I’ve titled this post with a question, and before I begin, I’m going to be completely honest: I’m not sure it’s a question I can answer. This, you see, is a topic I’m currently wrestling with, and all I can do is summarise my train of thought, with the pros and cons that have occurred to me. And really, there are both, whether you choose to write a single series from start to finish, or jump about between books.
A little background: I currently have one unfinished series, with two books published, a prequel available to my newsletter subscribers, and another novel on the way. It’s a series that’s very dear to my heart, and I intend to write at least a couple more books (and I have tentative ideas for more after that). The problem is, I’m something of a magpie brain when it comes to writing — whilst I’m usually able to get to the end of a first draft without being distracted, as soon as that’s done, I want to be off and working on the new shiny thing, which isn’t usually the next book in the series, at least not right away.
What’s the problem with that? From a writing perspective, there isn’t one. You might struggle to get back into a story’s world when you return to it, having written something else in between, but the same can be said of taking time off to edit, or having a writing break for another reason. I tend to find instead that jumping around between projects give me a fresh sense of enthusiasm when I return to one, as I’ve had time to develop exciting new ideas and view previous books in a more balanced light. No, the cons, in this case, come from the publishing side.
Conventional wisdom, you see, suggests that it’s easiest to gain an audience (whether you’re self- or traditionally published) by a) writing a series, and b) producing the books in that series at regular intervals. There are plenty of exceptions to that rule, of course — George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you — but it’s wisdom that holds true for the majority of writers. That means taking the time to write other books is suddenly off the agenda, particularly if you’re a slow writer, because it’s more important to continue the series you’re already in the middle of.
But oh, the lure of the new shiny story…! And so the circle goes. This is exactly why I don’t have any answers: because every time I come to start a new book, I go through this same dance. I want to write this new idea I’ve just come up with! Ah, but it’s about time I published a book in my current series — except it’s just not as exciting…
Well, okay, it turns out I do have something of an answer, and it goes like this: do the work. For me, writing first drafts is easy. Editing is harder, and committing to a single series is harder still. Wherever you are in your writing career, though, sitting down and working every day (or at least on a regular schedule) is the most important thing. For new writers, that might mean hammering away until they finish their first book. For me, doing the work means making sure I keep up with at least one series — and if there’s time to write something else, that’s fine, but what I’ve started has to come first.
Sometimes, that just isn’t what you want to hear. It’s quite frequently not what I want to hear, which is exactly why I wrote this post. We all have to remind ourselves, from time to time, that commitments have to come before distractions; that whilst writing what you love is important, there’s a reason you started that series, or book, or short story in the first place, and that’s probably got more to do with love than the idea you only came up with two days ago. Whether we have waiting readers or not, we have to stay true to our own vision of what we’re creating — and if that’s a series, then we owe it to ourselves, as much as anyone, to do the work and finish what we’ve started.