In 2020, Poppy Nwosu is the published author of two young adult contemporary novels, Making Friends with Alice Dyson and Taking Down Evelyn Tait. Yet back in 2018, she had just signed her first publication contract for her debut book, and she really had no idea what the future might bring.
This collection of blog posts (originally written by Poppy between March 2018 and March 2019) chronicles her experience during that strange year of limbo between signing a contract and seeing her first book released into the world by Wakefield Press.
In today’s post, Poppy speaks about her attempts to write a follow up novel before her debut had even been published.
Post written by Poppy Nwosu
NOTE FROM 2020: The following blog post is a bit rambly, as it was originally written as almost a diary entry to help work through a writing problem.
June 2018: Attempting to write a follow up to my debut, before it comes out!
So this thing always happens to me at least once during the process of writing every novel I’ve ever worked on. Usually around the three quarters mark. Everything just falls apart.
And I PUSH THROUGH. Sometimes hating every word I write.
Yet, when I look back over the text I’ve written, I think maybe it is not so bad after all … and soon I get back into the swing of things and my novel starts coming along well again.
I NEVER let myself put a work in progress aside. I NEVER let myself give up. Always, always I PUSH THROUGH.
On my most recent manuscript I’ve been having trouble.
A lot of trouble. So. Much. Trouble.
It had never happened to me before. But I persevered. I kept pushing and pushing and PUSHING. And I started HATING this book.
I couldn’t bear it to the point that I actually lay it aside. I didn’t want to touch it.
But I had to finish it, so in the end I took a week off work and spent four hours every day forcing myself to write this story that I hated.
Why did I do this?
Well, I had a theory, part of me truly believes you just have to force yourself sometimes. Not every second writing is going to be a wonderful beautiful experience where everything flows and is totally awesome.
Sometimes, the truth is you must be tough on yourself. You have to just sit down and FORCE YOURSELF to push through that slump until it all starts working again.
Yet the flip side of this is,what if you just can’t make this particular novel work? What if you can’t find the joy in what you are doing at all?
When do you know when you have to let go of a book? When should you kill your story?
Everything really changed for me once I got a book contract for my debut novel.
Instead of following my new favourite idea towards whatever manuscript I was most excited to write next, I instead started thinking of everything in a more strategic way. I obviously need to build my novels into something marketable, I need books with the same feel and vibes that will appeal to the same people.
So I chose a subject to write about and I sat down and I freaking WROTE THAT BLOODY THING.
As you can tell from the beginning of this post, this approach didn’t work out for me that well because I ended up hating that manuscript with a fiery passion.
Which has never happened to me before.
So … when do you realise you have to let a story go?
Well, I freaking don’t want to let this story go. I like the outline. I like the protagonist and I really really really do want to have a pool of marketable books that will appeal to the same readers.
So how do I get there?
Whenever I have massive blocks in my stories I tell myself one thing.
This story belongs to me. I can change anything I want.
Everything I haven’t written yet is completely blank. A completely blank page. I can do anything I want. I can twist my story and characters in a totally new direction from what I originally planned. This belongs to me and only me and I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT.
So after I ran into all these problems and didn’t want to continue writing, I spent a lot of time talking my story through with my husband. And I realised I do really like a hell of a lot of aspects of it. So the plot has to stay (but have more drive and direction). The protagonist has to stay. I like her personality. But the vibes are all wrong. It’s too flippant, too silly, it needs something deeper and more emotional.
And the romance?
THE ROMANCE SUCKS.
And this here is a YA contemporary romance novel I’m trying to write.
So after much discussion on the topic with my husband, I realised I didn’t even care about the dynamic between my couple and I didn’t like the main dude.
And why not? Why didn’t I?
You know what I realised? There were certain plot points and romantic ideas I wanted to use but was too afraid to use, because I was worried that audiences would find them stupid and cheesy.
I was too scared to write what I want.
That realisation was a big one for me.
I was afraid to write my story how I wanted to write my story.
So I had written 35,000 words that, while not complete tripe, were just not what I wanted to be writing. I wasn’t excited about my story or characters. I hated every moment of writing it. Maybe if I forced myself to keep writing that version it would still have been a good book, but it wasn’t going to be the kind of book I would ENJOY writing, so what on earth is the point of that?
If I’m not writing for myself, to enjoy something I care about, to write stories I love and am passionate about, why am I writing at all?
If I don’t love writing my story, what is it even for?
So yes, this realisation means I will need to start again.
Lots of my book can stay, but the vibes and main romance need to be completely re-framed, and you know what? In the face of all that extra hard work I suddenly feel…. excited.
I love to write. I love stories. And I will work hard to hold onto that feeling, no matter what.
(NOTE: The work in progress referred to in this entry is Taking Down Evelyn Tait, which was published in April 2020)
Poppy Nwosu is an Australian YA author. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was shortlisted for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award, and for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize. It will be published by Walker US in 2020. Her second novel Taking Down Evelyn Tait was published in April 2020.
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