While writing the first two books in the Dakota Stevens Mystery Series—A Real Piece of Work and The Rich Are Different—I kept notebooks of other plot ideas, titles, scenes, characters and anything else that occurred to me for future installments.
As a result of these notebooks, I had begun two more Dakota novels and created outlines for 3–4 others.
However, when I opened these notebooks recently with the intent of continuing one of the stories I’d started, I didn’t like what I found.
I’d written this material (including the first hundred pages of a Dakota & Svetlana prequel) between 5 and 7 years ago, and I’d matured as a writer since then.
I no longer liked the direction I’d sketched out for the character and the series.
A realization soon followed that made me sick to my stomach:
I needed to dump all of that work and start over.
When you’ve created a series character, starting from scratch is a scary thought. For the first time since I invented Dakota & Svetlana, I won’t have drafts of work to build on. I’ll be facing a blank Page One and all of the paralyzing dread that accompanies it.
But I’m doing it. I’m starting from scratch, mainly because a novel is a hell of a lot of work, and you have to start with a story, a vision, that you really want to tell. It’s the only thing that carries you through.
Ultimately, the task before me now is to figure out what excites me about Dakota & Svetlana, and to ask myself, “What is the Dakota story I would most like to read?”
I know that’s the question I need to be asking because it’s the same one I asked myself before writing the first two novels, and I’m pleased with the results.
Allegedly, J.R.R. Tolkien was partly inspired to write his Lord of the Rings series for this very reason. He thought about the books that he would most like to read, realized they didn’t exist yet, and set out to write them.
He wrote the books he most wanted to read. This is a great lesson for all of us writers.
Over the coming months, I’ll be writing the first draft of Dakota 3. I have no idea what kind of story it will be or where it will take me; all I know is, I want it to be a fresh take on my vision for the series, and I want it to be as well written as I can possibly make it. We’ll see if I can pull it off.
Wish me luck, Dear Reader. I’m going to need it.