Monday, March 21, 2016

Why I'm Not Writing My Sequel

I have officially made a life altering decision.

Yeah, it's not really life altering. Or official. In fact, it's almost boring. But it's sort of a big deal for me.

I'm not writing the sequel to Chasing Echoes.

DON'T PANIC. (I think I'm saying this more to myself). I don't mean I'm not writing it ever; I just mean I'm shelving my partially-written manuscript for an indeterminate amount of time so I can work on a different project. (Yeah, I hear it too. It sounds like a sugarcoated way of saying forever).

Why OH WHY would I quit right in the middle of a series? Especially considering Black Lilies is completely outlined, with every major plot point mapped out including the awesome semi-cliffhanger ending?

At this point, I'm tempted to barrage you with a slew of sensible, rational reasons. Like how from a business perspective, it simply doesn't make sense to write the sequel to Chasing Echoes when the current YA market is flooded with fantasy and paranormal romance. Or I could give you my personal excuses; how my husband just started back to college and I'm losing hours upon hours every week helping him with his essays and editing his papers, making that December deadline for Black Lilies seem more and more impossible.

And while the above is all true, it's not the real reason I'm abandoning my novel. The real reason is simple.

My heart's not into it.

I can already hear it. "WHAT?! You're going to leave thousands of readers hanging because your HEART'S NOT INTO IT? Isn't that, like, SO UNPROFESSIONAL?!" My response to this make-believe-question is, "Uh, yeah." (And also, it's only 1,182 readers, according to my recent sales report, so quit being so dramatic Fake Person in My Head).

Here's the thing. I'm not a full-time writer. I teach full-time, which any teacher can tell you is enough to fry your brain on a daily basis, and I write in the little snippets of free time that I scrap together. I have enough love for writing that I'll make the time to do it. But I can't--or won't--write something out of obligation. And that's what Black Lilies has become to me--an obligation. It sucks that it feels this way, because it's not a soggy sequel that's designed to simply take up space between book 1 and book 3. It's a beautiful little story in of its own right. But that doesn't matter. It feels like one big fat homework assignment. Yes, it's an appealing assignment that has its fun moments, but it's an assignment nonetheless, complete with deadlines and a ton of accountability.

Long story short: I wrote Chasing Echoes because I wanted to. I'm writing Black Lilies because I feel like I have to.

And that's not okay. Not only does this affect the quality of my novel, but it's messing with my quality of life, in which I feel this constant nagging guilt when my word count bar isn't budging. I can't even enjoy a simple game of Monopoly with my kids without that little voice chiding me "You should be working on your sequel." (To be fair, Monopoly's a horrid game anyway. But really, the nagging voice makes it worse, especially if I'm stuck in jail for three turns in a row). 

Now if Chasing Echoes was swept up by one of the Big Five (Penguin/Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette or Simon & Schuster) and I was under contract to finish the series, that would be a different story. I would have to quit teaching to be a full-time writer, and I'd be fueled to work on Black Lilies, because it would be my livlihood, and there would be an entire industry who has faith in the series. But until I can make a living as a writer, I will no longer write anything that feels like I'm "forcing" myself through. 

From this moment I hereby decree that I will write only what I feel an itch to writeLike Ray Bradbury aptly put it, my intuition knows what it wants to write, and it's time for me to get out of the way.

And what do I want to write at this moment? Well, I want to get away from the clutches of a series, and write a stand-alone novel called The Apathetics (working title), a dark and gritty dystopian with a ton of heart. It's still too new for me to give out specific details, so for now I'll just say that it has a totally unique premise, and I'm really excited about it. As of now I've written a general outline of the entire novel, a profile of all the characters, and a few pivotal scenes (including the end, which means the novel has a sense of direction). There are a few more decisions I need to make with the story line, and then I will be ready to start the first draft.

I will NOT be setting a deadline for The Apathetics. Well, not until I get closer to finishing it (which at this point my friend Mr. Moore can step in and start smacking me in the head with his shoe to get me across the finish line) (my editor will help with this too). I want this experience to be like Chasing Echoes, where I work on the manuscript at my leisure and actually enjoy the process. Once I give myself a deadline, it becomes a "job" instead of a beloved past-time. So if this book takes me ten years to write, so be it. That gives me more time to appreciate my weird kids and enjoy life with my awesome family. I love writing, but writing isn't all that I am. I'm done shoving so many other important things aside for the sake of some self-imposed deadline. I want to actually enjoy playing Monopoly with my little weirdos and going directly to jail and not collecting my much-deserved $200 (seriously, this game is barbaric, why do people play it?). 

And who knows? Since this new novel actually gets my blood pumping, maybe it will be the magical one. As much as I love and appreciate the miracles of small house publishing, maybe this new novel will be the one that reaches the Big Five, giving Chasing Echoes a chance at something bigger and better instead of barely treading water in an over-flooded market of YA fantasy. Like my sister told me, I owe it to Chasing Echoes--my first love--to give this new idea a shot. I owe it to the future of Black Lilies too. I still love my sweet little sequel; I just need something to make it exciting for me again.

I'll end with this final thought, from

"So I'm here to say, it's OKAY. It's okay to shelve your manuscript. And it is by no means an indicator that you suck or have failed as a writer. It's just the opposite, it's a sign that you're maturing as a writer and know when it's time to pull the plug to move on to bigger and better writing. Shelving your work breaks down the brick walls of guilt and frees your mind to develop new ideas on a healthier and more positive foundation. And guess what? Shelving your work doesn't have to be permanent, but it can be empowering."

So I'm going to resist the urge to apologize to my readers for not delivering them the sequel to Chasing Echoes. Because you know what? I think you're going to love what's coming next.