It’s a question every writer faces eventually. Sooner or later, you’ve revised as much as you can, and a manuscript is done, or at least as done as you’re capable of at the time. And then you’re faced with the big question again: What do I write next?
You search your soul and idea folders for the one, that idea that showed up in the middle of book 2 and never let you go, or the idea that came out of the blue as you drove home from work one day, or the idea that you didn't shoot down because of the market, the hook, the genre, the voice, the character arc etc. Or you play with different concepts to see what interests you now. It's not easy is it? Ideas rarely come when we try to force them, and the decision of which novel to write is a serious commitment.
|I know! I'll write about a tiger's toe...|
Once you’re published, the question becomes even harder to answer, because you feel like you have to consider your brand, your publisher and your readers as well as the market and what interests you. But here’s something they don’t tell you: you might not want to. After two or three or four books, you’re ready to flex your writing muscles a bit- to stretch and try something new and different and outside your comfort zone as a writer.
As the publishing business sees it, you are what you wrote before, more of the same, only hopefully better. But as a person, three or four years down the road, you are not the same. You may even be more flawed. And as an artist you want to grow and challenge yourself.
So how do you balance your need to stretch with the desire to get that next book contract? Do you compromise or do you follow your heart?
Little known fact: writing is hard.
Okay, that’s a widely known fact, but it’s the reason that I think that every writer who’s willing to commit to writing and revising (and revising again) a novel needs to stay true to themselves no matter what the market, the readers or the critics say. Stephen King says that the first draft is for you, and you alone. Your friends, family, editors, agent, publishers, and the world at large shouldn’t even start to enter the equation until at least draft 2. That’s because as writers we need room to create, and freedom to experiment with ideas that might not work but could lead us to the thing that does. And while we may not want to devote the next year of our life to a project that the market might not be enthusiastic about, we definitely don’t want to spend a year writing something we don’t love.
I find myself at this crossroads this week. I’m about to dive into something just for the love of it. It’s a book I proposed three years ago, but didn’t follow through with because the market was saturated with the particular genre. Even so, the idea stuck with me. I kept coming back to it, and all the major plot points and twists stayed in my head, even though I haven’t written them down. It might not sell, and I’m okay with that, because I’m going to write the book of my heart.
At least my heart right now.