On writing a second series

This last week I have found myself in a situation I’ve never encountered before. Having submitted the draft of Bloodchild to my publishers for edits, I was faced with taking a work in progress I’d been messing around with and writing for fun, and examining it in a new critical light – this is going to be the next book/series that I try and sell and, suddenly, the draft took on a whole new meaning.

Selling the Godblind trilogy was a dream come true, and while I’d written a couple of other books during the endless years of revision and submission to agents – a sci-fi novel and a modern women’s lit novel (don’t ask) – those had been experiments. This is different. The pure writer/artist in my soul wants to write the new WIP with all the joy and chaos that resulted in it taking 13 years to sell Godblind, by writing organically, discovering plot and characters as I go, and then rewriting over and over to refine it. The part of me that is now doing this for a living, who wants a full-length career in novels, knows that I don’t have that option. I don’t have that much time.

I’m faced now with refining the plot for the first book and detailing the overarching narrative for the series. I’m faced with getting it right THIS TIME, not at some unspecified point in the future when I’ve matured enough to do this book justice. I need to flex the writing muscles and challenge myself – and meet that challenge head on – right now. The caveat to that is, of course, that if this series gets picked up I will again have expert editorial input to refine the book, so there is some wriggle room. That said, it needs to be good enough to get picked up in the first place.

I’ve already realised that there is a fundamental flaw in the plot that needs fixing and this changes both the starting point and many early chapters of the 70,000 words I’d already written. That in turn changes the flow of the book almost completely, so I’m writing it again from scratch, utilising many existing chapters and tweaking them where needed. There will still need to be A LOT of brand new chapters, however. I’m 13,000 words in, but I had – laughably – wanted a complete draft by Christmas. I don’t think I’m going to get that now.

Writing to deadline has been an eye-opening experience and has forced me to mature as a writer faster than I thought possible. I can’t argue with that; it’s been an enlightening and empowering experience and I’ve loved every bittersweet moment of it. Now I need to draft this new book in between and around doing Bloodchild edits. I need to get it ready for submission. Because if I don’t, the dream ends and I go back to the day job. And I really, really don’t want to go back to the day job.

More than that, I need to be conscious of my audience and conscious of my ‘voice’, those things that I’ve developed over the Godblind trilogy. The world and setting and everything is very different in this new WIP compared with the Godblind universe, but it still needs to be recognisably an Anna Stephens novel. That means the prose, my way of viewing my worlds and my characters’ interactions, need to be familiar without being copies.

There’s a real temptation when writing such a different world to devleop a different author voice – and I genuinely don’t know whether that’s a good idea or not. I’m working on the assumption that it’s not, that the voice I developed in Godblind is the reason it got published. While that voice will mature as I do, and while the demands of this new world may call for more description than is usual for me, it still has to be, at its core, me. Not some fanciful future me, the me I want to be. I have to write the book I’m capable of writing right now, but that doesn’t mean I should be comfortable writing it. I need to flex these muscles and I need to push.

I’m definitely pushing myself with this new series. The question, of course, is whether I fall over the finish line last in a sobbing, sweaty heap – or sprint across arms aloft in first place.

This is the first series I’m writing with an eye to my ‘writing career’, and whether I like it or not, that does change the process. It changes the stakes. That’s a hard thing to admit – my gods, Anna’s no longer a pure artist, she’s only in it for the money! She’d write anything just to get another book deal! *enraged screaming*

Well, yes and no. I’m in it to make a living from it, and that’s incredibly difficult and I am very, very aware of how lucky I’ve been so far. But I’m also in it because I love every wild, incomprehensible, ridiculous minute of it. I’m in it because I love telling stories and examining things that are important to me through made up worlds. I’m in it to have fun, and hopefully ensure my readers have fun too.

But I’m not in it to prostitute myself for a book deal. I’m writing this WIP because I love the premise and the ideas and the world. I love the setting and the characters. If it doesn’t sell, what will I do? I’ll find out why, what people didn’t like about it, and I’ll consider whether I can live with making some changes to the plot that would make it more marketable.

At the end of the day, when industry experts tell you a story works or doesn’t work, it’s wise to listen. Because they know more about the market than we ever will. And it may seem unpalatable, but if adding in 10% of something you hadn’t previously considered will make your book sell and you get to keep the other 90% as you’ve written it, well… it’s up to each author to decide if those are percentages they can live with. And let’s not forget, that’s just editing. Refining and tightening a book, bringing out the best and most important elements – and maybe sliding in a couple you hadn’t thought about before.

So, wish me luck, and let’s see how far I can get before Bloodchild edits come back and we return to Gilgoras and the battle between Light and Blood. Because let me tell you, if you thought things were bad in Godblind, and worse in Darksoul, well… you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Currently reading: Lost Gods, by Micah Yongo; and The lost chronicles of the Maya Kings, by David Drew

Currently watching: Star Trek Discovery, in prep for upcoming season 2; and Doctor Who (Jodie! Jodie! Jodie!)

Currently listening: Tangerine Dream, Rubycon and Zeit.

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