A couple of years ago, I hit a wall with my debut novel, 142 Ostriches. I was so frustrated working on it that I literally felt nauseous when I opened the file to work on it. I needed a break, badly.
So I jumped ship and started working on my second novel. It was an idea that had been percolating in my mind for a while. In truth, this second novel was the story I had always wanted to write. But in a surprisingly insightful moment that I don’t remember, I decided that it couldn’t be my first novel. It was too challenging. It jumps around in time, it has multiple POVs, it plays with magic in parts.
But getting started on it turned out to be the perfect distraction when I just couldn’t muster the energy to keep working on the first novel any longer. It was a fun, shiny new idea and I jumped at it. I did research, I made a ton of notes, I even took a few trips to explore the places where it takes place. I wrote a couple of chapters, then added 50,000 words to the draft during NaNoWriMo . I was having fun with it.
Eventually, a friend of mine encouraged me not to give up on the first novel. Reluctantly, I read through the draft I had abandoned and was pleasantly surprised. It actually wasn’t so bad. So I tucked the second novel safely away, whispered a little promise that I would be back soon, and continued to work on the first novel with renewed energy.
Go Ahead, Write Two Novels
I share this story because I’ve often heard writers talk about how it’s a bad idea to have more than one novel going at any given time. I simply must disagree.
Having two novels to work on saved me as a writer. If I hadn’t had something else to pour my efforts into, I don’t know what I would have done. I dread to think how many writers have simply given up on writing because they hit a wall and thought they couldn’t start another project until they finished the first.
There are No Rules, People.
That said, I resisted starting novel three until I finished novel one. For me, three novels at a time is too many, and I worried that starting another project would just be a way to avoid finishing the first.
THAT is the trap. That is the thing that each of us must determine for ourselves: what is productive work, and what is just avoiding the hard work of finishing?
Now that my debut is out in the world, I’ve shifted my efforts. I spend most of my time on that second novel and when I need a break, I turn to novel number three. I can see this system working for me far into the future.
So go ahead. Start another project. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to your writing. Not even me. Especially me. If starting your third novel is right for you, you damn well better start novel three.
Figure out what works for you, and just keep writing.