So I’m teaching my bi-annual writing class on Monday nights this month, and as I see the apprehensive/excited faces behind the desks each evening, I realize again what an act of courage it is (and it is) every time a writer sits down to commit an act of prose. (Or poetry, or whatever it is you’re perpetrating.)
I used to think it got easier as it went along. And on some levels, it does; I’ve written over 2,000 pages of fiction at this point, so I’m pretty comfortable that when I tell my subconscious to come up with something I can transfer to paper, it will. But it still isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
When you are working on an established series, you have the benefit of a pre-created world and characters who have been developed in earlier books, which definitely helps. But there’s still a lot of work to be done; each plot needs to be fresh, and as Susan Wittig Albert discussed last week, characters can’t stay static — they grow and change with time.
On the other hand, when you break from an established series, especially one that’s well-liked, it’s exciting, but also a bit stress-inducing. Particularly if your new work is in a different style, and deals with a completely different subject. (Say, sassy and filled with werewolves instead of cozy and chock-full of coffee cakes.)
Since I committed myself to writing a trilogy that would be more than 2/3 complete before the first book hit the stands, I am particularly aware of the risks of jumping off in a new direction. (And the direction changed more than once after I jumped off, to be honest — for one thing, HOWLING was originally sold as a light werewolf mystery, but the editor decided to publish it as romance once the trilogy was well underway.) And it has been tough going this last several months, as I learned my way around a new genre and went through multiple editor changes — and waited for the first reviews to hit. (Thank goodness they were good.)
But even if things had gone the other way, and my work hadn’t been well received, I’m still glad I took the risk.
Because I think the most important thing as a writer — no matter where you are in the process — is to have faith in yourself, and to allow your creativity to go in whatever strange direction it chooses. Even if it does end up in places you never thought you’d go. Because you know what? There’s something magical that happens when the brain switches off and your fingers fly across the keyboard of their own accord. Characters come to life, plots veer off in unexpected — and sometimes rather unwelcome — directions, and sparks of new ideas flare up when you’re least looking for them.
And even if you screw up, you still learn something.
Writing is a risk. There is always the possibility that you’re the only one who will see the magic in what you’ve written. (Or, the day after, the absolute lack thereof — then again, we as writers are notoriously bad at judging our own work, so you never know.)
The key, however, is keeping that creative flame alive. Because that’s why we keep coming back to it, day after day after day.
So, for those of you out there who have been putting off writing a book for years out of fear it will never get published, or have a book you’ve never gotten around to finishing because it’s too hard, or have a steamy romance in mind that your afraid your grandmother will excommunicate you for (been there, done that, by the way), my advice is: Do it anyway. Take the risk.
Because that’s what this crazy business is all about.