When Lagging Indicators came out on July 2, 2018, I was creatively drained. I only wanted to focus on launching and promoting the novel. I didn’t even think about new story ideas for the next book. Fast forward eight months later: the flurry of activity has settled down and I find myself analyzing everything as a potential storyline.
Since there were thirteen years between the release of my first novel, Uptown & Down (2005), and Lagging Indicators (2018), I understand that I may have missed a key window to build my career as a novelist. Yet, I’m so energized by the opportunities becoming an indie author has afforded me and take nothing for granted. So, it’s time to get back to writing! The beauty of publishing independently is that I retain creative control and can set my own publication date rather than follow a traditional publisher’s schedule, which can range from 12-18 months from manuscript submission. If all goes according to plan, a new novel will hit the cybershelves by August or September 2020. However, one crucial element remains ambiguous: What will the new book be about?
I underwent a creative drought for about five years after Uptown & Down was published and chalked it up to “writer’s block.” I do believe a writer can struggle with producing new work and have an artistic slowdown but in my case, the real culprit was procrastination. Aside from taking care of my family, I preferred doing everything except write: volunteering, cleaning, organizing, driving around, working out, traveling, shopping, decorating, lunching with friends… Quite simply, I wasn’t willing to invest the time and effort it takes to write.
Arguably, many of those experiences and encounters informed Lagging Indicators, but I think I missed out on that book-in-between because I was a little bit lazy and a lot afraid. I feared my next book wouldn’t achieve the high standards of depth and resonance I had set for myself. I’m a perfectionist and was terrified of a “sophomore slump.” Writing is often about timing and the 2008 financial crisis finally triggered thoughts that eventually led to Lagging Indicators. I had a premise and constantly asked “What if?” in order to create drama and suspense.
After studying other writers’ processes, I finally understand that you can summon the muse. You can find a story idea, outline those chapters, and craft that scene if you’re not afraid to make mistakes. Striving for perfection from the outset can be debilitating. Allowing yourself to go in all sorts of directions is paramount to unleashing creativity. Revisions will help you polish that story, but you need the raw material first.
For Book #3, I began by asking: What do I want to write about? I knew that I wanted the story to take place in my adopted country of Sweden, but how would I incorporate that into an interesting plot? Next, I wondered: What kind of books do I enjoy? What do I know? How do I want to challenge myself the next time around? Once I had rough answers to those questions, an idea began to take shape, but I didn’t love it. It felt a bit uninspiring, but I figured I could make it work. Nevertheless, something nagged at me and the storyline didn’t generate the same passion as I’d had with my first two novels. I stayed awake thinking about it one night when–out of the blue–a new tale appeared in my mind. It was as though it had been waiting in the shadows, daring me to pay attention. I got so excited that I wrote the backcover copy the next morning as a starting point.
As of this writing, I’ve completed the pivotal Chapter One, or about 5,000 words, with approximately 80,000 more to go. I’ve also done preliminary character sketches and an outline. However, so many scenes and dialogue popped up while outlining that I decided to just write and get that first draft up and running. I’m cautiously optimistic about where this story will go. I think it has potential, but who knows? Most importantly, I’m fired up and that’s a wonderful place to be.
While it felt like an epiphany when the new novel idea surfaced, I did follow a few conscious steps to get my creative juices flowing. I think it’s important to be in the right mindset and let go of self-imposed limitations. Here are some methods I used to free my inner muse:
When I can’t write, I read. Each book, whether literary or commercial fiction, teaches me something important about pacing, character development, etc. I reread Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945) with my son last week and was floored by how intuitive and relevant that book still is today. The straightforward writing style and satirical narrative were a refreshing break from the works of popular fiction I’ve been reading lately.
My favorites are author interviews and I enjoy the in-depth profiles of Author Stories with Hank Garner; Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books with Zibby Owens; and The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan. Hearing about new books, how writers got their big break, and the creative process motivates and inspires!
Jane Friedman is so helpful when it comes to writing tips and navigating the publishing world. I’m so excited that she’ll be a faculty member at the Stockholm Writers Festival in May, where I will also be on a discussion panel about transitioning from traditional to indie publishing. Julia Cameron and her Morning Pages are a great way to start the day and release unihibited thoughts. Since I’m focused on a current story at the moment, I haven’t been following this method religiously but I appreciate her inspirational quotes and teachings. I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and while they tend to bombard my Inbox with special offers for classes, there are at least 1-2 emails per week that tackle an element of craft that is relevant to what I’m working on.
Exercise & Yoga:
In addition to my cardio and weight training, I’ve finally succumbed to the yoga bug. After sitting in front of the computer for hours on end, my shoulders and back ached so much, the only relief was stretching my stiff limbs. I also wanted to feel more centered and present. I’ve taken a couple of yinyoga classes and holding positions for several minutes challenges me to breath deeply and focus. Eventually, my mind begins to clear and I’m less anxious. I expand and release whatever’s been holding me back.
That sounds a lot like writing.