The Best Techniques Are The Simplest

The best writing advice I ever received was from Brad Meltzer, one of my favorite novelists. He writes mostly political thrillers. I met him at a signing, told him I was writing my first novel, and was stuck in Act Two. “I’ve built a lot of momentum,” I said, “and I think I know where this is all eventually going — but how do move forward right now? What do I do?” 

Meltzer replied, “Ask yourself, ‘What happens next?’. 

I blinked, incredulous. He smiled and said, “I know it sounds too simple to work, but it does. Just ask, ‘What happens next?’ 

So I went home and asked myself What happens next? and it totally worked. The simplicity of the question forced me to focus on my immediate goal: getting through the next chapter — and not worrying about what would happen ten chapters from now. 

I still use that technique, and always will.


About J.C. Hutchins

J.C. Hutchins crafts award-winning transmedia narratives, screenplays and novels for companies such as 20th Century Fox, A&E, Cinemax, Discovery, FOX Broadcasting, Infiniti and Macmillan Publishers. His latest creative endeavor is The 33, a monthly episodic ebook series.


  1. says

    Always thought writer’s block was bunk. I like that question am using a variation on that as I rewrite and post my WIP. My favorite writing tool has always been Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages’. If I just start moving the pen, the words come.
    Thanks for the post

  2. says

    Perfect! I worry that what happens (logically) next isn’t the most compelling, action-packed thing; therefore, I’m constantly looking past it, perhaps too far forward.

    This simple advice, coupled with the knowledge that I can always go back and cut stuff, should help bust through future writers blocks. Thanks Therese (and Brad)!

  3. says

    Ahh, love it – really simple and so so true. I will try that tonight ! Thanks for sharing that insight :)I am stuck on my 4th draft of my 1st book so looking for direction on stringing the plot together in the parts that get a bit disjointed, so this could be a good technique for me, hopefully a revelation.

  4. Eugenia Parrish says

    I actually discovered that marvelous truth not long ago, all on my own — after fifty years of writing! Lucky that you had a wise mentor. It absolutely works because we tend to start worrying about where we’re going vis-a-vis the whole story, and that can really make me freeze up. So . . . what happens exactly next? will keep you focused and moving, getting it down before it’s gone. Write on.

  5. says

    I do sort of the same thing. If I’ve run out of ideas (as I’m plotting), I sit down at the keyboard and write, “What if…” and start filling in the blanks. I keep What iffing until I know where the story needs to go.

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