Are you writing what you should be writing? I don’t know about you, but I’m always getting distracted by new and shiny projects. I remember days, weeks and even months when I’ve toiled away on various pieces of work that seemed great at the time. None of these helped me get to my long term writing goals. It’s difficult to know what to write next.
Working on the wrong thing takes your hard-earned time and renders it pointless. I was fed up of falling into work that didn’t have any major benefit for me in the long run. I decided to try and think more strategically about opportunities — which is where Mr Musk comes in.
Elon Musk is the basis of one of three questions that I use to help me prioritise and evaluate opportunities. You’ll notice that there are no yes/no questions below. Those questions are too easy to answer and become counter-productive. Easy answers tend to lead to a dismissal of the question.
What would Elon Musk do with this idea?
So I don’t know Elon Musk. I don’t know much about him. I don’t know how he’d react to having to choose what to write next. You, however, might be a big fan and feel you know his personality inside out. That’s the key to making a success of this question, though. Pick someone with a strong personality that you know (even if it’s just their public persona) and ask them what to write next.
I’ve used people in the public eye who have similar interests to mine, or friends or family members who I admire. I’ve even used my boss.
This works because it takes you out of your own mind. We often get so wrapped up in our own lives and thoughts that being able to step back and evaluate something properly is extremely difficult.. You might get distracted by the fact that project A might pay $10 more than project B. Elon Musk wouldn’t, though. He doesn’t need the extra money). He’d be looking at it from another perspective entirely.
Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else might not give you all the answers you need. It might just make you look at the problem from a different perspective, which may impact on the choice you make in the end.
Why not pretend to be a few other people while you’re at it? You don’t have to dress like them, or stomp around the room doing strange impressions, but taking ten minutes to put yourself in a different mindset might well pay off big time.
What does this add to my portfolio?
Think about your CV, portfolio, website or blog when worrying about what to write next. How will the project fit into that? Will it be a natural fit or will it stick out? It’s not to say that you should ignore it if it’s going to be an outlier — sometimes those are the projects that can really build up a portfolio and show a range of experience.
If your dream job is a sci-fi writer, having a CV made up of mainly Medium articles about puppies will not increase the chance of you landing that gig. At some point you’ll want to discuss that list of jobs with someone and it’s a good idea to be able to justify them.
So when you get an opportunity, take a look at the list of things you’ve recently completed and decide where this new one fits in. When completed, would you put this front and centre on there, or add it to a list and hope that no one notices it?
What will I look back and say about this in five years?
Hindsight is great. Being able to evaluate the work that you’ve previously done and see what you got from it, and what you created, really allows to see what was the best use of your time. With a little bit of mental gymnastics, however, you can get yourself in that mind frame in advance.
So — think about the work you’re thinking of taking on. If you asked an imaginary version of yourself five years in the future, what would you say about it? Would it be something you’d boast about, or something you’d be embarrassed about, or (worst of all) something that you’re not that bothered about? Would it be something you’d be excited to show your kids?
This brings a sense of perspective to your next decision. By putting yourself in that future state you’ll be taking on a persona — and hopefully a positive one — but also one who has accomplished more than you have. Although you’ll never know which way your writing or your life will go, a longer term view will hopefully get you around a lot of the ‘what if’ and ‘quick wins that present themselves to writers all the time.
The three questions above are quick and easy ways to think about writing projects and ideas that you have. They’ll help you rifle through opportunities and select the ones that are best for you. Writing is time-consuming, and if you jump from idea to idea without thinking about why the idea works for you, you’ll end up with a scattershot approach that doesn’t add anything of worth.
Deciding what to write next is a real challenge, and one that it’s worth taking a little time over. Hopefully the questions above will help you out a little.
Originally published on Medium as “3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Picking What to Write Next”