I said on Twitter a little while back that I thought the trick to writing was to kill the book before it killed you.
Never have I been so inclined to believe it.
I just turned in the draft of the sequel to THE ARCHIVED, and let me tell you, that book nearly won.
There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with writing a book under contract as opposed to writing a book and THEN getting a deal (a good problem to have, I know), and there’s also a certain amount of pressure that comes with writing a sequel, and when those forces combine it’s like one of those transformer toys where two beasts suddenly become an even bigger, stronger one.
Let’s examine the two beasts on their own.
When you write a book under contract, people are watching you. They have put money into you, and expect results. And they expect them on a schedule. When you write a whole book and THEN sell it, you don’t always have the security of knowing it will become a BOOK, but you have the freedom of privacy and discovery and time. Under contract, you’re exposed.
When you’re writing a sequel to a book that’s already sold, there is a strange and intense amount of AWARENESS. You are continuing a story people are going to read. Characters they are going to develop feelings for. You want to do the story justice. You want to keep the readers happy. You want to go bigger. You would think that re-entering a world you’ve already created would be freeing, make the creative process easier, but a quick poll of the interwebs–I basically went around authors and dropped the word SEQUEL and watched them shudder–suggests otherwise.
Now, for a good number of authors, their first book written under contract and their first sequel are one and the same. Maybe they get ALL THE ANGST out in one book.
But for me, these two feelings came first in separate packages, and then together.
To be honest, I’m lucky that the sequel wasn’t my first book under contract. That award goes to the FIRST book in The Archived series, and let me tell you, writing that under contract (and overseas) was DAUNTING. I was in no way braced for the sensation of other people watching me work, and waiting for a product. But at least I had the luxury of it being the first book in what I hoped would become a series.
Which brings us to…THE ARCHIVED SEQUEL.
The Archived sequel was both written under contract, and was, you know, a sequel. Needless to say, it came with ALL THE FEELS. I expect angst to creep into my process around the halfway point of a draft, but I have to say, fear/panic/hope/worry/angst were with me from page one. I very, very, very much wanted to write this book. When I got the call that Disney*Hyperion was buying Book 2, and that my beloved book would become a series–it still gives me chills–I was over the moon.
And then I sat down to work, to revisit the characters I loved so, so much.
Not because I didn’t know the story. On the contrary, of all the projects I’ve worked on, The Archived sequel is the one I knew best. I knew as much as I could possibly know about it before putting pen to paper. This wasn’t writer’s block. It was fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to do the story justice. Fear that it wouldn’t be better than Book 1. Fear that I wasn’t a good enough writer to get the strange, warped, complicated, tangled, psychological story from my head and onto the page. All kinds of fear.
Writers are known for maintaining a fairly high baseline of self-doubt anyway, and coming off the high of finishing Book 1 edits, of finally being SO in love with the first installment, I found myself paralyzed by the IDEA of the second one.
And when I added to that fear the awareness that I had a deadline, that each moment of paralysis was chipping away at the time I had to WRITE, I got frustrated with myself.
And then I added to that the fact that this book SCARED THE SH*T OUT OF ME.
Not just because it was under contract. Not just because it was a sequel. Because it was going to be HARD. Because I wanted to push myself–really, seriously push myself–as a writer, and speaking as someone who doesn’t let herself develop a creative comfort zone to begin with, someone who spends more of their process a bit CONCERNED–I never know if a book will work until it’s book-shaped–this project was terrifying.
I cannot count the number of texts I sent to friends about HOW terrifying it was, and unfortunately it will be a long while before I’m able to expound on that here, because it would give away plot. But suffice it to say, the physical and psychological elements in this book had my already frazzled self in a state of perpetual dishevelment.
I made it. Not easily. Not smoothly. Not gently. And certainly not without the daily love and support and nags and bribes and threats from my friends.
But I made it.
And in true first-draft-hindsight-is-a-lying-sh*t fashion, the pain of the book is already beginning to recede.
I remember spending two and a half months on the first 100 pages alone, wanting them to be perfect. I remember hitting the middle–oh, hello again fire swamp–and hurtling myself through. And then getting stuck. Retreating. Dragging myself out of the lightning sand after getting stuck–plot stuck, emotional arc stuck, all kinds of stuck. I remember colliding with the end. I remember all these things, and I remember them WRONG. They have the distance that can only come with typing THE END (interesting fact, I don’t actually ever type those words).
This time around, though, I have four months of text messages and emails and other material evidence of my angst to remind me what it was like, so my mind can’t try to trick me into doing it again. At least, it can’t trick me into believing it will be easy.
Of course, no matter how my mind spins it, no matter how much evidence I amass, I always WILL choose to do it again. I am broken the way most writers are, stories leaking through the cracks.
But this book…I wish I could remember right , impress upon myself, how hard it was. Then again, maybe it’s better that the memory is already warping.
My friends tease me because apparently I struggle with EVERY book. Apparently I go through these motions, say these oaths, am dragged through the stages kicking and screaming and swearing that I will never do it again. I have to take their word for it because I can’t remember.
But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe that’s how it should be. Maybe every book should feel like this, for me anyway. Maybe that’s a sign I’m doing this right. You see, my only two rules when it comes to writing books are…
1. Do not do the same thing twice
2. Get better.
So maybe the fact I say this about every book means that every book is pushing me more than the one that came before it. They don’t all push in the same ways, of course. They don’t all demand the same pieces of me in tribute. But each one seems to be getting harder. And while some of that is me acclimating to the fact that this is my “job” and that jobs come with things like deadlines and expectations, I like to think that more of the pain comes from the fact I’m growing, or at least trying to grow.
So, anyway. I said I’d write a post on surviving that book. And there you go.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go take some notes on this new book I’m working on.*