Have you ever done something remarkable? Achieved something you once thought impossible, or so far above and beyond what you ever expected, that when you came down from that blissful high it seemed like all the light and colour had been sucked from the world?
They say that not all who wander are lost, but I certainly felt that way after completing my YA fantasy trilogy The Willpower at the end of 2012. Five years of blood, sweat and tears did I put into that project, and once it was finally done there was a gaping hole left in my life. It took me a long time to learn how to fill it.
This must be a problem faced by many writers—and not just writers who can’t resist the allure of multiple-book series. Anyone who has devoted significant time and effort to a writing project must struggle with the flood of bittersweet emotion when they put their pen down for the last time. The work is done, but what next? The thought of starting something new is a daunting one, for how do you recapture the magic, when it feels like you’ve just expended it all?
This was a question I grappled with between 2013 and 2015. I was in a state of restless unease, feeling both lost and found and everything in between, compounded by the fact I’d recently washed my hands of high school. Now I’m studying science and engineering at university—that’s a whole lot of numbers and not quite so many words. I haven’t had any instruction on fiction writing since finishing my secondary education, but I have learned a lot about people…and learning about people is like a banquet to a writer’s soul.
So in the years following the completion of The Willpower, while I was but a tiny fish testing the treacherous waters of the real world for the first time, the Cambrian Explosion was taking place within my mind (I already admitted to being a science geek, didn’t I?). All kinds of thoughts and ideas started churning away in the murky depths of my brain, and soon my fingers were itching to write something again. Just something. Anything.
I began countless projects—literally dozens. An epic paranormal series about the war between Heaven and Hell. A low fantasy quartet set in an alternate medieval Britain. A contemporary series following the members of an (in)famous rock band. They were as different as night is from day, but they all had two things in common. One was that they marked the first part in a tale of enormous length and scope. The other was that they all failed to really take off.
It seemed I was reverting to the way I used to be. I’d been so over-the-moon about finishing The Willpower, that I assumed the rules must no longer apply to me. Now that I was a proper writer, I could take all my hard-learned lessons and fling them out the window. Right?
Wrong. It was humbling to realise how wrong I was.
I’d been jumping in with both feet at the first inkling of a good idea, when what I needed to do was to keep one boot on the ground. I’d forgotten that I spent months—years even—planning and shaping the plot for The Willpower. But I just wasn’t sure I had the patience to do all that again. I wasn’t sure I had the energy, given how much it took from me the last time.
I therefore decided that it was time for a change. The system I had in place for my writing had served me well over many years, but it was probably in need of a revamp…you know, now that I was an ADULT. With a heavy heart, I retired my Big Blue Folder to a shelf in the attic (read about the BBF here), ensuring all those meticulously prepared notes and ideas were filed away in my computer, and I replaced it with something simpler, smaller, more easily transportable: the Little Green Notebook.
The LGN soon became a constant companion, going with me everywhere. It still does. When an idea popped into my mind, it was now quick and easy to jot it down before it slipped through my fingers like sand. If an idea developed into a proper plot, I’d type it out on my laptop, and maybe start writing the story—see where it took me. But I didn’t put pressure on myself to really commit to anything. Why did it matter whether I finished a story or not, as long as I was having fun? This was a hobby, for crying out loud, not a university thesis! I’d get there again. Eventually. One day.
So I would keep doing what I was doing, reading books and surfing the web in the name of research, all the while recording ideas in the LGN, hoarding them like a dragon with treasure. And I waited, wondering, hoping, dreaming, that inspiration—true inspiration—would soon strike again.
- Plan for the inevitable crash, or at least anticipate it. When you finish a writing project, chances are you’ll feel restless now your fingers are unoccupied, and yet overwhelmed at the prospect of starting something new. But that’s normal, so take a deep breath. You’ll get through it.
- One does not simply walk into Mordor. One requires a born-again wizard, an army led by a lost king, or at the very least a guide with questionable intentions. Jokes aside, what I mean is that you can’t simply begin a story of epic proportions and expect to get to the end without any form of preparation. Maybe some people can force a story on a nebulous idea, but I can’t. I have to be patient.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The world already heaps it onto your shoulders, so you don’t need to add to the weight. Especially if you write for enjoyment and not to pay the bills, try not to agonise over your progress. If you do, you risk burning out, or worse: losing your love of the craft.
The story of my writing journey will conclude in PART 5: Now and ever after…