Stage Fright; or Writing a Sequel
I think that most people who have worked in an office will be familiar with the phenomenon whereby you’re busy working, touch-typing without thinking much about it, words flowing effortlessly from your fingertips to the screen – until, that is, someone stands close to your desk. Now, this person may not be speaking to you, may not even be paying any attention to you at all. It’s not they are doing anything in particular to distract you, it is just that the very fact of their presence throws you off.
All of a sudden, your fingers are clumsy, typos appear in every second word and punctuation is falling randomly onto the page. Before you know it, you’ve exited without saving your work and there’s smoke coming from the back of your PC.
For me, writing a sequel has been something similar. You see, when I first sat down to write Ashael Rising, I told very few people about my ambitions. My husband knew and, after a while, my parents and siblings, but otherwise I kept it to myself until I was close to completing the first draft.
Mostly that was because I wasn’t sure if I could actually do it. Writing a book is a bit like running a marathon except it takes longer. Sometimes years. I wasn’t sure that I had that kind of staying power. Not to mention the fact that I might not even have a story to tell. When I sat down to work – if I sat down to work – it was between me and the computer and no-one else.
When I completed the first draft, my plan was to put it aside for a while, then do a few revisions and rewrites before sending it out to agents and facing the inevitable years of rejection. I thought I had plenty of time to, not only polish Ashael Rising, but complete the series before I would be likely to see any sort of interest from agents or publishers.
Then came Unbound. They were holding a pitching hour on Twitter and I saw them giving some really useful feedback to people so, on a whim, I decided to pitch Ashael Rising to them, assuming they wouldn’t be interested, but they might give me some good feedback. They asked for the full manuscript.
Three weeks later, I had an offer of a publishing contract and I was straight into the whirlwind that is crowdfunding, while desperately working on the second draft, trying to fix the problems that I knew about before the book went to a professional editor.
Ashael Rising was released in February of 2017 and since then I’ve had people asking when they can expect the next in the series. What was a private ‘can I do this?’ has now become ‘can I do this again, with everyone I know watching?’
I think there’s always a bit of fear with a second book. Was the first one a fluke? Can you actually write or have you just been fooling everyone so far? What if your readers don’t like the direction you take the story or the characters?
An additional issue for me is the change in my personal writing style. You see, I’m a discovery writer, which means that I discover the story as I go along. When I started Ashael Rising, I had no idea where I was going and there was nothing stopping me following my muse wherever it took me. Now, I have to work within the constraints of the first book.
At the moment, I only know the big emotional beats of book two. I know the ending, and the events that lead up to it and I know the beginning but the middle is something of a mystery to me. Somehow, though, I have to find a way to carry forward all of the plot threads from book one, leaving no-one behind. I have to make sure that the character development, worldbuilding and plot details are all consistent with book one while being exciting in their own right.
Is it any wonder I’ve been avoiding the sequel by working on anthologies and flash fiction and novellas?
All while fielding questions like: When will the next book be ready? What happens to ‘character X’? Why aren’t you further on? How could you do XYZ? When will the book be out? Do you know the end yet? Why are you working on anything else?
I might fail. With everyone watching. I’m a little afraid to start.
It’s like trying to type with someone standing at your shoulder.
Ashael is calling me to tell her story and she would never let a little stage-fright stop her.