I hear this question a lot from aspiring writers.
Aspiring writers, the people who’ve just finished a book and who’ve revised it and who are wondering what to do whilst you’ve gone out on submission to agents with your precious book child. What do you do now? Now you read, you watch movies, you go for long walks, you have thinky thoughts. Then you sit down and maybe write out story ideas for a new book. Or maybe you even start writing a new book.
A long time ago now, when I had finished and revised my first ever book, CURSE OF THE DJINN, my friend Kaz wisely said to me: don’t write a sequel, even if you have a bazillionty ideas for a sequel. I stared at her blankly, utterly shocked and horrified that she would say that to me! How could she not SEE HOW AWESOME my book was? How utterly amazing? How charming! How brilliant and incredible? Surely she wasn’t suggesting I’d fail miserably at selling it?
Then Kaz, clever Kaz, explained to me: if Djinn doesn’t sell, it would mean I’ve “wasted” time writing a sequel to a book that’s will never be published. Why not, instead of writing a sequel, (she said) you look through your notebooks and write something completely different.
I started on book 2 of Djinn and wrote maybe 10k. In the meantime heard from some agents, they liked what they read, even an EDITOR expressed interest. But the feedback was generally: it’s good, it’s fun, it’s new, but it’s not quite there yet / my list is too busy to take on a ms that needs this much work / etc. All great bits of feedback but all still “no”.
Huh. Imagine that? However, I had my friends and they petted me and fed me and I threw myself into reading more, reviewing more. And more and more ideas came. I abandoned Djinn2 and decided to listen to Kaz as she is wise in all things.
And I got on with writing other things. And I loved it. Between starting and finishing Blackhart Book 1 I probably wrote around 80,000 words on two other manuscripts. And they’re not wasted words. I may go back to them in the future or I may just dump them because you know, it’s only words. You don’t have a finite number allocated to you, you have an infinite number allocated to you, remember that!
When we went on sub with Blackhart, I asked Juliet what I should do about writing something else. In a carefully worded email, so as not to break my fragile ego, she suggested I just have fun and write something different. To have fun. I was like this:
What did she mean with this “have fun” malarky? This is seriouz biznezz, this writing. But she was right. Of course she was right. I decided I’d do what other adult urban fantasy folks have done in the past, take a secondary character from their existing story and write a fun story featuring them as a main character. And oh my days, I had ALL THE FUN. It blew my mind – the world I’d created felt richer, deeper and wilder and more unexpected in some instances. I felt relaxed and laughed more at the jokes I wrote into the book because there has to be lols, right?
To be honest, I didn’t think Blackhart would sell. I desperately wanted it to obviously, but I thought that if it didn’t sell, I could pass this new book on to Juliet and she’d maybe be able to sell that. We exchanged a few more emails about it all and she told me to remember that writing only gets better the more you do it. It’s like any kind of skill / exercise that you do. The more you do it, the better you get at it and also the more fun you have because you feel comfortable in that world.
She was right. The second book I worked on wasn’t part of the deal we sold to Tor but it was a revelation to me because it showed me the trilogy story arc we eventually did sell to them. And I doubt I would have come up with the story arc if I’d not messed around with the secondary character’s book in the first instance. Because of well: brain pictures!!!
Writing is weird. The whole journey is bizarre. Our minds are labyrinthine and makes leaps and bounds between ideas and thoughts and scenes and characters that we may never expect. I think we just need to sit back and allow that to happen sometimes. And a lot of times we forget to do that. The next time you wonder: NOW WHAT? remember to ask: WHAT IF? instead.
“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
― Cornelia Funke