You’ve done it! You’ve written a novel. You’ve made several passes, revised it, shown it to beta readers, and made more adjustments. Maybe you’ve even handed it to a book doctor and made a few final, surgical tweaks. At last, time to find representation. So you researched agents who were interested in your genre, honed your query letter, and began sending out emails. Wonderful! Marvelous!
It’s time to write the next one.
But, wait! The energy that it took to find appropriate agents and finalize the query letter ate up all your normal writing time. And, wow, it was quite a slog those last few months finalizing the manuscript. You deserve a break, right? It will be nice to have your mornings for a while. Maybe you can start working out again, lose those five pounds you put on toward the end of the novel writing, when nothing mattered but finishing up the final draft.
Thus the Break From Writing begins. A few weeks slip into a few months and still you haven’t started a new project. Maybe you’ve played around with a few ideas, but nothing has come together quite yet, nothing into which you can really sink your teeth.
I’ve seen it happen before, to friends, colleagues, even me. You have a list of Agents You Haven’t Heard Back From Yet and every one of them represents hope that this will be the Big Break and you can sit back and start writing sequels. And so the writing stops and the waiting begins, even if you aren’t quite aware that you’re waiting.
How long has it been since your last project ended?
Now more than ever it’s important to work on the next novel. Nothing reduces the sting of a rejection email more than having transferred your emotions to a new, active project. When you’re really invested in your novel, writing that novel is all that matters. Think of it like dating again after a breakup. It’s time to move on.
But it’s tough, you say. Starting a new novel takes thought and research. Maybe you want to create a bunch of new character profiles, outline the first act, or investigate more about the setting of your next story. You’ve been doing that stuff and all of it takes time.
Here’s the secret: You don’t need all that stuff to start writing a new novel. No one says you need to begin on page one and move head to page two. Do you have scene ideas? Write them. Ideas for dialogue? Jot them down. A particularly compelling description buzzing through your brain? Capture it on paper. But start! Make an investment in something new.
Here’s what I do when maybe I’m not ready to start writing the next novel, but I need to get going: I write a high-level summary, scene by scene. I start with a new scene, write anywhere from a paragraph to a few pages on what it’s about, then I write the next one, and the next. If I have ideas for dialogue, I add them. Sometimes an unexpected idea occurs to me later in the process, so I’ll go back and revise old scene summaries. In a way it’s like writing the next book without the writing part.
I’ve used this method to jump start the process and successfully get the next project going. Even if it’s not how you normally like to work, it feels great. And if you have research to do or character profiles to flesh out, it doesn’t mean you can’t do them simultaneously.
Trust me, it’s not a waste of time.
Writing breaks that last weeks and months and maybe years. That is a waste of time.
Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.