I have been trying to start a new novel for about 3 months, and my fingers have been mired in the Land of False Starts. Some context. Last year I finished writing an amateur sleuth novel, and my agent starting submitting it in October. All the while, I have another novel out, a police procedural. Both are series ideas with a proposal for multiple books accompanying the novel submissions. I’ve had some “nice” rejections on both, but having two series proposals out on the market left me in a quandary. What do I write next while I wait to see what happens with the two series?
To start with, I wrote some more short stories and cleaned up a few I had tucked away in the archives—and got them out on the market. I didn’t want to continue to write short stories indefinitely, so I would start chapter 1 of a novel. I started seven or eight. Lack of ideas wasn’t the problem. But nothing clicked. For some reason chapter 2 didn’t seem to follow like normal…I just couldn't get excited about what I was writing.
My problem was fear. I was afraid I would start a novel, be halfway through it, and one of the novels that was out on the market would sell, and I wouldn’t be able to finish the one I had just started. I was afraid both novels would sell and I’d have to write four or five more books that I had proposed. I was afraid of success, and it left me spinning in the mud. I was editing myself, throwing up walls for myself. I was writing. But I wasn’t writing anything that I could ultimately put on the market to try and sell.
So what changed? How did I get past the false starts? By being honest with myself.
Maybe neither novel that was out on the market would ever sell. A hard pill to swallow, but possible.
Instead of worrying about the 2 novels selling, I had to forget they existed and start fresh. I had to start the new novel, and put everything I’ve learned from writing the others into the new one.
Were the false starts a waste of time? No. I was practicing. I was organizing my thoughts. I was in the physical position of writing. I hadn’t lost the most important part of writing, I kept showing up. But I was putting a cap on my creativity by worrying about things I could not control.
Publishers take forever. At least it seems like forever to us writers. I’m sure if we saw the stacks of manuscripts on their desks, we’d wonder how they got anything done at all. So I’m not blaming the editors, or the system. I’m blaming me for being afraid to commit to a project.
The moral to the story? Keep writing. Write your way out the problem. Keep showing up. Quit worrying about the things you can’t control…
I’m happy to report that I’m writing chapter 5 of the new novel…and I can’t wait to get to the end of the novel. I’ll finish it regardless of what happens. That’s what writers do. We write. Regardless of whether somebody buys our last project or not.