Tomorrow is BOUND’s official pub date. The last book of the trilogy. The end of the series. The end of the story.
It feels very strange to type that.
The story is done. I wrote three books; I lived with these characters in my head for years. That space has now been overtaken by new characters and new stories, and it’s a little disconcerting. It’s a little exhausting.
We lived in our old house for almost ten years; we moved just after TORN sold, and while it was the very best possible decision – we’d outgrown the old place, which didn’t have enough room to swing a cat, let alone two cats, three girls, and a writer who worked from home – it has taken us some time to grow accustomed to our new home. To find where furniture works best, where the light hits at different times of day, to know which cabinet the spatulas go in and where to store that one pitcher I like to use as a vase.
Writing a new story feels a little bit like that: determining voices, establishing settings, understanding motivations. Deciding which details fit, and which are just sentimental clutter. It’s as if I’m walking around during a power outage – I have the general shape of the rooms, and I’m not likely to fall over the couch, but I keep banging my shoulder against the doorframes and forgetting where I put things. Change, no matter how good, requires a period of adjustment.
Which is to say, I haven’t got a whole lot of advice, yet, on how to gracefully transition between one story universe and another. I’m operating on instinct and one of my deepest convictions: that the only way out is through. (A belief that sustains me in just about anything I find challenging, including but not limited to writing, moving, heatwaves, rush hour traffic, election season and yardwork.)
On the other hand, I plenty of advice about writing the dreaded Book Two.* It’s not that writing Book Three doesn’t inspire terror. It does. But at least with Book Three, you’ve written two books. Writing one book might be a fluke, a random act, a lightning strike. It might never happen again. Writing two books means it HAS happened again, and that bolsters your confidence, even if only a little bit. So while I have thoughts on writing Book Three, it’s Book Two that’s on my mind lately, because that’s what a new project is after you’ve completed a series: It’s Book Two, only on steroids.
(OH HAI NEW PROJEKT. Source.)
Here’s what I tell my friends who are writing Book Two:
First, I send them a link to this post by Libba Bray. Because Libba is wise beyond measure.
Next, I tell them this:
It’s going to be okay.
It’s going to be better than okay, actually. It doesn’t feel like it: you’re feeling panicked and a little nauseous because you’re mainlining caffeine, and the deadline on your calendar is staring at you with a gimlet eye (Not the good kind of gimlet, either. You could probably stand to have one of those right about now.) Maybe Book One seems like some sort of lovely dream now, filled with puppies and rainbows and unicorns, a magical time and place that you can never return to, like Brigadoon. Maybe Book One was a wrenching, draining, soul-sucking experience, and you cannot believe you agreed to put yourself through that kind of trauma again. Maybe it felt like both.
It doesn’t matter.
No matter what it felt like at the time, or what it feels like in retrospect, the fact is when you wrote Book One, you were learning. You were writing a book and feeling your way through the process and revising and taking chances and growing as a writer. ** You started Book One with a set of tools that served you well, and by the time you reached the end, you had expanded your toolbox considerably. You’re a better writer for having gone through it.
“But EEEEEEE,” you say, “If I am a better writer, how come Book Two sucks so powerfully it could double as one of those fancy European vacuum cleaners?”
(This vacuum costs more than a thousand dollars. Source.)
Because it’s not just your skills that have grown. It’s your standards, too. You're improving, and you're also getting more self-critical, and because the growth happens at the same rate, you'll never be all, “Lo, I am writing a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and my prose is luminous in its depth and imagination." *** You might think so later, after you've had a break, but at this point in the process, it's mathematically impossible to be happy.
This is yet another reason math sucks. ****
That’s not to say you won’t ever be happy with your book. But right now, in the thick of it, you have no perspective. You’re besieged by self-doubt and visions of that second Indiana Jones movie. Happiness comes later, after you’ve put in the work, after you’ve gotten some distance and you’re freaking the hell out over the next project, at which point you will look back at Book Two with nostalgia and affection.
In the meantime, remember: the only way out is through. And lay off the caffeine.
* To clarify: when I say Book Two, I mean the second book in a series, not a second stand-alone or spinoff or continuity or companion novel.
** Probably, you were growing as as a person, too. If publishing is good for anything, it is helping you “grow as a person.”
*** Maybe there are writers who say this mid-book, but I don’t know any. And if I did, I wouldn’t want to have coffee with them.
**** Other reasons: imaginary numbers, matrices, lattice multiplication, word problems, “show your work”