My favorite questions tend to start with “what if.” Lately, however, this writer has been asking himself, “What now?”
Ever since I started plotting out If Souls Can Sleep nearly nine years ago, I’ve had a clear path in front of me when it came to my fiction. The road wasn’t always a straight line by any stretch—for instance, my wife and I wrote a children’s book in between the first and second draft of If Sin Dwells Deep—but I always had more tasks than time to complete them.
Until last week.
With the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle in my agent’s hands, I find myself at an unexpected crossroads, where past, present, and future compete for my attention. And for the life of me, I can’t decide which path is the most prudent.
Option 1: The Past
Once upon a time, I wrote a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested. Rather than invest more time in fixing it, I decided to try something completely different. The result was If Souls Can Sleep.
For many years, I’ve had the notion to go back and self-publish the TRC. After all, just about every article I’ve ever read about becoming a profitable author espouses the virtues of having a large number of titles for sale. Some of those same sources heavily imply that quantity trumps quality…
Then again, just as many advice columns say that an author’s No. 1 marketing tool is a well-crafted manuscript—in other words, the best story you can write.
(And what to do when writing tips contradict?)
Last week, I reread the first third of Book 1 of the TRC to see just how much dust had collected over the past 14 years. While it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as a feared it would be, one thing was clear: that book, along with the other two, would need copious edits.
The best-case scenario would be a performing a series of substantive edits on all three books, cutting out superfluous text, fixing awkward words and phrases, and eradicating all types of typos. In addition to removing excess, I detected a dearth in setting and sensory details throughout. The prologue was rubbish, too.
Pros for revisiting the past
- Repairing something that’s already written is bound to be easier than starting anew.
- This is the fastest way for me to publish several books in one fell swoop—and, hopefully, start generating revenue.
- I invested seven-plus years in TRC, so dedicating another six to twelve months seems like a small price to pay in order to potentially profit from all that work.
- If TRC finds an audience, I have a slew of storylines saved up for that particular universe.
Cons for revisiting the past
- After so much time away, I’m not particularly passionate about this project.
- Even with substantive edits, the final product will not reflect my current skill level.
- Therefore, it will take an awful lot of willpower to refrain from completely rewriting the series, which would be quite time consuming.
- More editing? It’s been more than three years since I wrote a new book—or, more precisely, co-wrote The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers—and I’m itching for the chance to jump back into the more creative aspects of creative writing.
Option 2: The Present
With at least one book left to write in The Soul Sleep Cycle (and hopefully a few more), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to wrap up the major story arc that I started back in 2006. However, I’m reluctant to invest the time in Book 3 before I see whether the first two garner any interest—and sales—either via traditional publishing or indie publishing.
To forge ahead or take a break from the series—that is the question.
Pros for living in the present
- I already have a pretty good idea of what this book will be about and what needs to happen before the end.
- Having just finished major edits to If Sin Dwells Deep and minor edits to If Souls Can Sleep, the complexities of the story are still fresh in my mind.
- I’m still very excited about this series, and, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing this book at some point—if only for closure.
- If traditional publishers don’t buy the trilogy, I’ll have three books ready to self-publish simultaneously. (Hey, it works for Netflix.)
- I’m confident that the project would push me creatively and that I’d be proud of the final product.
- While not as easy as editing TRC, writing Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle would still be simpler than coming up with a completely new idea for a novel.
Cons for living in the present
- If ISCS and ISDD don’t prove profitable—regardless of whether I or a traditional publisher sell them—then spending time writing the next book in the series would be rather pointless. (See also: The Renegade Chronicles.)
- Even with my new writing schedule, it could take me a couple of years to plot out this story, write it, and then edit it.
Option 3: The Future
I don’t know about other writers, but I always have a slew of story ideas rattling around my gray matter. I jot down some of these story starters in a Word file. In most cases, a few paragraphs are enough to placate that which is threatening to distract me from my current project. Such was the case with a young adult time-traveling tale, a twist-filled take on a traditional fairy tale, and a book about zealots bent on triggering Armageddon.
But then there are stories that can’t be so easily exorcized. For more than a year, I’ve found my mind wandering to a new novel—or series—codenamed “Changelings.” Last week, I finally relented and wrote a few pages about a potential plot and the people to populate it.
Could this be my next novel?
Pros for embracing the future
- Jumping into a brand-new book would be undeniably energizing, not to mention fun. (I haven’t written a first draft a story since “Ghost Mode” in 2013!)
- I already have a viable avenue to explore: Changelings.
Cons for embracing the future
- I have no idea whether any of my ideas, including Changelings, will bear fruit.
- Even if I were to write a complete manuscript for Changelings, there’s no guarantee it would be publishable.
- Any new project will require plenty of planning—a process in which I can too easily lose myself.
- Planning aside, starting afresh will surely be the most time-consuming approach. If my goal is to publish something pronto, this option is out of the question.
Of course, there are other possibilities. I could focus on non-fiction, repurposing some of my old Generation Why? columns or mining this blog for writing-related topics in order to make my self-publishing debut. Or I could give into one of my friend’s urgings and try my hand at a biography of some fascinating historical figure.
But the fact is my passion for writing has always focused on fiction.
“What next?” has almost never been a problem for this writer. Perhaps I should spend a little time exploring past, present, and future—each in turn—and see which project captures my soul. Then again, I suspect I already know where my heart lies.
Perhaps that’s another advantage of “living the dream.”
Such a fuss over nothing. Many authors write two-three books at the same time.
And then, as I’ve often suggested: Non Fiction? Which you do so effing well.
Stonewall Jackson’s mistress would be a good start.
Oops? He didn’t have one?
Try Thomas Jefferson then.
Yeah, I considered pursuing two or more of these options simultaneously, but you know me, Mr. Efficient. Divide and conquer works in war, but with writing, I do much better focusing on one big project at a time (with little stuff like blog posts, etc., mixed in).
And I wish nonfiction tripped my trigger, but I have too many outlandish ideas in my head. Sure, life can be stranger than fiction…but not, necessarily, my fiction!
While my virtual ears perked up at the mention of “Changelings” given my own current subject matter, my personal opinion (which I assume you want by offering opportunity to comment in the first place) is that you should let this lie for now. “Better not to start, once begun better to finish” so the Dharmic saying goes.
“Renegade Chronicles” is part of the all-hallowed “Million Words” our common friend you cite above reminded me in an email just this morning admonishing me “you worry too much.” And so do you! Yes, you finished “Renegade Chronicles.” Will you publish them? Who knows. Are they publishable? Maybe, after you’ve wisely and thoroughly conducted a cost/benefit analysis regarding same. (Yes, I’ve read Dean Wesley Smith’s opinion on the topic of multiple offerings too…quantity vs. quality and all that.) I can’t help but think, however, that “Renegade” has served its purpose. They were part and parcel of your Million Words, and I think you’ll agree you could not possibly have ever written word one of the Soul Sleep Cycle without having written them first. I don’t want to read a blog from you ten years from now with another unfinished trilogy sitting on your desk mulling over whether to start something new or go back and finish what you’ve started. You and I both know people like that. Don’t become one of them. Ever. You’re better than that.
As an engineer by education and experience I will always advise one use inertia and momentum to one’s advantage. In your case it took long, gut-wrenching work and lots of it to get the ball rolling for Souls Sleep Cycle. But it’s rolling now. It may not have rolled over the finish line you desire yet, but the only way it ever will is *if it keeps rolling*!
Keep your scribblings and crib notes about “Changelings” (because I’d LOVE for us to talk more about them over lunch sometime as I’m excited about it just hearing the name!) Add to them as necessary to scratch that itch, but stay the course. Finish, finish, finish Soul Sleep Cycle because of your current offerings that’s what interests ME most (you KNEW my motives weren’t completely altruistic, right?) And, of course, if you need to take a break and think about something else you’re welcome to read and comment on my current final manuscript of my urban fantasy/military thriller series first novel that I’ve previously sent you.
Now get back to work. I’ll do the same.
Ha…I can see why “changeling” would get your attention, but I don’t think the definition I had in mind is the same as what’s in yours.
I had the same thought earlier about The Renegade Chronicles and how I have benefited from the investment of those many, many hours — and those one million words. In fact, while I was reviewing some of my notes for If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep, I came across a comment I had written along those very lines. I guess great minds think alike…in any timeline.
To clarify, The Renegade Chronicles, as a trilogy, is complete inasmuch as I have a draft of three complete novels. But I hear what you’re saying about not finishing The Soul Sleep Cycle. Even as I’m trying to view my fiction writing as a small business enterprise (hence, the focus on publishing and profiting), I’m reminded of advice that another mutual friend of ours gave me when I was contemplating writing “Book 2” before finding a buyer for “Book 1”: write whatever the spirit moves you to write.
Although I have not come to a definitive decision on “What next?” I did spend a significant amount of time wrapping my mind around Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle today. Odds are I’ll be writing that novel sooner than later.
P.S., I’m about 40% into your MS!