Almost all writers I've known have been torn between two impulses they're helpless to resist. On the one hand, if they've worked for years and are finally enjoying some well-earned success, they're more than a little scared of messing with the formula. The voice of Success urges:
And so they do, and continue to do, until the rebel devil cries:
They begin to feel enslaved by their successful series or threatened in some unfathomable way by the love readers feel for one standalone book. Maddened by fear or resentment, they either tank the series or give it a twist that will turn readers off. Or, rather than follow their one runaway success with a sequel or something in a similar vein, they do something offputtingly different. Ah, the sweet siren call of
One remarkably talented writer I know is taking time off from a series of Tartan Noir mysteries--one that's been gathering steam--to work on an historical epic of 100,000 words. Another mystery writer I follow swings almost depravedly from mystery to romance to sci-fi. Hey, even Conan Doyle felt compelled to try at least to kill off Sherlock Holmes.
Lawrence Sanders comes to mind as a supreme example of a writer who perfectly balanced his commercial instincts and his independent spirit. Unwilling to grind out a Deadly Sin novel a year (the Sin books took 3-4 years to do), he launched a second series--of shorter and lighter Commandments. Oh, and he wrote two limited series of just two books apiece--the Peter Tangent and the Timothy Cone books. Meanwhile, always busy, he wrote many standalone titles, from erotica to thrillers to capers. Then, when he'd grown older, he launched the easy and breezy Archy McNally series.
The man I call The Colonel had brilliance to burn and a game plan that reminds us of Russell Blake--who's also committed to writing whatever he pleases to write.
For those who are less prolific, Claude Bouchard offers an excellent alternative. Lightly scattered among entries in his bestselling Vigilante series are standalones written to appease the rebel devil's voice.
We can see the same spirit at work in Clint Eastwood's early film career: one film for himself to each three for his fans. The older Clint likes to say that he'd always been able to tell his fans to buzz off if they weren't amused. But the man who made the two Whichways had one eye at least on box office success.
Somehow we all have to find our own way to calm those dueling voices.