“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Stephen King, “On Writing”
It’s been a busy year since “Oliver’s Surprise” went to press. Book signings, visits to book stores, meetings with the publisher, author blogs. Best of all has been talking with so many kids and adults who’ve taken Oliver into their imaginations. He’s brought smiles to faces on near and distant shores, and I’m sure that will continue with the second edition.
Now, after a full year of revising, designing, marketing, and of course selling books, it’s back to writing: I’m working on a sequel. On mornings when the sunshine and perfect temps are calling me to join them outside, I’m sitting down at my desk and trying to figure out What Happens Next. Some days it’s worth the sacrifice, and the story line flows through my fingers onto the screen. Some days I check my email way too often. On the worst days, I give up before lunch and write a blog post instead. One way or another, I’ll get this next story written.
What I’m learning is that after such an exciting period of diving into the nuts and bolts to get my book Out There, it’s simply impossible to rewind and write from that innocent place that created the first Oliver. That’s even more the case since the first book wasn’t originally written to be published.
For that and many other reasons, the next book will be different.
I’m often disappointed by sequels. I go looking for more about my favorite character, only to find s/he has moved or grown up or changed too much to be recognizable. And yet I wouldn’t want to read exactly the same story all over again; that would be too much like a “formula” book. I always have the feeling that formula authors start with a plot outline and just fill in the blanks next to the characters’ names. Lucrative, for sure, since publishers are always looking for more than one book. But that’s not what I’m after.
What I’m after is to write a BETTER book. More depth, more details, more drama. All that without (hopefully) ruining the quiet charm that so many liked about the original. And the only way to do that is to close the door and just write, trusting the characters to show me the way forward.
So for the next few weeks or months I’m going to close the door, maybe setting a brick or two on the floor to keep it shut. I’ll muzzle the editor within. Send the marketing director to an island resort with a faulty internet connection. I’ll write what comes to mind, without thinking about how it fits into the creative arc or who’s going to buy this crap. It’s the only way for me to figure out What Happens Next.
And for now, I’m keeping mum about any and all story details. I have a direction and a plan, but I’m not completely sure yet what will come of it. Only this morning, Oliver threw me another curve ball. We’ll get there, together, with him leading me most of the time. Then and only then will I start editing, and find out what I really meant to say.
What is it that you like or don’t like about sequels? How closely should they follow the original story? Let me know what you think, and maybe your comments will spur my creative process.