Lose plot. Ramble a bit. Find plot again.

After putting out the third book in my Christmas Key series, The Edge of Paradise, on January 31st this year, I got stuck in a loop where I wasn’t sure what to write next. I started a book that would have probably qualified as a romantic political thriller (?), got 20,000 words into it, and then realized there were way too many things happening and I had no idea how to tie it all together. It may come out of my iCloud file at some point and get a re-read, but ultimately I put it aside and started pondering my next move.

It’s a common refrain in indie-author world that once you have three books out in a series it’ll take off (if it’s ever going to), so my thought was to put out Book Three, diversify a bit, and start a new series so that I would have a few things going on at once. I planned a free run for early February for Book One of the series, There’s Always a Catch, paid for a ton of advertising, and stacked it up for a single week. The downloads came in like gangbusters, and I gave away almost 8,000 copies of the first book. There’s all sorts of conventional wisdom about what percentage of free book downloaders will go on and read the rest of the series, but I felt hopeful. It’s been a pretty slow burn so far. I’ll have days where a single person buys the next book in the series, or the third book, or a novella, and then a random day happens where ten or fifteen people will move on to the next books. There’s Always a Catch got a handful of new reviews (some positive, which is–of course–what you want, and others less wonderful, but hey–you can’t win ’em all), and it’ll most likely just keep moving in that direction until something falls into place or until I do exactly the right thing at the right time and start making my own magic.

As for the next writing project, when I decided the political romantic thriller thing wasn’t going where I wanted it to, I started a cozy mystery that was actually pretty fun to write. But I got about 20,000 words into that and had a minor panic attack: why wasn’t I working on Book #4 in the Christmas Key series?! What was I thinking wasting my time like that when I only have an hour or two a day to write? By the time I finished one of these new books, I’d have squandered any momentum I’d built up so far! So I put that aside and started the next book about Mayor Holly Baxter and the other islanders, which I’m almost halfway done drafting now. I also put out a second novella in the Christmas Key series, which gives the reader insight into Coco, Holly’s mom, and fills in some of the blanks about how she got to be the way she is. Writing the novellas is lots of fun–the pace is faster, the details easier to keep track of, and the ability to focus entirely on one character’s journey frees me up to really explore their minds rather than just seeing things through Holly’s perspective.

So it’s been a busy Spring so far, with lots of writing–some of which might never see the light of day. But that’s okay. Never one for detailed graphs, data-tracking, or set-in-stone outlines and plans, I’m trying to let the ideas flow and make getting up at 5:00 in the morning to write before work a fun thing, not a pressured “must get this done immediately!” grind.

June will be my two-year anniversary of being an indie author and I’ve hit some great milestones–some things I never envisioned or dreamed could happen. Wonderful people–total strangers! Not my mom!–have reviewed my books and given me kind words; my whole life has been enriched by disappearing into the stories inside my head and giving them life; and there have been months where I’ve made a thousand dollars or more from my books, which totally blows my mind. I’ve learned a ton about everything self-publishing related, and the as-yet untitled Christmas Key Book Four will be published by the beginning of summer. It may have taken a couple months of stumbling around during my dark, quiet, early morning writing sessions, but I’ve definitely found the plot again!

Summer nights.

I have to be honest, getting into a summer writing routine has been harder than I thought. In the weeks leading up to the last day of school, I’d convinced myself that I’d get up early and write for hours before anyone else was up–no! I’d stay up late. That’s what I’d do: stay up as late as I wanted, then sleep in every morning. But then the last day of school came…and so did the tears. I took a new position next fall, teaching English at a different school than the one I’ve been at for the past three years. I think I’m ready for the new adventure and the challenge, but it was still really hard (I mean ridiculously hard) to say good-bye to my school, my friends there, and the young people who’ve filled my days for the past few years. So I needed a couple of days to recover from the school year and its ending, and I took them.

My next challenge was getting my co-writer on board. For all of the days during the school year that she wanted to cram some writing time into our already-full days, now that we have hour upon lazy hour to fill with creativity, all she wants to do is watch nonsense (I’m sorry, I meant “top-notch cinematography and drama”) like Teen Beach Movie 2. *eyeroll* With our goal of getting Book 2 out by the end of summer, we broke out our calendar and worked backwards from there: how long to get it formatted? One week. How long to have it in our hands with suggested edits and changes? A couple of weeks. How long can we expect our beta readers to spend reading and marking up our draft? Gotta give ’em a couple of weeks, at least. So when do we need a complete first draft to work with? By July 17th!!! And we’ve got about 11,000 words done right now. So…that’s a lot of writing. But we’ll get there. I know we will. It just takes a little time to settle into summer, to fully absorb the enormity of days on end with no schedule and no commitments. And then to get bored enough to crave routine.

In the meantime, I’ve gone hog-wild with my own story/series. I wrote a romance about six or seven years ago that I’ve always really loved (well, it was the characters and the setting that I loved, not the story necessarily), so I’ve been working for quite a while now at dismantling that and bringing the parts that I love to life in a way that works for me. Right now I’ve got that mapped out as a five-book series and I’m well into the first book, but as you can see above, my writing goals are sometimes a little lofty, so…

Right now we’re trying to find our groove. We’ve been sitting out on our deck together at night, letting the moon come out as we talk strategy for Book 2, and answering questions from the awesome bloggers we’ve met so far who have agreed to feature us and our writing adventure on their blogs. All in all, I think this is going to be a pretty awesome summer.