Writing a book can be mentally draining. Authors have to keep track of every minute aspect of the story, from a side character’s eye color to what day of the week pivotal scenes happen on, and make sure it stays consistent for hundreds of pages.
Now imagine how stressful this can be if you’re writing a duology, trilogy, or series! How can we as authors cope? Well, have no fear! As I’m currently writing the third and final book in my first trilogy, and editing book two, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way, and have compiled some tips on how to mentally survive putting a book series out into the world.
Tip 1: Preplan How Many Books the Series Will Need
Notice that the heading doesn’t read “Preplan How Many Books You Want the Series to Have”. There is a huge difference between a want and a need when it comes to writing a series, and that difference’s name is purpose.
Before you determine a number of books your series will have based solely off how many books other authors in your genre and cranking out for their series, take some time to sit down and write out every idea you can think of for the series. These ideas should focus more on your characters’ internal development and potential rather than plot, or action scenes. Why? Again, the reason falls back to purpose.
Purpose helps determine the number of books it will take to tell a character’s story, because determining what the character wants, what fears will get in their way, and how the character will stop at nothing to achieve their goal, gives you a lot more to work with than chasing underdeveloped plot bunnies that may or may not make for a rich, character-driven story that readers won’t want to put down. Readers love series because they fall in love with the characters’ story and struggle, not the external plot points along the way. So, if you can determine how many books it will take to tell the characters’ entire story (aka character arc), you’ll be better off than declaring you want to write seven books and then not have enough ideas for character development to fill in the gaps.
Later on, as the first of the concrete book ideas are completed, if you can come up with more purpose-driven stories, feel free to add more books! Just try not to declare promises you can’t keep (posting this will be a ten-book series), before book one is written.
Tip 2: Try to Plot and Write the Series Chronologically
Writing a series is already a difficult endeavor, but it gets much more cumbersome when we have to go back and fill in gaps we’ve missed in previous books to make the latter books make more sense (if the books haven’t been published yet).
The best way to avoid writing out-of-order is to plot out a chapter (or a few) ahead of time, so you’ll have a set chronological outline of what you need to focus on during each writing session. Per the pervious section, I recommend getting to know your characters before attempting to plot.
While the chance of you accurately plotting out every single detail chronologically is slim, (I mean, I just had to add 13,000 words to a draft I once thought was complete *facepalm*), it at least gives you a solid foundation to begin from. If I hadn’t of plotted anything for that book and just flew by the seat of my pants…. whew. It’d be taking a lot longer to edit than it already is.
I realize writing is exciting, and some scenes are more fun to write than others. But, if you stick to the map (outline, no matter how discombobulated it may be), rather than writing from Point A, to Point M, back to Point D, and then to Point Z, you’ll be able to make much better sense of your first draft and hopefully have less blanks to fill during editing.
Tip 3: Give Yourself Grace
Despite the well-meaning but often hard to implement first two tips, the best advice I’ve got for mentally surviving the ups an downs of writing a series is to give yourself grace. No matter how much you try to preplan, new (and most of the time, better) ideas will poof out of thin air and will change the trajectory of your story. And that’s perfectly okay.
Honestly, you could scour the interwebs right now and find many more tips on how to write a series, but not surviving it mentally. I don’t care how good of a writer you are, none of us are ever going to follow the guidelines and write the perfect series without a hitch along the way. That’s where we need to give ourselves grace.
Each and every writer is different, and each novel has a different journey than the last. Sometimes, the words flow from the get-go, and then other times, you’ll regret ever mentioning you’re releasing a trilogy, because book three is giving you such a fit. Ups and downs are guaranteed. So, to mentally survive writing a series, I highly recommend being kind to yourself. Take small breaks when you sense you’re not enjoying working on the books. Something that helps me is praying about how to move forward. Nine times out of ten, a solution comes within the next week, or even within 24 hours. But mostly, don’t force yourself to be productive when your creative well is running dry, and the book is bringing you more stress than joy.
Ever since I first heard the song “Don’t Throw it Away” by the Jonas Brothers, it’s reminded me a lot of the stresses writing The Ballad of Emery Brooks has brought on. The song suggests taking a small break in a relationship and not “throwing away” what the couple has, but this wholly applies to writing a series as well. There will be times when you’re aggravated to the max and feel as if the series will never be completed; however, don’t throw it away. Keep at it. Take breaks, sleep on it, but don’t walk away from it completely. Get away just long enough to give yourself a generous mental health break, and then get back on it when you’re feeling rejuvenated.
You’ve got this, guys. Write on. ❤
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What other tips do you suggest for mentally surviving writing a series? Let me know in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.