Sexy Next Book
Yesterday morning I received a lovely thank-you from Michael Guarneiri, the English teacher who invited Fatima Shaik and me to Arts & Media Prep high school on Monday for a fun and inspiring panel with 13 young writers. Mr. G’s note read:
Thank you so very much for visiting AMP yesterday! The students—and I, of course—appreciated the opportunity to meet with such accomplished professionals. I found the round table discussion engaging, informative, and encouraging; I heard students, throughout the day, bragging about the event to their peers (“sexy next book” is the new chic phrase among discussion participants). I hope this sets a standard for future PEN/AMP events.
Again (because it cannot be said enough), I am very grateful for your time and energy. I hope you will return in the future if the opportunity presents itself.
The line about “sexy next book” came from a student’s question (and the expression is not mine; I borrowed it from Heather Sellers’s advice book for writers Chapter By Chapter). The student said that she tended to start her novels with great enthusiasm but somewhere around the middle, the novel bogged down and she got a great idea for a new novel. So she abandoned the old one and worked on the new one until it bogged down and another idea for a novel came to her.
In general, a novelist or non-fiction writer has to resist the temptation of “sexy next book” lest the hard drive fill with partially-finished projects and no draft ever gets completed. I offered suggestions on rekindling the spark of a project that had become boring or stale. Freewriting, especially if it involves putting your characters in interesting or perilous situations that may or may not end up in the story itself, is a good way of getting to know characters better, deepening your plot, and bringing the story back to life.
However, there are a couple of good things to be said about “sexy next book.” One is that the rush of a new and thrilling idea is proof that a writer hasn’t run out of things to say. For that reason, I suggested writing the idea in a journal that one can come back to later. The other is that in some cases a project may have to be abandoned. The principal reason for this, I’ve found, is Passive Protagonist Syndrome. If you can’t make your passive character more active without making him or her an entirely different person, then it may be time to put the story away or present it from another character’s point of view.