“Outstanding”? (Or, The Delicate Act of Writing a Sequel)

It’s true.  For years, it’s been my dream to be a full-time creative writer, earning a living solely through the art of storytelling.  I guess every writer wishes for this.  But for most of us, we have day jobs that help us to pay our bills, forcing us to pursue our true literary passions in the early-morning hours, late at night, or on weekends–or simply whenever a moment arises where we can spare an hour or two and just write.

writewhencanstart

 

My day job is as a technical writer for a computer software company.  The material I produce in this capacity is, admittedly, drier than day-old toast, but it’s a comfortable environment, and the act of writing technical documents doesn’t drain any of my creativity, leaving me fresh and ready to explore the imaginary byways of my mind after hours.

toast

 

I got started in the technical writing field just as the specter of Y2K hung over the IT world like a giant, ominous shadow.  I was fresh out of college, unsure and uncertain what to expect, when I was hired by a large company in my hometown of Rochester, NY, into a department called Documentation & Publications, or Doc & Pubs for short–which consisted of approximately fifteen technical writers and eight publishers.  I was one of the publishers.  I hoped to graduate into the role of technical writer eventually, and I did, but for a different company and in a different state.

y2k

 

Being a part of the publisher group was good, solid experience.  The publishers, as the department manager told us more than once, represented “the last line of defense.”  Our chief responsibilities were to fact-check and proofread the material sent to us by the technical writers, ensuring grammatical correctness and subject accuracy.

lastlineofdefense

 

One member of the publishing team stood out to me.  John was two years my senior, with a flattop haircut, a mustache, and thick, retro 1970s-style Elvis sideburns.  And whenever anyone asked him how he was, or how his day was going, he would invariably say, “Outstanding!”  (The exclamation point was always audible.)  It didn’t matter if it was Monday, if the morning commute had been marred with blizzard-like conditions or traffic jams, or if he’d just had a run-in with one of the more particular or dour technical writers.  He was always “outstanding.”

elvissideburns

 

I asked him once about that.  “You’re not really ‘outstanding’ all the time, are you?” I wanted to know.

“Actually I am,” he said.  “It’s a choice I make.  I don’t want to be just ‘okay’ or ‘not bad’ or ‘fine.’  I want to be outstanding.  And so, I am.”

He made it sound so simple.

The documents came in fast and furious, every day.  A few were new, created from scratch as it were, detailing some new system or product.  But most of the documents we had to proofread were preexisting ones–voluminous, intimidating manuals in which the writers would add a section here or there, or, in many cases, simply add a sentence or a paragraph to the text.  Many of the changes to systems they documented were, in fact, minor tweaks, building upon the vast amount of material that had already been in place.

preexistingmanuals

 

“The trick,” one of the writers explained to me once, “is to be able to add to what we already have without being redundant.”

Little did I recognize at the time the parallels that existed between tweaking company manuals and the art of writing a sequel . . .

************

When I published The Eye-Dancers, I did not intend to follow it up with a sequel. It had been a rewarding project, and writing about four protagonists all inspired by friends I knew growing up was fun.  But I had no ongoing story line in mind.  I figured I would move on to something else, perhaps something vastly different.

That’s when an image struck me.  It came, as these things so often do, out of the ether, unasked for, unplanned.  I saw Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski standing at the base of a gigantic stone building, looking up at a sky the color of ash.  And then the sky changed.  The clouds dispersed, as if by magic, replaced by a pair of unblinking blue eyes that glared down at the boys with unmistakable ill-will.

eyeinsky

 

I resisted at first.  Did I really want to undertake a sequel?  But the image remained, beckoning, a window to a new story demanding to be told.  Before long, a fully fleshed adventure came into view, and the conviction to write it grew stronger by the day.

And so I began–attempting to write my first-ever sequel.  I immediately encountered issues I’d never considered or dealt with before.  How much information from the first book needed to be touched upon or referenced in the second?  Granted, a sequel should be able to stand alone, on its own merit.  But at the same time, to ignore pertinent bits of information from the first book seemed like a blatant omission.  The question was–how much was too much?  Or too little?  I remembered the discussion I’d had with that technical writer a decade and a half earlier–about building on a preexisting foundation without being redundant.  Somewhere in all this, there had to be a happy medium.

happymediumgoldenmean

 

Months elapsed, and the story progressed.  Then life would get in the way, inspiration would dwindle, and the pace would slow.  Every now and then, Mitchell or Joe, Ryan or Marc, or even Monica Tisdale, the “ghost girl,” would trip me up, forcing me to look at something in a way I hadn’t planned.  And sometimes the plot would take a sudden turn, away from the paved road I had mapped out, forging instead over unpredictable marshy swampland, through thick, canopied forests, or barbed-wired ravines.  Through it all, though, I have felt a burning drive to carry the story to its conclusion, to travel with the characters as they battle and discover and scratch and stumble their way on the path of self-growth and accomplishment.  It’s been a long, sometimes turbulent, but always interesting ride.

canopiedforest

 

The current status of the project remains–in progress, but with an eye toward the finish line.  Twenty-one chapters have been written, complete with numerous, laborious revisions.  Nine chapters are left to write.

nineleft

 

The goal is to have the sequel ready right around the time the ball is dropped in Times Square on that cold, dark winter night.  The characters, as they always do, are leading the way, and they are urging me on, eager to finish the race.  But it won’t be easy.  They are being tested more than ever this time around.

timessquareball

 

As I’ve examined and picked through what I have so far, I’ve been critical, doubtful, unsure.  Is the story any good?  Will readers of The Eye-Dancers enjoy this continuation?  Or will it flop, crashing and burning like a doomed meteor breaking through the earth’s atmosphere, reduced to smoking fragments of dust and debris?

meteor

 

I wish I knew.  Time will tell.  But as I round the bend and endeavor to complete the journey, overcoming the delays and potholes and moments when the sheer scope of the project and story line makes me want to pull out my hair at its roots, I will try, as best I can, to harness my inner John.

How’s the sequel going?

“Outstanding!”

outstanding

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Mike

74 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LionAroundWriting
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 02:27:07

    Interesting journey.
    Best of luck with the sequel 🙂

    Reply

  2. jessicawrennovels
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 02:33:43

    A sequel? Awesome! Let me know when it comes out.

    Reply

  3. amandagrey1
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 02:38:07

    Best of luck in your sequel writing! 🙂

    Reply

  4. Lisa T
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 03:10:29

    Good Luck🍀 That’s great!

    Reply

  5. DaisyWillows
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 06:41:20

    great attitude. If you were not a bit doubtful then I would worry. nerves are good . Let them serve you to destination success x

    Reply

  6. EmmaJCarson
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 09:28:16

    Good Luck – sounds like you’re well on your way!

    Reply

  7. Ste J
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 10:33:57

    Good luck with it, a challenging endeavour is always the most rewarding, I know you will rise to it, if you have nerves and worries then you are doing it right, too much confidence will lead to a less critical eye.

    Reply

  8. Carol Balawyder
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 12:37:25

    Outstanding post! 🙂

    Reply

  9. Lisa Orchard
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 13:46:41

    Great post! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply

  10. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 14:06:47

    Michael, I think the hardest parts about writing a sequel/ series is… Will it be good enough for book one readers to enjoy, and like you said, how much is too much to mention from book one. As I’m close to putting out the fifth book in a series, I’m faced with this daily, but I want my readers to see previous characters change and grow at the same time. Trying to stay with this mindset does put limitations on us in writing a series/ or sequel. All you can do is write the best book you can write, be patient, and have confidence. Write the story that needs to be written.

    Never give up on your dream of becoming a full time writer.

    Reply

  11. eemoxam
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 15:38:40

    Great post! I know that following my characters has always been the right call, I’m sure your’s will lead you somewhere amazing.

    Reply

  12. desertdweller29
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 17:37:09

    I like to say “Unbelievable!” when someone asks how I’m doing. Pretty much covers the entire spectrum of well being. It even covers the crap-ass days.

    Reply

  13. jjspina
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 18:57:54

    Love your post, Mike! I, for one, look forward to reading the sequel.

    I read a lot of books that are part of sequels. I don’t always read book 2 even if I like the book. I find it more interesting to jump around to different genres instead of sticking with the same series. I do get around to reading book 2 of many series if they are really good to hold my interest. Your sequel I am more than ready for! It will be great! 🙂

    Reply

  14. Karina Pinella
    Apr 10, 2016 @ 22:04:49

    That’s great progress you’ve made from excellent focus. Good job! Truly inspiring. I’m in the same situation–day job, not quite the sequel situation . . . yet. Gotta get the first book written first, right? Meh, I’m not sweating over it. Argh!

    Reply

  15. evelyneholingue
    Apr 11, 2016 @ 01:36:48

    Yeah! You are keeping your goal. Awesome. I applaud your determination. Wriiting is not for the impatient neither for the faint of heart. Good luck and bravo for sticking to it. I’m getting there too!

    Reply

  16. Trackback: My Article Read (4-10-2016) – My Daily Musing
  17. Teagan Geneviene
    Apr 11, 2016 @ 12:30:22

    LOL… Mike, I’m in a similar state… as anyone who is waiting for book-2 of my “Atonement, Tennessee” novel can tell you. I feel guilty saying so, but I’m sort of relieved to know someone shares my plight. You’re not alone.
    Loved the “Outstanding” image at the end. Mega hugs!

    Reply

  18. Patrice
    Apr 11, 2016 @ 15:24:22

    Outstanding!

    Reply

  19. Shelley
    Apr 12, 2016 @ 23:48:23

    It will be outstanding. After reading the comments I am going to stay redundant! 🙂

    Reply

  20. Sherri
    Apr 13, 2016 @ 11:22:29

    Hi Mike, great to know you’re heading for that finish line. I’m right there with you! You and your writing are outstanding. That’s all I can say 🙂

    Reply

  21. penneyvanderbilt
    Apr 16, 2016 @ 18:03:36

    Reblogged this on PenneyVanderbilt.

    Reply

  22. Today, You Will Write
    Apr 17, 2016 @ 00:22:31

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    Share your writer story…

    Reply

  23. Today, You Will Write
    Apr 17, 2016 @ 00:31:57

    Way to go, Mike. Glad to hear it.

    Reply

  24. D. Wallace Peach
    Apr 20, 2016 @ 14:47:26

    Sequels are tough and to be honest, I can’t write them. Once a story is done, I can’t seem to continue it with the same intensity. I’ve fallen into writing serials instead, where it’s just one long story told in 3 books. Good luck finishing the second book. I hope it does great!

    Reply

  25. imaginenewdesigns12
    Apr 26, 2016 @ 03:34:51

    Thank you for liking “Levitation” and “First Day of Spring.” I think it is a significant accomplishment to write and publish one book, and I admire that you have the courage and dedication to write a sequel. Good luck! 🙂

    Reply

  26. kingdom777
    Apr 26, 2016 @ 05:42:46

    Hi Mike, Good luck with your sequel. I’ve now published my book, and now have to market it. That’s going to be interesting – it’s in a unique genre, with a bias against the main character, and a zero advertising budget! Any advice you can give will be welcome 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Apr 27, 2016 @ 18:21:48

      Hi Jo! Congratulations! And yes–marketing is in many ways harder than writing the book in the first place.:) The best advice I can give is to be persistent, and to keep the long view in focus. Publishing a book is a huge undertaking, and it definitely needs to be looked at as a marathon and not a sprint. There will be days when you might feel like giving up–I know I’ve had them!–but the key is to keep moving forward and keep believing!

      Reply

  27. Christy Birmingham
    Apr 26, 2016 @ 17:50:09

    Pssst I’m re-reading The Eye-Dancers and will write a review once I’m done 🙂 Wishing you all the best on the sequel, Mike!

    Reply

  28. VanessaxGrace
    Apr 30, 2016 @ 02:23:42

    Keep pressing on, Mike. Thanks for sharing your thought process in all this!

    Reply

  29. Cynthia Reyes
    Apr 30, 2016 @ 02:47:02

    First, congrats! One book and twenty-one chapters of a sequel is a major achievement!!
    Second: the sequel to my memoir comes out within weeks. “And I totally relate to what you have to say, especially this: As I’ve examined and picked through what I have so far, I’ve been critical, doubtful, unsure. Is the story any good? Will readers of The Eye-Dancers enjoy this continuation? Or will it flop, crashing and burning like a doomed meteor breaking through the earth’s atmosphere, reduced to smoking fragments of dust and debris?”
    I’ve made mine a stand-alone book so people who only read book 2 won’t feel cheated. But I also hope that readers of A Good Home — book 1 — will love it.
    Thank you for writing this post.

    Reply

  30. Stephanae V. McCoy
    May 23, 2016 @ 16:30:11

    Wow have I got some catching up to do. Congratulations on your sequel writing project! It sounds like your making tremendous progress.

    At the beginning of your post I almost thought we worked for the same firm as the company I worked for had an offices throughout the US including Rochester, NY. Our group was called document and creative services and we had a technical writer who was hired as a proofreader for our group named John and he was always “outstanding” but the likenesses ended there as he was a balding man in his mid forties when we began working together. Our John was such a pleasure to be around because he was always so positive and would tell the corniest jokes but it was all part of his appeal.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      May 25, 2016 @ 18:37:24

      Thanks so much, Steph! Always great hearing from you.:) And that is a coincidence about John the co-worker.:) Wouldn’t that have been something had he been one and the same person?:)

      Reply

      • Stephanae V. McCoy
        May 25, 2016 @ 22:23:07

        Yes it would indeed. For a brief minute I was like “hey could it be?”However when I read your description I realized that our John and your John were two different people who seem to be cast in the same mold. 😉

  31. sherazade
    Jun 08, 2016 @ 20:21:09

    Dunque….Auguri! 🍸🍸🍸
    Sherabientot

    Reply

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