What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

This week, I’m taking a break from The Psych Writer to discuss writing.

Writing is my bread and butter. I have some posts I’ve written about writer’s block, and facing the terror of the blank page. In fact, I’ve written about the blank page twice, at least. But writer’s block still seems to be one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen among young writers or writers who are just starting out.

Recently, I got this in the form of a question. “What am I supposed to write when I don’t know what to write?”

Since I am trained as a therapist, I tend to want to pick apart problems and either reframe them or otherwise deconstruct them in order to help.

So when you don’t know what to write, it could be for a variety of reasons.

  • You may be afraid of failing and not completing a project.
  • You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
  • You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.

There are obviously many more reasons for keeping that page blank, but for this post, let’s just focus on these three. If you have one or two you’d like me to address, please shoot me a message on Facebook if you’d like, and I’ll address them in future posts.

  1. You’re afraid of failing and not completing a project.
    It happens. I have a few manuscripts I’ve abandoned about 3/4 of the way through because the idea wasn’t panning out, I couldn’t write the characters in a way that satisfied me, or a variety of other reasons. It happens to everyone. Think of your favorite writer, living or dead, and I could almost guarantee you they have abandoned and unfinished work.

    The best way to get around this is the “fuck it” philosophy. Say to yourself that you’re going to start a project and if it doesn’t pan out, fuck it. Start over, change direction, whatever. You can also just keep going even if you know it sucks, because the first draft of everything sucks. So go until you’re finished. Write until there’s no story left. You can revise it later.

  2. You may be afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
    This is one I’ve heard a few times now, so it’s not terribly uncommon. In this case, you’re fortune-telling. Can you really see the future and know you’ll be devoid of further ideas? Well, so what? One book that’s finished beats the hell out of one half-finished story that never got off the ground. Preventing yourself from succeeding because of what might be next cheats you out of the satisfaction of a finished project.
  3. You may think your writing will never be good enough, so part of you feels it’s not even worth starting.
    There’s one thing I’ve learned, and I’ve said it above–the first draft of everything is a steaming pile of crap. Some of it has potential, but every first draft needs to be reworked. You will learn to kill your darling manuscript with a hatchet at first, then come back with fine, surgical editing tools to improve it. Tell the part of you that tells you it’s not worth starting to shut up,  because that part of you cannot know what it feels like to finish a project. You have to get to the end to know what that’s like.

When you sit down to the keyboard, or sit with a pen and paper, block out the future. Block out expectations. Block out everything but you and that page, and tell it your passions, your fears, your world.

Get writing.

I am Anne Hogue-Boucher, and I write books. You can read them here.


Who is a writer? Jen Jones on the Full-Time Writer

When I recently read an article by Jen Jones called Writing Is My Job, her voice resonated with me. As a full-time writer and editor, I know those struggles. Of people belittling and demeaning your work because you don’t have a standard 9-to-5.

Well, for the holidays, I took a temp job in October for three months so I could make extra money. So currently I do this second job, come home, write, sleep, and start over all over again the next day. For me, it’s a second job that might last six months instead of three, but we’ll see. My writing comes first.

For those of you who are writers, I just wanted to let you know that it’s okay to consider your current 9-to-5 as your second job. Because that’s what it is. You may not make enough to quit the second job and devote full-time to writing, or you may not be able to stretch the budget to get used to being paid quarterly.

It doesn’t matter. Your reasons are private and what you make is no one’s business.

And for those of you who don’t write and look down on those who do say they’re writers, sit your judgmental asses on the side for a second and listen up: if someone tells you they’re a writer, don’t make your first question “are you published?” It may seem like an innocent enough question and seem like you’re just inquiring where to buy their work, but to a writer who is struggling to publish or finish a manuscript, it can be a painful question. Plus I know some people do it to be dinks and belittle the person’s profession or make them feel small. That’s not any of my readers, though, I’m sure.

Just because they aren’t published yet doesn’t make them any less of a writer. I’ve published 5200 articles–all of them ghost-written. I’ve published a short story in an anthology, and I’ve published a one-shot short story on Amazon. I have a full composite novel coming out just in time for Halloween. Yes, I’m a writer. Even before I published my first short story.

Be nice to us indie authors. We’re just here to tell stories and be entertaining.

So what do you ask, then? A better question is, “what are you working on?” Okay, while it’s a grammatically incorrect question, it gives the writer a chance to tell you about their newest project or something they have already published. It increases your likelihood that you won’t be killed off in their next chapter, too. So side benefit.

“What are you working on?” is the question that a writer asks another writer, unless we’re being dicks on purpose. Sometimes I’ll ask, “where are you at with publishing?” because I want to be helpful. It’s a different question than “are you published” because I don’t presuppose that you have to be published to be a writer. It also gives the other writer a chance to brag about their new deal with Random House, or tell me they’re braving the waters of self-publishing and are in need of an editor.

Whether you’re a full-time writer or you have a second job to support your writing career, if you work hard day in and day out writing on your manuscript and you know what it means when I say the phrase “elevator pitch” without using Google, then congratulations, you’re a writer.

My name is Anne, and I write stuff. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I also answer questions on Quora.

» 8 Reasons Why Writing Is The Best Thing Ever

I have to share this article from Authors Publish:  8 Reasons Why Writing Is The Best Thing Ever. Mainly because I agree with it, but as usual, I have my own commentary on it.

By the way, if you’re a writer and you haven’t signed up for Authors Publish, you need to go do that now. I’ll wait.

Okay, ready?

Mainly, I want to point out Chantelle Atkins’s first point about how you’re always getting better. In some ways, I think it’s the truth. When you write, you practice, and when you practice, you tend towards growth.


Only if you get good feedback.

Sure, it’s nice to have the pat on the back and the reassurance that your writing is good. We all love that. But constructive feedback on your writing isn’t hurtful if you use it as a tool for growth.

Useless feedback includes saying your writing sucks or someone didn’t like it. You can toss that right in the garbage. It’s not going to help you grow because both points are based entirely on opinion.

However, if someone tells you that you use too many adverbs, then that’s sound advice. You can go back and see that your writing uses adverbs too often and fix it. The next time you work on a piece, you may be less likely to use adverbs to much. That means you grew, and your writing improved.

So keep growing as a writer, and don’t give up. If you’re looking for honest feedback on your latest work, you can always hit me up for professional services. I’m happy to help.

I like to write and help others become better writers. You can find my work at Amazon, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Need help with or advice on your manuscript? Contact me and I’ll be there for you.


Your Audience: Who are they?

A friend of mine who writes stream-of-consciousness type stories asked me to write a little bit about my philosophy on writing for an audience.

I could probably devote an entire book to this subject, but to spare your mind and soul, I’ll keep it brief–and in a list so you won’t suffer.

  • I know who my audience is because I’m a member of that audience. I write horror and weird fiction. I am also a fan of that genre. That gives me an advantage when I write because I know what I like and I like to write it. I couldn’t write a romance novel if I tried (someone would get killed, inevitably and it would have a sad ending. Romance novels aren’t allowed to have anything but happy endings.). I am also not a fan of the romance genre, so that’s okay. In other words, don’t just write what you know, write what you love. You can’t always write what you know, anyway. A writer explores and expands their knowledge and experience in a variety of ways.
  • I write stories that scare and entertain me. Because I am a fan of the horror and weird fiction genres, I write things that scare me and make me laugh. I write to have a good time. If people love it, too, then great! If they don’t, well, okay, fair enough, but at least I had fun.
  • Because I’m a member of that audience, my stories entertain many people within that scope. Luckily, my fellow horror and weird fiction fans seem to enjoy my writing and are also having a good time reading my work. Because I understand my goals and myself as an audience member, some of the outer audience comes along for the ride. It’s rewarding.
  • My writing is for fun, and occasional profit. I do make the occasional buck or two off of Exit 1042, and that’s great. But mostly I just enjoy getting a story out, and if others love it, then the more, the merrier. It makes me happy to know I’ve entertained someone or made them think with something I’ve written.
  • My work is not for everyone. If you want to be a writer, you have to understand that you will have people who don’t like your work. They will also say really rude shit about you, too. But that’s okay. I know not everyone likes what I write, or even how I write it. I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for me. I wrote it for myself and some of the people who will find it amusing or frightening … and that’s the key. If you write to please others, you’ll be miserable.

At this point in my life, this essentially sums up my philosophy on writing for an audience. I think that pandering is just about the worst thing an author or writer can do. So, write for yourself, and remember, not everyone is going to fall in love with your work. And that’s okay.

Now get to it.

Anne Hogue-Boucher is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. She eats potato chips at lunch every day and drinks Caffix every afternoon because caffeine is her mortal enemy. Follow her weirdness on Twitter and/or on Facebook.


The Daily Word Counts of 39 Famous Authors – Writers Write

A while back, I was reading this article from Writers Write, and it really hit home with me as a writer. Every day, I have a minimum word count of 2,000 words. I usually wind up writing around 2,500 to 3,000, and a lot of those words are worthless and will be scrapped and/or edited later, but what’s more important is that they’re being written.

Writing is both an art and a craft. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: if you sit around waiting for inspiration, then that’s all you’ll do. Novels aren’t written by muses. They’re written by people who are willing to sit their asses down and crank out a certain number of words per day.

So set your minimum. It could be just 500 words a day, or 350. But set a minimum. If you’re serious about writing and wanting to be an author, don’t wait.

This post will come in around just over 250 words, and it won’t count towards my goal for the day. So no cheating. Sit your ass in that chair and start writing.

Remember, even if you write something that’s just going to be scrapped later, it’s writing. Writers write. Use your words and create something that’s all yours.

Now get to it. Go write.

Anne Hogue-Boucher is the author of Exit 1042 and the upcoming Silver Hollow. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook. If you don’t, monsters will erupt from the void in your closet at night and do terrible things to you. But no pressure.