I've got a fantastic guest post for you today from indie author, Taya Greylock. Already Comes Darkness, the third volume in her The Song of the Ash Tree series is now available for pre-order from Amazon.
A Tale of Three Plots
Or, In Which I Have a Conundrum, Solve It (Huzzah!), and Offer Sage Advice
Plot A has been lounging in the office of my brain for some time now. He seems content to wait, confident in the lack of competition. If my attention is a doctor, he’s the lone patient—and as long as no one else sees the doctor first, well, the wait doesn’t matter, does it.
Plot A is perfect. He checks all the boxes, hits all the ingredients:
- A dash of history
- Heaps of mythology
- Stir to heart’s content
And while I’ve perhaps played a little hard to get, kept him waiting, I’ve been glad to know he’s there. He’s not going anywhere, you see, because he’s Mr. Right.*
* Yes, I’m mixing my doctor’s office, cooking, and romantic metaphors. Get over it.
But suddenly Plot A is no longer vying for my attention alone. In fact, despite his patience, he cannot be certain he’s even first in line.
Plot B is new and fresh and a bit unwieldy, not to mention wild. Plot B stormed in on a wave of righteous anger fueled by current events. (It may not surprise you to learn that Plot B has had an allergic reaction to Cheetos.) Plot B is mysterious (I don’t quite know what to do with him), dangerous (he’s far outside my strike zone), and extraordinarily tempting. As all Bad Boys are.
I haven’t yet extracted all of Plot B’s ingredients, so I really don’t know what boxes he checks, but he presents a challenge, one I think I should confront.
Plot A and Plot B have been mingling uneasily now for far longer than they would like. Plot A insists he’s the one, then gives Plot B the stink eye when he thinks I’m not looking. Plot B delights in A’s anxiety but inwardly questions whether his allure is enough to win me over. No adorable bromance here.
To make matters more complicated, Plot C waltzed in, unexpected, brimming with new car smell**, and oblivious to the stir she’s caused. Yep, Plot C is undeniably a she.
** I actually strongly dislike the smell of new cars, but let’s pretend that’s not true for the sake of yet another metaphor.
Plot C is an odd breed; she blends the attractive qualities of both A and B. She has all of A’s ingredients and more than a little of B’s mystery and exoticism. She would be both familiar and unfamiliar. But she hasn’t yet convinced me she’s made of enough substance to be anything other than a flight risk.
What Plots A, B, and C seem unaware of is that Plot Z actually snuck in before the office of my brain was open for business, wreaked havoc for 25,000 words, then crawled into a corner and has been sleeping peacefully ever since, rather like an exhausted puppy with large paws.
To Plot A’s despair and consternation, the office has become rather crowded, the line quite convoluted.
To recap: Mr. Right is feeling queasy, Monsieur Dangereux is a bit miffed that he hasn’t swept me off my feet already, Lady New Car is cheerfully provoking both of them, and there’s a puppy in the corner that could wake up at any moment.
The point of all this?
How should I choose what to write next?
Put more broadly, how do writers make these choices? What goes into that decision?
In a matter of days, my trilogy will be fully published. The project that has consumed me since October of 2013 will be entirely out of my hands. I’m not moping over the loss of this companion. I’m thrilled to finally have all three books out there in the hands of readers. To be honest, I’ve felt pretty distant from the story for probably about a year now—and I mean that in the best way. I care about it, it means more to me than I can probably ever put into words, and the last round of edits on book three late last year reminded me just how much it matters, but I’ve been able to let go. It doesn’t belong solely to me anymore.
I say this to make it clear that I’m not dragging my feet about what to write next because I’m still hung up on the story, characters, and world I created for The Song of the Ash Tree. If you’ll pardon me for extending the romantic metaphor once more, those three books are now a past relationship and I’m okay with that.
I’m ready to move on—but I don’t know what to move on to.
I’ve heard that a writer should try to forget her ideas and that it’s the idea that refuses to be forgotten that needs to be written. I’m a big believer in this. But I do have some issues with it: it’s kind of abstract and it doesn’t take into account the reality of being a self-published writer today.
There are a lot of mantras about how to be a successful self-published author—too many, actually—but one thing that can be backed up by statistics is the fact that publishing more frequently is undeniably helpful.
So how long is an intrepid writer, the heroine of this story, supposed to wait for those other ideas to be forgotten? How does this lofty ideal fit into her publishing schedule, which apparently is insisting on multiple books a year?
To be fair, I don’t think this advice about ideas is the same thing as waiting for the right idea. Waiting implies endlessly bemoaning the absence of a muse. If we all did that, we’d never write a word. But I do think there’s something—okay, A LOT—to be said for just sitting down and writing. Something. Anything. I subscribed to this advice while drafting all three books in The Song of the Ash Tree. I established a daily writing habit and I didn’t concern myself with perfection (that way lies madness) until after the first drafts were complete.
But the story for The Song of the Ash Tree is a unicorn in the sense that I KNEW I was supposed to write it. It actually was the idea I couldn’t forget and for the first time ever in my writing life, I felt like I was writing a story only I could write. The moral here is that I don’t think I can use The Song of the Ash Tree as my guiding light in deciding how to determine which plot I should pursue next. It’s an anomaly, an outlier. Which means I need to rely on other instincts and information to make my choice.
In short, I need to discover which plot is both right and right in this moment—if that makes sense. I need to know which plot I can sink into and enjoy and feel good about, while also being a plot that doesn’t require coddling and magic potions I don’t have, because, guess what, I have a schedule—not to mention a day job.
So, to return to the office of my brain: Plot A, Plot B, or Plot C? Which one deserves to emerge from the crowd?
I’m going to let you in on a secret.
Are you paying attention?
I don’t think it matters which plot I choose.
This appears to fly in the face of everything I said above (and it might, I can’t tell). Let me finish.
What matters is that I choose.
I have to commit. No more waffling, no more arguments and counter-arguments.
Despite being a unicorn, there is no doubt that The Song of the Ash Tree taught me to commit. And I believe I can do that again. I believe in my ability to write a good story, regardless of which plot I choose. I also believe in my ability to wrangle a non-compliant plot into surrender because I’ve done that.
I just need to put words to paper. I need to begin.
And you can do that, too. No matter if you are a new writer, just exploring your story inspiration, or an experienced old fart with a dozen or more books to your name, we all have to start in the same place: on a blank page (try to ignore that devilish, winking cursor as it stares up at you).
Now, excuse me while I go follow my own advice.
Curious about which plot wins the battle for my affections? Check back in a couple months and I’ll let you know.