I’m waiting on edits for Cahill Book 3, and in-between rounds, I have a little time to play with potential next-books. I’ve got one proposal almost ready to go, so was exploring other ideas…and a weird thing happened over the last few weeks.
I mentioned on twitter that I’d been thinking about writing a theatre book, because I did lots of theatre in high school and college and studied it in grad school and am married to The Playwright after all, and twitter got very excited. I started brainstorming – daydreaming, chatting with The Playwright, jotting down notes. I love stories like DRAMARAMA and THE REESE MALCOLM LIST, but what would a book about theatre look like from me? I came up with the idea to write about a girl whose high school production of The Crucible gets banned, and she ends up putting it on in her uncle’s barn with the help of a cute new student, and it ignites a sort of culture war in her small town.
The rural town would be very like the place I grew up, I reasoned. The girl would – much like I had once – realize that, much as she loved it, there was a whole wide world outside her tiny one-stoplight town. There would be some complicated female friendships and bullying and bravery and kissing. I did research on real high school productions that had been banned. I read some plays. I interrogated some very sweet friends who teach theatre and direct their high schools’ plays. A bunch of people answered questions about racial diversity in their rural high schools and acceptance of out gay and lesbian students and class schedules and play rehearsals and all kinds of things. I listened to my country music playlist in the shower and walking to the metro and while writing emails. I wrote up a pitch and sent it to my agent, who encouraged me to start writing. I told writing and real-life friends, who (lots of them being theatre geeks past or present) were really excited. I talked with friends who write contemporary YA about voice and debated edginess and instalove and marketing and all kinds of potential pitfalls.
I was so excited…right up until I wasn’t. Sometime last week I found myself staring at the blank page with no ideas. I had a cool premise, but who were these characters? I am a character writer. They come first, and they sustain the process for me, but these characters were not talking. At all.
Somehow – whether through worrying too much about the market, or sharing too soon, or focusing on premise/plot over characters – I killed it. It might be something I come back to someday when the right characters show up. But right now – ugh. I feel a trifle guilty for getting my friends excited, but this early in the process, a potential-book should still feel like magic. Not homework.
I have a new idea. The only people who really know anything about it are the fourteen year old girls in the writing workshops I taught every day this week, because I did writing prompts right alongside them. They said they want me to make it into a book and that they’d read it. So, that was encouraging. I sent my agent the sad news that theatrebook was DOA and wrote all of 2 sentences about this new thing and he was like, “Well, that is vague…” and I was like, “I know. I’ll send you more later.” This time I’m proceeding with caution. I’m not telling anyone anything until I’ve got a significant number of pages.
But the characters are talking. Conversations are happening in my head. The protagonist told me her name the other day – I’d given her one, but it was wrong, and I woke up with her name on my lips.
This is the magic that was missing. These are the kinds of days that make me want to be a writer.
Oh! I would’ve loved sth related to the crucible!
I LOVE WITCHES SO MUCH!!!!
Aw, thanks, Vicky! Maybe I'll come back to it someday!
It happens to me, too. I blurt too much and the magic of mystery fades. But good luck with this new vague thing! =D
Thanks, Katie! I'm glad it's not just me who needs to keep it a little secret so the magic/mystery doesn't get diminished. 🙂
I'm sorry theatre book isn't going to work for you right now, but I think you will come back to it. I'm used to talk a lot about my ideas and now I keep them closer for exactly this reason- if I talk about them too much before they've finished "marinating", I kill some of the excitement and don't know where to go next. Whatever you write next, I'm sure it will be fabulous, theatre book or not. 🙂
Thanks so much, Jess! I'm glad it's not just me who's had this problem and the post resonated so much with other writers!
While I was one of the people on Twitter who was very excited for a theatre book, you said it best when you said a WIP should feel like magic and not homework. Looking forward to hearing more about this new project when the time is right. All the best! <3
Thanks, Melody! I am really excited for the new thing – hopefully it'll keep flowing!
I know what you mean, Jessica. I still am waiting to hear from the characters of another story I had in mind– I fell in love with the concept, but the characters were not there yet. So, I'm working on something new. Something that gives me a very physical response, and I'm so excited about it. It's still a little vague, but the characters are talking, and that keeps me going, too. You're a very talented writer, and I'm positive you'll be fine with whatever story you write. All the best!
Thanks so much for the kind words! It's hard being a character-driven writer sometimes when the characters don't cooperate! I hope your new idea is going well!
Oh Jessica, this precise thing has happened to me MANY times. This is why, sadly, I cannot outline or do too much pre-planning or research…or talk about it too much. It kills the magic for me. Every time. And the same goes for going at a story from the plot/premise approach. I HAVE to have the characters talking to me, THEN I'll worry about the plot. I don't know why that is, it just…is. For me.
Creative processes are weird, magical and tricksy things. For everyone it's different. And sometimes it is different for each project. Whatever our individual process is, I believe it's intuitive and individual, and thus the important thing here is that you listened to your instinct.
And sometimes a story comes back to us, with fresh new vision (and characters who feel real), when it's truly ready to be told. So someday, perhaps, your awesome(!) theater/drama story will demand you tell it. Or some bit of research you did for it will suddenly become a springboard for some SNI. You never know. It is magic after all. 🙂
Good word hunting on your new adventure! <3
Thanks for the kind words, Lola! YES – outlining too much kills it for me too! I think that's why I had so many issues with the first draft of Star Cursed – my editor made me due a detailed outline, and then I wasn't excited about it anymore. We learned an important lesson when I had to throw that draft out and totally rewrite it! Hope your writing is going well too! 🙂
Love this post, Jessica! I know exactly what you're referring to. Characters are everything for me. I can come up with all kinds of great plot twists and turns, but if the main character doesn't start speaking to me, it will shrivel into something between a raisin and a turd. I'm looking forward to whatever you do end up writing. The Cahill sisters are such dynamic characters; I know it will all come together for you!
Aw, thanks so much, Anna! I've loved writing about Cate & her sisters so much – it's going to be hard to find the right project to follow up, but I'm really excited for both of my new potential proposals.
So glad this resonated with you. Hope your writing is going well too!
I really enjoyed your most recent book, StarCursed!
You are one of my favorite authors and I'd like to ask you if your going to write another book and when it would be released. After I finished StarCursed it broke my heart how it ended. I'd love to find out how Cate, Finn and all the others continue their story..
I can't wait to find out!
Thanks so much for reading, Angele! I'm so happy you liked SC even though it broke your heart! Book 3 in the Cahill Witch Chronicles will be released next June – I'm editing it now. 🙂
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