Should I Write my Epic… Before I Sell Book 1?

17 Feb

After much dreaming and research, next week I’ll be heading down to Costa Rica for a little over a week for some adventure. Not enough time to do Australia – right now, that’s a 2018 goal, but we’ll see how we do finance-wise, as I’m hopefully also about to become a house owner this year as well, but if all goes well besides learning how to surf I’ll finally be using my PADI certification.  I if we’re friends on FB, I’m sure you’ll see some pictures.


Today’s Topic has been on my mind for a while. I’ll start with saying that aspiring writers come from different walks of life, skill levels and expectations.

Writing, while having properties I can analyze syntax and make just about any topic uber-boring, is an art.

I can watch and copy someone else’s work, but I have no idea how to make it flow and, if you and I were to get an impression on any sculpture or painting, we might come to different interpretations as to what we notice. The same goes with writing.

But a question that interests me is, what if I envision a longer project? Perhaps the novel stands on its own, but I’ve envisioned it in parts, and I’m really motivated to keep going. This is tackling book 2 or even an entire trilogy (or more, I know which genre to which I belong!) striking while the creative iron is hot, before book 1 is really refined, much less accepted.

Only to realize maybe by the time I’m finished, the market is oversaturated with say, Zombie Unicorns, and I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort with that one series no one will touch.

This isn’t about why we write and who we write for. This is about using one’s time wisely, so any fans aren’t bored while you take a three year break working on something that will never see the light of day.

There’s pros and cons to dedicating yourself to a large project, so I’ll use the same analogy as the visual artist above. If I only do oil painting and only do nature scenes, I’ll probably get very good at it – no matter how hopeless I start, if you were to line up the earliest attempts to the latest, you’d see general improvement over time. That being said, if I were to also study figure drawing via conte or attempt sculpture, my scenic oil paintings might take longer to improve, but my general skills from composition, depth and lighting, might not translate necessarily from one medium or subject matter to another, but it can help me rethink a problem.

I’m a bad example because I started writing very young – I did start out writing a series of novels, because it was easy to revisit the world and characters, and continue on with what I had already established.  I had some vague epic plan, but I had no idea what I was doing. Characters got to visit new locations and I got to put the focus on background characters – not so much a day in the limelight so much as “this would be cool from this perspective – huhuh, I know Blink 182 isn’t really epic fantasy music, but I could totally see this song right here”. *Sings to the radio, wonders why not much writing happened today*

The thing that is unfortunate that, even if I were to approach writing with a much better mastery of the English language, was that my first novels were bad. Not creatively – when I find my old stuff, I kind of enjoy how free the stories were. Beyond that – well, no reason to be a self-loathing artist here; use your imagination. I became a reasonably fast typist because I wrote, but it took first year University to knock me down a few pegs that, no, I’m not as clear and concise as I think I am.

But I wrote passionately and I studied everything I could.  And while I had it in my heart that the series needed me to catch up skill-level for the epic story, I wrote other shorts, novellas and eventually, once I graduated I started to write novels as well – but not set around the same characters or subgenre.

It was only just recently I revisited and wrote a sequel for a novel I hadn’t submitted yet.

Why put in all that work and effort for a genre (YA) I find extremely hard to get any attention for?

Because I was having a hard time getting the first novel the way I liked it. I wrote the first knowing full well that it stood on its own but I wanted to write a sequel, but I had lots of ideas. The novel in question is a wacky YA steampunk, and the first novel is really fast-paced. I felt that to get the first novel right, I needed to explore it from another angle.

We see this all the time as “writing exercises” where you interview your character or put them in a situation, and write a page or two of fluff so you get to know them better. Stuff that helps you, as a writer, but isn’t meant to be seen by the reader – necessarily. But was it necessary for me to write an entire book?

This is where I think it’s a good idea that, if you do have an idea for book 2, don’t just send book 1 out and forget about it, because given my experience how long it takes to hear back, if you’re writing a novel a year, I’m usually 2 books ahead before I’m at the “Send me more” phase. Hash some rough chapters out. Make yourself notes. If you have a source to familiarise yourself with the material, do it so you can go back. It doesn’t seem like it’s important when you finish a book, because you are supposed to know details. Immerse yourself in another universe, maybe a leaving yourself notes for a refresher doesn’t hurt.

Flex your authorial muscles in ways beyond reading and writing non-fiction. I learned how to imitate other authors by stealing their voices for shorts. I’m not saying that if you only write hard- science fiction you have to write a middle grade western, but try to make it different, even if it adheres to your brand.

But what about a true epic, that requires absolute planning, and is meant to be one whole, and needs to be split into parts for the sake of a physical copy?

Once again, consider if you think you’re done after draft 1, 8, 20. It’s not a bad idea to take a break from that epic, and work on something else, especially if you have writers block.  Back to the painting analogy – I might be inspired to do something big and epic – and let’s use oils because you can build onto them – but it might be a slow, arduous process on my massive canvas, and occasionally, I’ll do other commissions or sketch when I’ve had enough because I just can’t get the sunset just so. The beauty with writing on a screen is that you can make multiple tiny changes to the manuscript without having to rewrite an entire page, removing entire scenes or moving them around. You can always keep adding to a story (and some of us seem to be in that endless cycle, but letting go is another post).

The best way for me to get my story in its best shape, ironically, is to give it a break and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. Knowing more about it is helpful – but remember, even some of the most beloved classics have a bit of continuity problem. I’m not going to point and jeer, so stop worrying and write, okay?

Thoughts? I’m mostly curious from the, “I sold book 1… now I really have to hurry and finish book 2!” when they’ve promised a trilogy camp.

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