As I’m about to start the New Year with my third book coming up and another new book on the horizon, I want to vow something to myself as a writer. This is something I’ve struggled with from time to time over the past two years, and I know other authors struggle with it too. But it’s simple, and should be obvious to us all: Be true to ourselves and to our work and write the work we need to write.
Before I was published, this was not a question. What else could I possibly write? I wondered. And yet once you’re in the publishing world, it’s easy to be swayed from this. You want your next work to sell. (To start, you simply want it to sell to a publisher.) Every subsequent novel is a struggle. There is no guarantee, even if you have a book deal, that your next novel will, in fact, be your next book. It can be easy to be drawn into ideas that may seem marketable or attractive to one reader on your team, but are not alive for the author, and to spend too much with them.
That’s what happened to me before I wrote Secret of the Shadow Beasts, and, in fact, afterward as well. I had a list of attributes that my next novel needed to be, and tried to jam ideas into that format, or create ideas based on that. I come up with a lot of ideas in general, and need to evaluate them at some point. Criteria, like the kind I had created, can be useful.
But it can also be stultifying.
Many of my ideas sound good on paper. But they didn’t have that spark, that glint in the character’s eye, that make the kind of novel I want to write.
Here are my criteria going forward:
- Something that I care about
- Something that is kid-centered
- Something with a distinctive MC whom I can imagine beside me
- Something that feels real (even if it has a magic system)
- Something that has a good story
I’m deliberately leaving it open because doing so gives me the room to try out many different stories. But these are the crucial items that I’m going for. And with this criteria, I’m certain I’ll write a novel in 2022 of which I’ll be proud, a novel that will feel like me.