Guest Post by Laurie’s client J.M. Frey
Today I am finishing a script (short), starting another (feature-length), writing at least two announcement blog posts for my new publishing deal, making pasta sauce from scratch before our bounty of garden tomatoes go off, and cleaning and prepping the house for tea with a high school friend that I haven’t seen in a decade.
I have already sent my recently finished novel out to beta readers, conferred with a publicity manager about my forthcoming novel, and, while standing in my kitchen, stretching my bad leg, one ear on the sauce pan, I am attempting to type up this guest post for Fuse. When I asked my agent what she’d like this guest post to be about, she said: “I think you should talk about selling two series before they’re written and how to cope with that stress.”
YAY! After ten years of writing, slogging, submitting, revising, shopping, and marketing, I have two fantastic series coming out in the next three years.
But. Uh-oh. I have six books to write.
Well, two are already done – book #1 of each series – but that still leaves four books to write in about two years, so there’s enough lead time for revisions and edits. That’s one book every six months: three months to write each book, and three months to edit them.
Add to that the feature film and the attendant transmedia components I promised to a producer back in January, and the revisions of the novel I finished in March, and potential revisions for another book I handed to Laurie in April, and a novella for The Accidental Turn series, and all the marketing and guest blog posts for The Untold Tale’s launch and… and…
In all honestly, and without being glib, I’ll admit that it’s scary.
I am scared.
This is a big step, a big promise that I am making, and I will tell you that I have lost a lot of sleep over this, experienced a lot of anxiety and drunk many bottles of wine.
Signing a series when only the first book is complete means that someone out there (your agent, your publisher, your editor) thinks that not only is your first book good, but that the next two, or three, or five books will also be good.
And I am terrified of failing those people who believe in me.
Promising a publisher two other books that you haven’t even begun to write is stressful, because they’re agreeing to a dream. They are literally saying “yes” to something that doesn’t exist. Something that you have pledged your oath to create.
It’s especially stressful because my book#1s were written, edited, revised and polished over the span of one to three years. That’s a lot more time than six months.
I suddenly understand why George R.R. Martin’s books come out so many years apart. Smart man.
On one hand, it’s easier to write the next books in a series because you have all the worldbuilding, characters, and the voice already settled. But on the other, you still have to actually write the thing.
And on top of that, I am terrified of Mushy-Middle Syndrome aka writing the kind of gap-stop book that everyone knows only exists to bridge the plot between books #1 and #3 (I mean, who’s favourite film is Highlander II: The Quickening, really?) Not that I intend to write a Mushy Middle Book. But. You know. They happen.
So, in order to combat all these negative thoughts, the worrying, the fear, and the amount of writing to be done (I estimate I will have written about 446 000 words in just novels/novellas alone between June 2015 and September 2016 if I meet my own deadlines, not counting the blog posts and screenplays), this is how I handle it:
- Carve out time every day. Mine is between 1pm and 4pm, and I try to write an average of 4k in that time. And starting with my next book, I’m hoping to do it on my recumbent exercise-bike desk so I can do my words and my physio at the same time!
- Don’t Write
- Don’t. Go do anything else. Hang out with friends at the pub or play board games. Watch TV or a go to the cinema, or the theatre. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play with a kitten. Go to the spa. Refill your creative well, and think through your plot-problems away from the pressure of the blank page and the blinking curser. As tempting as it might be to tell yourself that you are going to just sit there and write and write and write until it’s all done, you’ll burn yourself out. Headaches, eyestrain, and aching shoulders and wrists help no one.
- Talk it out with other writers/your betas
- The hardest part of this writing-a-series thing for me has been “And then what happens next, and how does that relate back to what’s already been written, and how will that support what I want to do after?” Finding the perfect balance of plot continuation, over-arching Big Bads, but enough minute interest in the details of the individual scenes and moments in the books has been a struggle. Luckily, the beta readers who all read book #1 have made themselves available to me to do books #2 and #3 as well, so I have people intimately familiar with the book who can help me when I’m stuck.
- Other writers’ perspectives might help, too. I often tell large chunks of my plots to other writers, bouncing ideas off of them, or getting feedback. Often, when I hear, “Oh, that reminds me of so-and-so’s book” or “Oh, just like in That Important Book” from someone else, I pay attention to that. And generally I use it as a springboard into “Okay, if that’s the way that bit is usually told, what twist can I put on it? How can I make it fresh, different, or told from another perspective?”
- Talk about literally anything else with people who are not writers
- Again, take the time to breathe, to de-stress, to touch base with the rest of your life and friends.
- Carry it with you
- I have my manuscripts with me all the time when I’m in the editing stage. That way if I’m waiting for an appointment, or in transit, or waiting for a friend, I can do small bursts of red-pen editing.
- I also have notebooks with me so I can write; alternately, I open a new email addressed to myself and tap out a scene or two.
- It seems kind of silly, but in this way, you’ll see the grains in the hourglass of the tasks you have to perform trickling down. Even if it’s one at a time, at least they’re moving!
- But don’t carry it to bed
- Get enough rest, and make your sleep space your serene space. No work allowed between the sheets!
- Use your support system
- Your agent and editors are there for a reason. Bounce ideas off them, ask what they wish they could read in the next books, and don’t be afraid to outright ask, “Well, what would you write if you could write it?” I’ve found that asking always leads me down paths I hadn’t originally thought I’d go, and usually for the better.
- Let them know what your planned writing schedule is, when they can expect drafts, what you’re working on now, etc. and generally keep them in the loop. That way you don’t feel like you’re writing into the void and they don’t feel kept in the dark. And be realistic about your deadlines. (Note to self: Editing always takes twice as long as I think it will.)
- Ask for their preferred dates and schedules, too. Don’t be afraid of being honest about whether you think you can meet their deadlines.
- Be organized
- Have a file or a selection of note cards with each character’s physical attributes, their common phrases, and their preferences. It makes you look silly if a character hates coffee in book one and loves it in book two.
- I keep separate notebooks for the two separate series so I can keep all the drabbles, good one liners, and plot ideas separate.
- I also have a wall of note cards that have reminder notes, plot notes, due dates, etc. in big sharpie so it’s easy to read from my desk.
- I also keep a folder of files for each separate book on my desktop. And another folder marked “Templates”. Each time I begin to work on a new project, I copy the templates into the novel’s folder and fill them out – pitch, one page-synopsis, three-page synopsis, potential series synopsis, press release, about the author, list of desired places to solicit reviews, appropriate reviewers, appropriate awards submissions, etc. That way I have lots of useful marketing documents when it comes time to do the marketing.
- Offload what you can – the less you have on your plate, the less heavy it feels
- Hire a publicity manager, if you can afford it.
- Buy a book-blog tour from a company you like instead of trying to organize one yourself, if you can afford it.
- Ask friends to take care of organizing the launch party.
- Find an intern to help write/send out press releases or update your social media, if they’re willing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – even if that’s housework help, or editing help, or organizing help. Literally the worst thing someone can say is “No, sorry.”
- I choose specific days to work on specific projects, so I’m not trying to do everything at once. And from there I also break that down to “write the thing” and “market the thing” so I know what sort of hat I should be wearing as soon as I sit down.
- All the lists.
- All of them.
- With small, cumulative goals that you can achieve easily.
- Taped to the wall.
- Checking things off feels so nice.
Anyway, so that’s how I’m handling it.
Yes, I still have those deep-down secret fears that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew, that I’ve promised things that I’m not certain I can deliver in terms of quality or by a deadline, that I may be in way over my head. Yes, I have nightmares about my second books being Mushy Middle novels.
Then I remember that my agent and my publisher have my back, my friends are there if I need them, and my editor won’t let me produce something that is less than my best. This is a team effort. I get some sleep, I do my stretches, I have a chat with a friend.
It’s also really nice to have a clear plan of what’s happening every month for the next two years. It’s actually a relief to know that I won’t be scrambling to come up with a new novel idea or trying to figure out what the next project should be until at least winter of 2016.
Every time that little voice from the shadowed corner speaks up, I tell it to hush. I remember that I have nothing to fear, because my publisher, my agent, my editor – they wouldn’t have signed if they didn’t think I could do it.
And if they think I can do it, well then I can darn well do it, can’t I?
And then I get back at it. I do the thing. I check something off the list nearly every day, even if that’s just “Write 1k words” and that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, that I’m getting there, that I’m one step closer on this 446,000 step journey.
(Though, sometimes my mother does catch me watching TV and points her finger at my office and says “No! Bad girl! Go!” I’ll admit that it helps. No one wants to disappoint their Mom.)
Am I still scared?
But I’m a writer, and my fellow writers have lots of advice for me on that one…
“Without fear there cannot be courage.”
― Christopher Paolini
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
― C. JoyBell C.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”
― Maya Angelou
I got this.