well as readers. A lovely thought as we approach Thanksgiving. Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. Ah, Linda, you are so right about writing what one enjoys. I enjoy a good mystery and the occasional spy novel and also a heartwarming Christmas story that features Santa as well as a few animals and elves. Now, the fact I had been a private detective, my dad was an Air Force pilot and they were and are the wings of the CIA, and I have a massive collection of Santas and even built a Santa Castle might all go into why I write what I love and what I know. It helps greatly with the research, too. Great post and solid advice for us writers.

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    1. Your background is obviously a great inspiration for your ideas, Gayle. It’s great to hear about your roots and Santas!

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  5. The stories I wrote about Missionary kids in Africa came directly from my trips there, and friends who also sent me ideas. I too love mysteries and wrote them for my granddaughters. I also am madly curious about people and things, and that made work as a newspaper reporter a lot of fun. Now, I seem to only be writing book reviews and blog posts! HAHA!

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    1. Maybe your book reviews and blog posts can inspire you to come up with a related idea and write another novel about that! But in any case, you’re still writing and hopefully enjoying it. That’s what’s important.

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  6. Indeed, a thought-provoking blog, Linda. And I am always impressed with your prolific writing and your many different book series. I don’t know how you keep track of the!
    I first came to America because I loved the Old Hollywood movies – and that is what I have been writing about. But lately, if I read books about Hollywood History, my brain keeps whirring and I can’t switch off and can’t sleep! So I read escapist, light, fun stories usually set in the Mediterranean. Maybe that’s where my new writing focus should be. Oh, maybe I should go and do some research in the Mediterranean… there’s a thought! Great post, Linda. Thanks.

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  7. Who says I keep track of them? Oh, well yes, I do, but having them on my computer helps a lot. And research in the Mediterranean? Oh, yeah! There are a lot of places I’d love to see there, including some I’ve visited before. I’ll be envious if you head there. Thanks!

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  8. I love what-if scenarios. What if my character runs into someone from her past, someone she’d just as soon stay in the past. What happens? Do they compare pictures of their grandkids, detail their medical procedures? Or do things go very, very wrong? Well, guess which avenue I’ll take! I get lots of ideas from advice columns, which are all about conflict, and conflict leads to MURDER—at least it does in my writing head.

    Good post, Linda. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  9. What-ifs are a great way to come up with ideas. And how fun to use advice columns! Thanks, and late Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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