by Erica Ferencik

Do you have a secret stash?

If you look in a certain drawer in my house, you’ll find half a dozen half-finished novels tucked away.

Mainly because my excitement over a new idea often overwhelmed common sense. I’m not saying it was all a waste of time―of course I learned a lot even with these projects―but I’ve found that if I really take the time to reflect on every element of a novel idea before plunging full steam ahead, the work is much more likely to turn into an actual finished book.

But how do you know? How do you find a story worth telling? Follow this road map.

1. List 5 influences

List the five books that have made the biggest impact on you. What did they have in common in terms of subject, point of view, style, structure, voice, emotional response?

2. Discover your personal connection to those books

Look deeper into why these books impacted you so profoundly. What was it about them that got to you? What were they about? Do they mirror your important life experiences?

Make a list of those answers, too.

3. See the pattern

The story or book idea you can stick with, feel thrilled about, and that will make the biggest impact on others is likely some combination of the above: an issue/subject that seems vital to you that has reared its head in some (even small) past personal or witnessed experience, written in such a way that echoes the books you love most, and that promises the kind of emotional response you believe is worth the time and attention of readers.

4. Wait

Say you’ve drummed up what you believe is an amazing, perfect, exciting story that seems ideal for you to spend the next year or more of your life writing, editing, pitching, publishing. Wonderful!

For now, don’t rush to put words on paper. Sleep on it. Then sleep on it some more.

5. Wait longer

After a week, ask yourself: Are you still madly in love with the idea? Do you still feel like you could live with it and have enough passion to inhabit and thrive in the world of this idea for a year or (likely) much more?

6. Research

Do you know the world of your story enough to write it? Or, if you don’t, do you have the will, interest and capacity to spend the time to do the research?

7. Try it out

Tell the story to a couple of friends. Really tell them. Don’t look at any notes. Do they have an emotional reaction to what you are saying? Do their faces light up? Or are their eyes glazing over? If so, why do you think that is?

8. Do a test run on paper

Do you still love your idea? Now let it breathe a little, give it more head space. Spend a week just writing whatever comes to mind about the story, then another week brainstorming characters and plot. Do NOT start to write the book. How do you feel now? Do you still love this project? Do you want to continue? Be honest with yourself.

If your love has lasted, now you’re ready. Pen to paper, or fingers to keys. Go for it. Because now you can trust it, and trust yourself to write a book that will end up in bookstores, and not in your secret stash.

Do you love your current idea? What are your secrets to finding new ones? And how many secret manuscripts do you have stashed away? Let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page!


Oprah chose Erica Ferencik’s debut novel, The River at Night as a #1 Pick, calling the book “the page-turning novel you’ve been waiting for, a heart-pounding debut.” Entertainment Weekly named it a “Must Read,” and calls the novel “harrowing…a visceral, white-knuckle rush.” Her next novel, Into the Jungle, a thriller set in the Bolivian rainforest, will be released in April, 2019. Her work has appeared in Salon and The Boston Globe, as well as on National Public Radio. Her novel, Repeaters, has been optioned for film.

You can find Erica on Twitter.