This is a topic I have pondered on a lot of late, as I work on book ten of a series that uses the same character. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I'm feeling antsy too. My husband teases me that I should write Sadie forever; that I can do dozens of Sadie books like the Murder She Wrote Series. As long as they are selling, I should write them. I see the wisdom of his position and from his perspective as a businessman and entrepreneur it makes perfect sense for him advise this way, but I don't agree it's in my best interest--or Sadie's for that matter.
A few weeks ago we watched an interview with Alanis Morissette, whose music we both love. She talked about her own experience with this, how she had made a splash with her album, Jagged Little Pill, back in the mid-90's and her producers wanted her to do it again. However, by the time that album had come out, she had evolved into a different place. She was writing different music and her life had changed so much and she wanted to show THAT. But they didn't want it. They wanted a brand; a 'sure thing.' In this interview she talked about how the strain of trying to please them and herself nearly broke her. She ran away to India and had to take some really deep journeys to determine what she would do next. She didn't want to lose her momentum, but she didn't want to put the time into something that felt 'over' in her own mind. It's been almost two decades since that time, and she hasn't had the same success she had with Jagged Little Pill but she said she has never regretted not doing it the way everyone wanted her to. She needed to grow and she needed to reflect that growth in her work, which she has been able to do. She said that when she sings those early songs she loves them and gets to relive the joy of that time, but can also reflect on what's changed since then. I turned to my husband and said "That's what I mean when I talk about not being able to do Sadie forever; I have to make sure my work reflects who I am when I'm writing it."
So does that mean if you have a series that's doing well you should stop? Not at all. Does it mean you can't enjoy writing in the same genre and never step out side of it? No. But it is important to understand that your writing isn't just about the writing; it's about you and the journey you are making, too. Being aware of evolution that will likely take place within you --if it hasn't already--will make it easier when you realize when you are outgrowing something. When I first realized this antsyness in regard to my current culinary mystery series, I felt ungrateful for the success and enjoyment I'd had with it. Like Cousin Dudley not getting 37 birthday gifts. But as I've worked through those thoughts I've found peace in the realization that it's not about being ungrateful, in fact, it's a credit to what I've done to say that I've done it to the best of my ability and now I want to do something new. I want fresh ideas and new characters and ideas that keep me on the edge of my seat. I think my willingness to evolve has also contributed to how well the series is doing. I'm writing cozy mysteries with one POV. It could easily get stale, which is why I've told a ghost story, a character driven volume, different locations, and I've focused on themes like archeological theft, adoption reunions, and numerous ways to murder someone :-) While there are lots of similarities in the books--they are a series after all--I've tried to make each one different both for the reader's sake and my own. When I am challenged, I am digging deeper and I think it shows in my writing.
Ironically, I wrote Lemon Tart when I was frustrated with my LDS writing career and felt I needed a change. Soon after I began it, an LDS book I'd written was accepted by Deseret Book, re-igniting my LDS novels. Lemon Tart eventually grew into a force to be reckoned with. If I'd never explored my need to evolve when I started that book, who knows when it would have surfaced. As this series winds down (though there's still three to go and I'm loving it!) my head is becoming awakened with new ideas and directions--things I had never considered five years ago.
It's also scary to evolve, though. It's tempting to remain comfortable, to take advantage of every drop of something that's working well for us. I would never say turn your back on something you love, but I would suggest that you consider where you are and where you want to be and continually ask yourself what's next. There are authors who write essentially the same thing for their entire career. They do well with it and they enjoy it. Hat's off to them. But it's not me. It's not most writers I know.
If you are feeling the niggle of a need to change, ask yourself what you can do within your specific situation. Is there a different genre calling to you? Do you need to write a new type of character? Maybe another age group would change things up for you. Maybe you want to do a picture book. Maybe you want to explore non-fiction. Explore it; see what the future holds for your ambition and ability. You might need to work on your "new idea" in the background, as you work on other projects that have more potential or that people are waiting for, but don't turn down the inspiration that might lead you to growth that will make all the difference.
It's been said "Evolve or Die" and while redundant writing won't kill you, evolution won't either and it might take you places your are only dreaming about right now.