Finished my novel… where do I find the next idea?

9202009679_f5e20fe7a4_z‘I like Nail Your Novel,’ said Lauren Orbison to me on Twitter recently (which was nice). ‘But you now need to write Nail Your Second Novel. It’s tough sometimes to get back to writing after finishing something.’

I understand what she means. First novels are usually written over many years. We might put more time, work and learning into it than we ever dreamed we could put into one project – short of actually rearing the next generation. Then suddenly, the novel’s done, it’s out and we’re wondering: how did I do it?

I’ve certainly felt like this. One minute, I’m stealing time to be with a book that has become as familiar as an old friend, refining to get the depth and finish I want. No other phase for me is so rewarding. I’m understanding my material. I have a book, for sure, at last. It reminds me of when I was at plays at school. In the final rehearsals we’d be adding refinement on refinement, amazing ourselves at how inventive we were being. The shambolic months were behind us.

Then it’s over. On the one hand, my novel is out in the world as a finished piece. Readers might be asking what’s next (bless them). And what have I got? Something much rougher, perhaps – to me – offensively so.

This, I think, is what Lauren is talking about. Some writers find it blocks them completely.

notebookGet going early

I’ve learned the way to deal with this is to get another novel to a confident state before the mature one sets sail. I know that if I get to the end of The Mountains Novel and I haven’t got a serious contender for Next Novel, I will be severely fretful and will rail at the muses for abandoning me. But The Mountains Novel will need periods of enforced rest after each draft and that’s when I’ll get developing the next one. Could be The Flying Novel, The Venice Novel, or – as I’ve had a few other ideas arrive – Someothernovel entirely.

So far, so good.

No plan?

But what if you’ve completed the one novel you’ve spent years on, and you haven’t started incubating another? What if that first idea started so long ago that you’ve forgotten how you ever got it?

Or what if you have ideas but they don’t excite you? I have various plots I’ve thought of, but I don’t feel moved to write them. I’m missing the ingredient that will make me want to quarry them – because I haven’t found the theme or idea I want to take to them. They’re clay without a soul.

First of all, if you’re feeling so emptied, you can’t create. Go and stoke your imagination. Your first idea probably came to you out of the blue, while you were following something you were interested in. So read books and do things just because you want to, no ulterior motive of research. You can’t force yourself to have a great idea any more than you can will yourself to fall in love. But you can flirt with things that could bite back (in a good way).

If you’re still frustrated because you’re not actually ‘working on’ something, make this period of exploration into a project. Set yourself a target to read x number of novels, y number of non-fiction books, or have a brief sabbatical at an evening class so that you feel like you’re completing something. Think of it as an appointment with your muse. If you’re really desperate, read something you’re guaranteed not to like. The chances are, you’ll rile yourself so much you’ll be bursting ideas in no time.

nyn1 reboot ebook darkersmlAnd next time, don’t wait until the first novel is over before you work on the second. (There’s plenty more about developing ideas in Nail Your Novel, whether you’re on debut tome or umpteenth…)

 Thanks for the pic operation_Janet 

Well that’s my method. Have you finished a novel and found it hard to get on with the next? Perhaps you have a steady stream of works in progress… Let’s share in the comments!

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  1. #1 by Andy Szpuk on February 2, 2014 - 10:40 pm

    I once read about an author, I think he was an American genre fiction writer who studiously spent exactly the same amount of time writing every day, and if he finished his current work within that time, he began the next one straight away!
    I write poetry to fill gaps, and recommend it as a way of developing your craft, and also, if you write a four liner – that’s another ‘project’ completed! Happy days.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 3, 2014 - 8:17 am

      Hi Andy! Ah, writing poetry for in-between. That’s nice. When I haven’t got a project that’s advanced enough to be drafting, one of the things I miss is the reason to write prose. Blog posts don’t fill the gap because they’re more literal, instructive. I miss the more immersive use of language and the building of an imaginative web. But writing poetry would keep that faculty exercised. If I thought in terms of poems, ahem!

      • #3 by Andy Szpuk on February 3, 2014 - 8:45 pm

        Indeed, but for some reason writers often have an anxiety about poetry – it can be in free verse, as with Bukowski, where it\s often quite an incoherent ramble through a vignette, or it can of course be rhymed, I’m going through a phase of the rhymed type currently – I like the playfulness of it. It can also be quite a challenge. Developmentally it hits the spot for me.

  2. #4 by tomburkhalter on February 2, 2014 - 11:45 pm

    What a very timely post, Roz! Since NaNoWriMo ended in November I went back to working on a novel I’ve had in the works since November 2011. I knew I was getting close to finishing it…but thought I had another few days work to go. Then this afternoon I picked up where I left off the editing last night. Started paging down…and down…and then realized I was at the last page.

    I was done, without realizing I was going to be there quite so soon! It was a slightly disorienting moment. I can tell you from experience about as fresh as it gets, you are absolutely right about the complexity of emotions involved. The novel and its problems have become familiar and loved; and the moment when you realize those problems are solved is almost one of loss as much as one of triumph.

    So I am very happy indeed that this novel is the first in a series of three, and the second one is already 3/4 complete in second-draft form … and the third one is actually almost done, just needing to be edited in light of completion of the first two novels.

    The real problem will be when I have all three done, but I’m already thinking ahead to what I’ll do next for these characters and for others.

    • #5 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 3, 2014 - 8:23 am

      Hi Tom! Three on the go at once, involving those same characters – you must be detonating with excitement.
      And you’re so right about the loss element. With my first novel, I kept writing after-scenes for weeks because I couldn’t let the characters go. It was most strange. The scenes weren’t any use for anything. They couldn’t even be outtakes because I was never satisfied enough with them. But I had to keep writing until I’d driven the characters away.

  3. #6 by acflory on February 4, 2014 - 2:00 am

    Great post, Roz. While I was writing the first novel, I felt I couldn’t possibly focus on anything else. With the second one, I discovered that I can not only work on two completely different stories, I /need/ to work on different things.

    Now I move from one story to the other when my creativity gets stale. It’s literally like going on a mental holiday, and refreshes me enormously.

    This creative bigamy also has another, unexpected consequence – it reassures me. I now know the ideas are there, I’m not just a one story wannabe, That in itself is a huge benefit. 🙂

    • #7 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 4, 2014 - 9:08 am

      Hi Andrea! This is exactly what I’m talking about. And it’s funny how the anxiety will always surface when we feel like we’re facing an ideas void. Hooray for multitasking.

      • #8 by acflory on February 4, 2014 - 10:56 am

        lol – amen to that!

  4. #9 by alisonmortonauthor on February 6, 2014 - 8:37 am

    Great post and what familiar territory. The day I finished my first book, I started the next and ditto the third. But the first had taken three years…

    The huge benefit of drafting books in a series so closely together is that you can revise them together and introduce layers and lay ‘Easter eggs’ in each one that are relevant to the others. I’ve even done that for my fourth and fifth in the series.

    • #10 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 6, 2014 - 3:11 pm

      Alison, when I was ghosting I finished one manuscript set in a drowned London… and that very afternoon began another that was set in the sweltering Australian bush! Talk about drafting close together!
      What a nice idea, though, to put Easter eggs in linking the books. How very satisfying – both for you and for your readers.

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