The most useful writing advice and I literally can’t remember where I heard it. But the idea behind it is to leave it all on the table. To put all your best stuff into this book and don’t save anything for mythical future books that may never exist.
I took a break from rewriting my book because it was incredibly frustrating to be stymied yet again and worked on some other projects. But I kept thinking about it. Well, I kept thinking about the sequel anyway.
See, I finished the original book mid-way into November and, since it was NaNoWriMo, I just kept on writing and wrote about half of a sequel before the month was out. Book 2 had a different main character than Book 1 but took place in the aftermath of the events of the first. I was very excited about that sequel and the characters contained therein and spent a lot of time cheating on other projects to write about them. I even toyed with making this second book the first book and then someday using Mistress Novel as a prequel but it just wouldn’t work. So much of Book 2 was dependent on Book 1.
Or was it?
Years ago, I’d read advice that said never to withhold anything good for the sequel. To put all your best stuff in this book and make it the best book it can be because there may never be a second book anyway. And I realized I was saving all this stuff that I was excited to write about, and that was good, for a sequel that would probably never exist.
I decided to conduct another experiment. I busted out the sequel I’d written all those years ago and started rewriting the scenes one by one as if they were happening simultaneous to the events of Mistress Novel. It not only wasn’t as hard as I thought to play with the timeline, it was working big time. I blew through all the scenes I’d done all those years ago and then wrote more until I got stuck.
But this time, getting stuck didn’t sideline me. I got stuck in the exact same spot as before and this time with a completely different character which told me two big things. The first was that these two stories belonged together as two alternating point of views in the same book. The second was that the reason I’d gotten stuck in the same place with both POV’s was because it was time to bring them together.
I paused my forward progress and took a moment to assemble a new working draft. I took all the new POV scenes I’d written and placed them roughly where I thought they’d go between the original story. I made a ton of notes on little changes needed to make the transitions smoother but there was no point in going back and fixing anything now, I was going to make a much bigger mess of this story before I was done.
Once I had a rough draft of everything so far, I let the two POV characters meet, something I’d been saving for, you guessed it, yet another future book. I knew it was the right thing to do at last when the story went off running, events falling into place, all of them different but many with a similar feel to the best scenes from the original. Whenever I got stuck, I took gems I’d planned for future books and grafted them onto this book wherever possible. It was like I took the whole planned series, threw it into a blender, hit frappe and dumped it into this one book. And, to my surprise, it worked and well.
I started to realize that this philosophy didn’t just apply to series but to the book itself. Why save that awesome scene for the end? Why not put it here and have faith I’ll come up with something even better when I get to the end? I quickly filled up the downtime and gave everything much more tension by moving all the best scenes earlier.
I think the desire to save some good stuff for later comes from fear. We have to leave something in reserve, we think, because what if we can’t come up with something better when the time comes? The thing is, most gardens grown even better when you start pruning and your imagination is the same way. If you use up that great idea as soon as you get it, you’re just leaving space to get two better ones later.
Don’t cheat the book you’re writing now out of something because you’ve promised it to a future book. There will always be more ideas. Right now, your job is just to make this one book in front of you the best it can be.
Trust yourself and your imagination. The well will not run dry.