A friend and former coworker passed away recently. She died in her sleep, unexpectedly. She was my age and had no health problems that I was aware of.
Amidst the sorrow, sorrow that the world lost a bright spark and the empathy I feel for what her husband and kids must be going through, I’ve been in a morbid mood.
You think about your own mortality at times like these. Forty five is young to be dying in your sleep. Still there are lots of ways you can die, at any age. You never know when you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Car accidents, house fires, mass shootings can happen to anyone, anywhere.
After my mother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and before she passed, I thought a lot about my writing. What were the most important things I wanted to say? If I were to face a similar diagnosis, if I had only a couple years left to live, which projects would really matter? Which would I choose to finish?
Not surprisingly I wrote three YA novels during that time period, all three aimed at kids who were different, bullied in some way. I wanted them to know it could turn out okay, they could get through it. Those three novels, Run, Clarissa, Run, The Case of Nikki Pagan and The Best Boy Ever Made represent something of a legacy, words I want preserved for the future.
This time around I thought mostly about my career. If I died unexpectedly, what would become of my writing, my career?
Right now, likely nothing. The books I have published would remain out for those interested in reading them. Without promotion they might sink into obscurity or they might grow an audience. It’s hard to say. Those not finished, those sitting on my hard drive, would most likely stay there.
But that might change. Heck, it might not even be true now. The couple hundred dollars I make each month in sales might be enough for my son to decide, why not send the rough drafts to an editor and publish them as well?
The point is, at some point those royalties might be enough to justify someone continuing my career on my behalf. At some point I might have enough fans for their to be an outcry of “how was that series supposed to end?”
It’s happened to other writers, though I can hardly claim their pedigree. Christopher Tolkien has virtually made a career of reconstructing his father’s notes into various manuscripts. Douglas Adam’s last book was found in the bottom of a desk drawer and published after his death. Frank Herbert’s son Brian has continued the Dune series aided by notes his father left behind and the help of another writer.
I thought about leaving behind some sort of document in Scrivener, something that could guide a future editor through my work, help them guess where I was going with a work in progress or why a project had been tabled.
I might be arrogant to think my writing would worth anyone else’s time, that some future editor would even care to dig through the mess of notes, works in progress and projects still in planning stages. But I thought about it anyway. And as soon as I thought about it, I realized that there was another, less morbid reason for undertaking the project.
I have a master publishing document. It’s a chart showing my published works, the works I am trying to edit, those I am writing and those I am planning. It’s kind of clunky, to be honest. I go through the list periodically and try to update it. I add a book to the published works chart and delete it from the works in progress. It doesn’t really mean much though.
So now I am experimenting with something new. I’ve created a scrivener project title “in the event of my death.” If I die unexpectedly, my editor knows where to look for it. But truthfully the file is much more than that.
This document is meant to serve two purposes. The first is for myself. I am working on replacing the “master publishing list” with a more interactive and editable format here. I can track projects that I am working, ones that I want to work on and ones that I have finished.
In the event of my untimely death, or as I grow older, in the event of my timely death, it might well be that my writing retains either some commercial value to my survivors in the way of royalties or literary value to my fans.
In either case this document can be used by whatever hapless writer/editor that is left to make sense of my works in progress. God have mercy on your soul.
I have created folders for published works, works that have been written but not published, works in progress, those planned but not written, those I plan to do in the future. Each novel, story or series has a scrivening in the appropriate place.
Within the document I have the basic information about that work, where it’s at, what comes next and a link to the document itself. Underneath is the synopsis and if I have one, the beat sheet.
For example, One Strange Utopia is not in a series. It’s finished and ready for the editor.
The best part of using Scrivener for this, rather than Word or Libre office to do this, is how easy it is to simply click and drag the document up as you reach the next level. Once One Strange Utopia goes to publication, I drag that scrivening into the appropriate folder. When the next work is ready to edit, up it goes into that folder, etc. It will hopefully help me keep on top of my writing projects better.
The future works folder is pretty sparse, but that’s okay. I am not intending to make extra work for myself by adding a synopsis for every single story idea I have ever had. Rather I use this folder to track where certain series are going. Some series just head off into the future with no plan, but a lot of the series I am working on are going somewhere. I know the final story arc. Keeping track of that is important to getting the series right. So there is the information when I need it.
For whatever hapless soul ends up inheriting this mess, the dustbin is probably the most vital folder. Here are projects I have tabled, ones I stopped working on at some point. Why? That’s the critical piece for most of them.
Six months after finishing the rough draft of The Seeds of Doom, I re-read it. I realized that I had written something very much in the vein of Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! without intending it.
Is there a market for dated science fiction? Maybe. I’m not really sure. Re-reading it years later I also realized how weak the story is, how much work it would take to make it publishable. There may come a day when I want to invest the time in re-writing this project, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
A lot of the stuff in my dustbin is there because of focus. I have story ideas in a dozen genres, but marketing myself in two genres, YA and Sci-fi/Fantasy, is hard enough. That romance novel I was working on last year? Sorry. I just don’t have the energy to finish it, publish it and promote it. So it’s in the dustbin. That early fantasy novel? Great learning experience but now I can see too many flaws in the writing.
Fellow writers, do you have a plan for what would happen if you died unexpectedly? Do you have a list of works in progress, or anything like this. Am I the only person who thinks this way? I would love to hear.