This week, I finished the last big revision of A Strange Companion. This means that the story currently on the page is the story that will be in the finished book. I won’t be cutting or adding scenes, no new characters will appear, and I won’t suddenly change the ending. I sent it off to my editor, who will help me knock off all the rough edges and make my prose sing. After that, the book will be laid out and proofread within an inch of its life. And then my novel will officially, finally, be finished!
Which means it’s time to start on something new.
I’m excited about diving into a new project. Revising a book is a bit like running around the same dirt track, moving, discarding, and adding stones on each lap. But the first draft of a book is an adventure into the unknown. Even with a complete story in mind, or at least a rough map of the route ahead, the writing always delivers surprises. Sometimes it’s a member of the story’s supporting cast, who wanders on to deliver one line that changes everything for the main character, leaving me with no choice but to write the bit-player a bigger role. That happened with Aiden in The Smallest Thing. He came out of a writing exercise, didn’t even say a word, and won himself a key supporting role in the story. In A Strange Companion, it was a decision Kat makes late in the story that was unexpected, but inevitable. That’s the fun of early drafts.
The question, though, is what to write now?
My head is swirling with ideas. I have about 50 pages of a novel I started last year about a girl, Grace, who saves someone’s life and becomes and unwilling celebrity. I like that story a lot, and I think it has legs.
But then there’s Anna. She often makes herself known when I do writing prompts, and she has a lot to say about living up to other people’s expectations. I like her a lot.
I have a stack of unfinished short stories calling to me, enough for a collection, and an entire contemporary romance series unfolding in my mind and on paper. There’s a potential sequel to A Strange Companion and “the book about the war” I keep promising my mum I’ll write one day, plus several more stray odds and ends of ideas with potential. That’s a lot of stories rattling around in one brain! So how do I decide what to work on next?
Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize winning author of All the Light We Cannot See, talks about his story ideas being like pots of stew bubbling away on a stove. He stirs this one a little and then that one, and keeps them all simmering until one begins to boil up and lets him know it’s the one that requires his attention.
I’ve been doing that a little myself, working on some of the foundation work for my stories, exploring the characters and finding out who they are and what stories they want to tell. This exploration is the part of the creative process I love the most, when I have carte blanche to write anything I want.
I could tinker away at all these ideas forever, but at some point, one will have to become the focus or none will ever get written. So for the next couple of weeks (while I recover from my editing deadline), I’ll stir away at my pots, tasting and testing. And, hopefully, one story will speak to me more deeply and the characters will become more vivid. And at that point, I’ll commit.
I’ll let you know which idea wins.