How writers can refine their story, book ideas

More than 300 writers shared their ideas about writing at last weekend’s “Narrative Arc” conference, which Poynter co-sponsored. I delivered a keynote address and then shared a spot on four panel discussions.

My favorite was titled “Revising Before Your Begin: Selecting, Defining and Refining Topics.”

This turned out to be a timely topic for me. Earlier this week, I turned in a draft of a book manuscript, which means I’m now beginning to ask the question: “What’s next?” I have four topics on my mind, but how do I evaluate them? How do I decide which topic deserves my time and attention — maybe two years’ worth?

It comes down to this specialized part of the writing process called “refining the topic.” It’s not enough to say, “I want to write a book about the Nuremberg trials.” Or even, “I want to do a book about the American psychiatrists who worked with Nazi prisoners during the Nuremberg trials.”

So how do you decide what to focus on? That question is as relevant for a beat writer as it is for a book author. Each of us must apply a series of tests to a topic. The results of those tests will help us determine what we need to do next.

I chatted about this and more in this week’s writing chat, which you can replay here:

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