Navigating without a map

The freedom to chart your own course comes with surprising pitfalls

In December, I uttered the greatest phrase a writer can ever say: “I’m done”. The first draft of my next novel (book three in my “Spellbound Railway” series) was finished. A sense of fatigued elation came over me, and the joy of being able to step away from the desk and emerge from my basement office victorious was immense.

Shortly thereafter, a second phrase bubbled up into my mind. It came in small, nested itself into the back corner of my thoughts, and started to ache. “What’s next?” it asked. My completion elation turned into smoke and blew away in the face of this yawning void of an unanswered question.

In a regular job, you don’t have to ask that question. You show up, pull your assigned levers, grumble about the boring work and your smelly coworker, and go home at the end of the day. A parcel of cash shows up regularly to justify dragging yourself into the dank cubicle farm. When you finish one task, another is put in front of your nose.It may not be spiritually rewarding, but it is predictable.

But in my line of work, there’s no assembly line. There’s a giant unsorted pile of possible tasks in the corner. I finish one step, and then look at the pile and wonder what should happen now. Most of the pieces in that pile are unlikely to produce anything other than more tasks to throw back on the pile.

So I found myself, metaphorically speaking, sitting on the floor and staring in dread at that massive pile. For a week I scrambled around between all of the possibilities: Do I edit this new draft right away? Do I focus on trying to find freelance non-fiction work? Do I pack it in and get a job painting miniature houses? And so on, and so on.

Eventually, I came to a few realizations. I need to write every day. Taking “time off” from writing only makes me more irritable and anxious. And I need to take the small business aspect of independent publishing much more seriously than I have before.

I’m not fully prepared for every “what’s next?” eventuality, but I think I have a better handle on the basics. In this upcoming year, I’ll see if a kickstarter campaign would be a good fit to pay for the first print run of the next book (and for professional editing, if the campaign went very well). I’m also looking at Patreon as a way to release the next story I’m working on as a serial. Of course, if a publisher or agent wanted to swoop down and take care of all of the parts I don’t like so that I can focus on storytelling, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

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