After I’ve finished a story—and submitted it to journals so I won’t read it “one last time” again—my emotions typically range from relief, euphoria, and nervousness. Nervousness because my next project’s unknown, and because (an inner voice nags) this nonwriting period might last.
To shorten it, I ask myself questions. The method’s not foolproof (and sometimes, I’ve learned, downtime is more helpful than it can seem), but it does make me feel more grounded and in control of my own process.
When between projects, consider these five questions. With thought and a bit of luck, they might steer you toward your next story.
1) What helped spur your previous work(s)? Was it a prompt word? A writing exercise? Did the piece start with an image or snatch of dialogue?
2) Rereading a finished story, consider what worked and ask why. The idea here is to find your writing’s strengths, which you can build on when starting your next project.
3) Kim Chinquee has said her longer works often grow out of shorter ones that seem to need “filling out.” Reviewing one or more piece, can you see situations, places, or ideas you’d like to develop?
4) Study a finished story’s notes or drafts, learning what you can from your process. How did the various elements (e.g., plot and character) emerge over time as you wrote?
5) What subjects do you keep returning to? Could you explore one from a different angle? Through different eyes or circumstances?