Thursday, 11 April 2013


Hello, and happy Thursday, Dear Readers! I had a post planned for today, but then I got this really great question - about my current favourite topic, 'How In The Heck Does Anyone Write A Trilogy?' - in the comments on Tuesday's post and my original idea went right out the window because I just had to answer. Today we tackle A QUESTION OF SEQUELS (in my head I'm doing that in an ominous A GAME OF THRONES sort of way, can you tell?).

Rebecca asked:
"Like you, I am writing a trilogy. I have finished the first draft of my first book and I am steadily going through it and improving areas. I really want to get my first book polished up and perfect but I have a strong urge to write book two straight away. I really like my first book but I have been looking forward to starting the second book for a long while because a lot of exciting things happen. I know I should knuckle down and get the first book re-drafted, but it is really hard to resist beginning book two. Did you experience this problem when writing your trilogy?"
Rebecca, sweetie, who told you that you 'should' knuckle down and redraft your first book? Do you have a Writer's-Rule-Fairy sat on your shoulder giving you orders? Because if so, my advice is to slowly reach out for an old magazine, roll it up, and swat that thing off. Then stomp on it. Hard.

No, YOU listen, you annoying little beggar...
The first rule of writing - the creative part, which is just you and your story and you trying to get that story out of your head and onto whatever piece of paper or electronic device might be lying around - is that there is no 'should'. Trust me when I tell you that every writer's process is unique in some way; there's no logical or standard way to go about doing this, only the way that happens to work for each individual. If people start throwing 'should' at you, you throw something at them. Preferably something heavy.

(Obviously there are rules and 'shoulds' once you get into trying to land an agent and a publishing contract, but that's an entirely different ballgame. We move on).

When I finished The Night Itself (the first book in The Name of the Blade trilogy), all I wanted to do was dive straight into the next book. I was desperate to stay with my characters, stay with my story, just keep going. It felt so completely natural that I never questioned it. There was this immense rush of creative energy and enthusiasm. I could feel, instinctively, just how to begin, and just where my characters were going to go next. It was amazing. I fully intended to put The Night Itself to one side to 'mature' for about a month, so that I could get some distance from it and do a better job of revising it. Why not do what my heart and my instincts were telling me to do and have FUN with the next book in the meantime? I even signed up for NaNoWriMo, figuring that this would add to the fun factor.

Do you know what happened next?

I tripped over my dog's bed and got a herniated disc in my spine. Unceasing agony in anything approaching an upright or sitting position forced me to do pretty much nothing for the next two weeks but lie completely flat in bed. I couldn't write like that. I tried. Oh, I tried. But it hurt too much. And by the time I'd gone through those two weeks of misery and hopeless longing and boredom, my sense of inspiration had seeped away into nothing. I couldn't find my book's starting place anymore. My characters had closed up like oysters that were startled by the shadow of a passing boat, and I couldn't pry them open. It was horrible.

I still think back to that day and that attempt to step over my dog's bed that went so disastrously wrong - in the way that only very ordinary things you do everyday without even thinking about them can go suddenly and spectacularly wrong - and curse myself for not just walking around the damned thing. Events could have gone so differently if I had.

It might sound really pointless to still be obsessing over a little thing like that eighteen months later... except that I ONLY JUST FINISHED BOOK TWO OF MY TRILOGY THIS NOVEMBER. Which means that it took me a full year to do what I might - just might! - have been able to do in a single month, or maybe six weeks, back when I had that amazing sense of inspiration and joy, when I had that precious little bit of free space and I could have gloried in writing what I wanted to write and having fun.

Couldn't I have gloried in writing what I wanted to write and having fun after my back was healed and I was up on my feet again? Well, I tried. I coaxed and swore at my characters and wrote different versions of my beginning and eventually I got my rhythm going and started making progress on book two. But I never really got that sense of instinctive inspiration back. Besides which, real life hadn't been standing still, even if *I* had (or rather, lying still). My boiler broke down, and then I was snowed in, and then Christmas came and brought the first round of The Night Itself edits, and then my dad's care routine changed, and then MORE TNI edits came back... all stuff that needed to be dealt with while still getting a certain number of words down per day.

You get the point I'm trying to make here?

Professional writers have to do without inspiration a lot. We have to force ourselves to write, because there are deadlines to meet and we need to keep on moving the story forward. Over time you learn that some of the best stuff you write can grow out of stubbornly putting one word in front of the other with gritted teeth - which means there's really no excuse for *not* writing, even when you'd rather be doing anything else. And once you find yourself in that desirable position of having a couple of books contracted for publication, you also often have to put aside things that you're in love with right now so that you can work on other stuff, stuff that has a contract and a deadline, because if you don't turn this set of edits in on time not only do you let your editor and publisher down, you don't get the next part of your advance. Which is helpful for, you know, eating. 

But that? Just makes the times when you do suddenly and inexplicably connect with your creativity all the more precious. I once wrote non-stop, longhand, for over eight hours, because I was in the grip of irresistable inspiration. By the next day I felt like I had been put through a blender. My eyes were full of sand, my head ached, and my hand swelled up and became so painful that I had to ice it and take anti-inflammatories. And it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. That was one of the best days of my life as a writer. I would do it again tomorrow if I felt the siren call of inspiration.

(You can read the product of that day in the final two chapters of The Night Itself, by the way).

From how you're phrasing this question I'm going to guess that you don't have a publisher or a deadline, sweetie - it seems less like you're worrying about how to manage your time and more like you're just unsure of the 'right' way to go about things. So here's my advice. The right way is the way that lights you up with happiness and makes you feel right.  

Follow your inspiration. It's one of those few things in life that you will never truly regret doing, no matter how everything turns out in the end - and one of those things you always regret, often for a really long time, if you don't.


Rebecca said...

Thank you so much! This has really helped :D

Zoë Marriott said...

You are very welcome, Rebecca :)

Jessica said...

I know the question wasn't addressed to me but I'm throwing my thoughts into the ring as I'm in the middle of my first trilogy.

I think the answer depends a lot on how much the first book is going to change between drafts. When I finished the first draft of Shadows of Tomorrow (which I've just signed a publishing contract for - huzzah!), I wanted to keep going with book two. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to stay with the characters and story. I wrote several chapters before I went back to rewrite Shadows. That book changed massively between first and second drafts - more than anything else I've ever written. One character changed sex, a minor character in the first draft became a major player in the second with a completely different personality, and I introduced a character who was originally going to show up for the first time in book two. Once I'd got Shadows into a state I was happy with, I went back to those chapters I'd written of book two and had to basically throw most of it out and start again.

Of course, when I finished the first draft of book two, I immediately started on book three. I'm now going through the second draft of book two but it's much more stable. Yes, there are changes, but there shouldn't be anything that will mean my work on book three won't be useful.

I agree about making the most of inspiration when you've got it, but I think there is something to be said for being aware of what changes might need to be made to the first book which will impact the sequel.

Zoë Marriott said...

Jessica: That's my personal experience too. I spent a lot of time re-writing book two to reflect changes to book one. But I still think that pressing ahead with book two would have been the best strategy for me, because that way I could have revised books one and two TOGETHER instead of having this really disjointed process where I kept having to put my first draft of book two down to go back and revise book one then go back and revise the partial draft of book two again. It was really disruptive.

Another factor you have to bear in mind when writing for publication: you do not have TIME to wait for book one to go through between one and six rounds of edits with the publisher before you start work on book two. You'd blow your deadlines out of the water! And if you're *not* writing under contract, which I don't think the questioner is, then why not go where inspiration leads you and do what makes you happy?

Liz de Jager said...

Hi all - I've dithered about commenting here but after chatting to Zoe I decided to do so:
A few years back I read a very interesting blog piece on a group website called Magical Words. I can't now find that blog piece (it really was long ago) and it was about writing a series. It boiled down to this:

Writing a series, if you're not contracted to write one, may be a waste of time. The consensus was to write the first book of the series, submit it to your agent (if you have one) and make sure you have a synopsis or thoughts about the series in case there's interest in the book as part of a series.

Once the first book is written, take a break and relax a bit and then go write something else different and not related to that book at all. That means that by the time you've heard back from your agent / an agent, and there's no interest in that book, you can say: but wait, I have this other really cool thing that I've just finished.

I read slush (unpublished manuscripts) for a publisher some time ago. It a)gave me a healthy respect for what publishers and agents go through and b) it made me realise how dedicated writers can be. What alarmed me too is how some writers subbed manuscripts to the publisher and their covering letter stated: This is the first book in a six part series. I am currently working on book 5.

And I thought to myself: dude, you've not even sold the first book, how is it that you've written all these books in the series for something that's not sold?? What if no one really wants it, at all?

I had tremendous fear that this would happen to me. So when I submitted Blackhart to my agent, I told her it was a standalone in a large world and that my plan was to write a loose series of titles as companion novels, using secondary characters from the previous book as main characters in the new book. She was delighted. So was I. It meant that I could still play in my world that I loved and was hugely invested in, but I wasn't in theory writing a series but a rather loose group of books that stood alone.

Little did either of us know that when we went to the market with the first book, that the hunger was there for a traditional series. The first meeting with the first publisher who expressed interest in Blackhart said: so, what are your story ideas for the series. I gulped and explained to them my reasonings and thoughts and the editor looked at me and gently said: Liz, we want a trilogy. One where the main character and cast of character stays the same, we want more adventures with the same people. Can you do this?

I was floored. And scared. I had never allowed myself to think that I would ever be in a position where I would be writing a trilogy. So I cautiously said "yes, I have these following plot ideas" and lo and behold, I got a bookdeal for a trilogy. My wildest unexpected dreams came true.

But guess what? I now have a partially finished book that relates to one of the boy characters from the first Blackhart novel. I'm sitting on around fifty thousand words but I know that writing won't go to waste because it can be a standalone or given away as a freebie between us publishing the contracted books or as a top secret present to a fan winning a competition (please gods, let there be fans). Or, it can easily be the start of a new series featuring the hot boy (which everyone seems to love) as the main character.

My advice as a complete novice to this whole publishing malarky is: unless you're contracted to write a series, don't do it. You won't know if the first book will sell. Write something else, because you can. Because that may sell.

On the other hand, if you're writing something and you really just want to get in there and write the series, by all means do it. But know that if it sells, like Zoe said, so many changes will have to be made, it will be even more work in the end because every change you make in the book will have repercussions in the follow-up titles.

Rebecca said...

You all make great points.
Liza de Jager: I completely understand where you are coming from. I know myself that my manuscript would not be published at this present moment because it still needs to be worked on and improved, but I think I need to take Zoe's advice and embrace the inspiration I feel.

I understand what you mean when you say there is no point in writing an entire series if my first book is not confirmed to be published, but for me personally, if I didn't continue with this story I would be letting myself down. I attempted to write my first novel when I was nine (admittedly it wasn't very good) and since then I have explored several areas and several plot ideas before finally finding the idea I have now. I am passionate about the characters, the hidden message I want to put across, and the world the story takes place in. I know it is cliche to say so, but I write for me and to express what I feel and what I dream. I would love to get published more than anything in the world, but I don't think I would do my story justice if that was my sole aim. I know I would be heartbroken if I wrote three books and they weren't published, but I think the risk is worth it.

I think ever author is different, and every author knows what works for them. I really respect the experience you have and I will take your advice on board.

Liz de Jager said...

Hi Rebecca! I love it - your passion shows through and really, for you to be so invested in this means that it has a strong spark - the story, that is - so do it, whilst it's there. And really, these days, none of us will know what's going to happen! Zoe is such a guru - her words of advice has kept me sane so often, I'd like for her to kinda be our ... what can you call it? - mentor? That's the word - mentor. A better word than "guru" for sure. She's helped me so much in the past and really, all our journeys are so different just this one thing: even though at stages you're going to feel alone, just know: you're not. Reach out via these blogs and LOADS of people will jump in to help! Or have opinions. And don't stop writing.

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