Well, fate snickered at me a week ago when, despite my earlier upbeat words about targets and optimising the wordmachine, production came to a grinding halt. Sparks flew and wheels screeched as the brakes were slammed on in response to my sudden realisation that the MS I was working on was not the MS I should be working on.
The epiphany? That writing a sequel to a MS that may never be published could prove to be rather a waste of time. Every writer (and publishing industry professional) knows that first novels are rarely good enough for publication. The almost unanimous advice across all the Interwebs is that it’s far better as an unpublished author to move onto something else other than a sequel; to continue to grow as a writer and demonstrate that there’s more than one story in you.
This induced some soul-searching in me as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I need to leave these characters behind for a bit. After all, they’ve become old friends and their story is by no means finished. And the prospect of getting all intimate with a whole new bunch of characters felt . . . a lot like changing jobs: A whole lot of hard work.
The crux of my dilemma was one which most writers inevitably face: Do we write for ourselves, or do we write with the express aim of being published? I have some writer friends who would take the former position, considering publication a heart-warming side-effect of spending time doing something they love. This leaves them blessedly unfettered from many a care that weighs down those in the other camp, who ruthlessly bottom-drawer anything not up to scratch and move on, seeking that brilliant idea that can be brilliantly executed and win that coveted First Sale. (The new e-self-publishing trend is probably creating a grey area between these two positions.)
It’s been a very long time since I decided that, more than anything, I want to be published well. Which means I need to write as many great ‘first books’ as I can (assuming that, as tends to be the case with fantasy, multiple books in a series can follow once contracted). Spending time writing a book 2 to a potentially mediocre book 1 wasn’t going to speed up the chances of actual publication.
So. Change Of Direction. Hard Work Required.
I’m going to cheat a little bit. One of the most time-consuming aspects of fantasy writing is world-building and I’ve spent a heap of time developing the world I’ve been writing in. It’s a perfectly good world and it seems a shame to waste it . . . so after a lovely brainstorming session in the pub yesterday, I am now intending to start a Brand New Story set in the same world as the first MS.
Starting new stories is all part of being a writer. When you’re an unpublished writer, labouring over that first MS, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that once that’s finished you need to start another one. Moreover, once/if you’re published and — cross fingers — selling novels, you need to keep writing, keep starting new novels, keep starting new stories. And fantasy writers need to keep building new worlds. As a reader, I quiver with anticipation when one of my favourite authors brings out a new series, set somewhere new. (Conversely, when authors get stuck in their existing world, it can start to get same-same.)
So I am feeling rather upbeat about starting something new, actually. I suspect I will continue to mourn the loss of my two main characters for a little while yet, but hopefully I will soon embrace my new cast and develop for them a similar appreciation. It’s a clean slate and I intend to make the most of it. Onwards and upwards!