I Could Write a Novel about Not Being Able to Finish a Novel
Recently I found myself looking back through some years worth of writing and found myself momentarily quite disappointed in myself that I still haven't finished a novel from head to toe and published it.
I assured myself that I've done things that come close: after all I've written a number of first and second drafts of "novels" that stretch back to both my high school and college years. I've finished many short stories, drabbles, novellas, and even some novel-length pieces since then, too, but I still haven't gotten to the point with any of them of taking them through three or more drafts, polishing them up, sending them to an editor, and so on.
I could offer an unending stream of reasons why this is the case, but at the end of the day, the reason is nothing is ready yet, multiple novels have been steadily moving forward over the past few years, and I'm thankful for that. Forward momentum is certainly better than no momentum at all.
The Fanciful, Appealing Nature of Trilogies
After returning from this year's Southern California Writers' Conference in February, I was infused with creativity, but I also found myself pulling myself to a halt to try and evaluate how I was proceeding. I realized that I was juggling a number of active writing projects I was working on that were all vying for my attention, including three novels and two short stories in addition to other work I'd put on the back-burner. So it was with a bit of soul-searching that I realized that, like art, trying to juggle so many projects at once wasn't doing me a lot of good, and that it would be better to try to focus on taking one to the finish line before I worked on finishing off the rest of them.
I hemmed and hawed a bit about which one I should pick, but in the end, I found myself really drawn to finishing off Secrets of an Accord, which is a sort of origin story for how two main characters in the series got to know each other, and it's a story I feel is a really good introduction to the world of my books as well.
You see, way, way back, over seventeen years ago or so, I had a trilogy of novels plotted out (because it seemed like fantasy novels were supposed to be trilogies, so who was I to argue?). I wrote one and a half and had the other fully outlined when a computer fire consumed them. Years later, I would go on to write stories from all over the world: some picked up where I left off writing, some dealt with the backstories of side-characters and creatures, some were lore-tales from the world, others were bits and pieces of stories from years before or after that trilogy, but all along my mind still stuck to the idea that that original trilogy I'd written was the meat and potatoes of the story, and all this other stuff was just filler.
Now mind you: since I originally penned that "trilogy" years ago, many other books have crept into my field of view that have shown that there is hardly any hard and fast rule about series needing to be part of a trilogy (Harry Potter and the Dresden Files among them), but what I came to realize this last weekend was that I have continued to view that trilogy I wrote as the beginning and core of things. Therefore, when I've been working on these other novels (all of which actually take place before that original trilogy by quite a number of years), I've felt like they were somehow "just" prequels. Like somehow what I was doing was writing filler and backstory to the trilogy from yesteryear, which.... isn't even out. That bore in mind the question and realization together: Why is it that I'm telling myself I'm writing a backstory to a story that isn't even available? That's quite strange, if not a bit backward.
In the wake of this realization, I feel more than a bit overwhelmed but also empowered. I've realized that rather than sitting on the events of that trilogy of books and scattering other stories and novels around it to help fill in the world and characters, I really need to detach myself from the idea of a trilogy at all and instead sit back and look at the stories I want to tell and organize them into a more intelligent whole. Maybe that's six books? More? I'm not sure. But I know that instead of treating these precious standalone novels as works meant to support that trilogy of books, it makes a whole heck of a lot more sense to weave it all together more cohesively and to plan out the release order. That might mean that I need to make hard calls, too. It might mean that I need to put Secrets of Accord back on the back burner if I want to release everything in chronological order. I'm not sure yet. There are so many casts of characters and so many time periods and places I've written in and about that I need to narrow my scope yet again and stop jumping around from time to time and place to place and instead pick not only a starting point for my published work, but a reading order that is sensible to those completely unfamiliar with the world and its characters.
That right there sounds like a completely daunting task, and while part of me wants to scramble and defend that well, I should clearly publish whatever I want to publish first, I also respect and realize that if I want this to be a project spanning many years, and if I want others to join me on the journey, that I'd better figure out the intended read-order as well.
How to Further Noodle Novels
Like my art, sometimes I also get so caught up in the details of a story that it keeps me from moving forward with any resemblance of a healthy, regular clip, but I'm certainly trying to get better on that front. That is part of why I try to use Productivity Trackers to hold myself accountable for how I spend my time, and it's also part of why I realized that working on multiple stories at once (five of them...) simply was doing me no good. I only have so much free time, and it's hard to keep things fresh in my mind if I'm regularly juggling projects.
But in a way, it's both daunting and freeing to finally start to detach myself from the idea of later stories being some sort of sacred trilogy simply because they were written first (so very long ago). It means that not only can I re-evaluate them, but hopefully I can start to weave everything together into a much more cohesive and powerful whole.
As such, it means that I will be temporarily halting progress on Secrets of an Accord while I take a step back and look at the stories as a whole and reorganize them into what they really are: a series (not a trilogy with random add-ons). I suspect it's very likely I will want to publish them chronologically, and if so, I will need to move a few things around and fill in some gaps, but on the whole I suspect the stories will be that much better for it, and I'm excited to get started figuring out critical questions like "Just how many books long IS the main storyline?" and "Where should I actually start the series?" rather than running with what I'm simply most eager to write on any given day.
- I know I have a lot of characters, but who is this series about at its core?
- What events need to be "seen" by the reader, and what can be left for flashbacks?
- I know I love so many of my short stories, but which are actually necessary to the overall story, and which are better left for side reading?
- What is an acceptable time to jump ahead in time between books?
- Is it okay to change PoVs depending on the novel?
- What is the common, building thread between everything that ties all of it together?
I think I know the answer to most of these questions, but I'm tentatively giving myself until the end of June to really solidify my strategy. One thing I'm thinking of doing is going through the existing books and outlines and giving each of them a cohesive (if temporary) naming structure to start shaking my brain and retraining it into realizing this is all one big story with separate, smaller arcs, rather than piecemeal bites alongside a central trilogy as I've been considering it for so long.
This is all so incredibly intimidating and exciting, because it makes me realize that these holes of time I've shrugged off and perhaps filled with little bites of story might actually have whole novels there waiting to be unearthed and told fresh. There might be sideline characters that become mainstream, or the need for entirely new characters that I haven't even yet schemed up. It's a rush thinking of all the possibilities!
The best art analogy I can think of is realizing you've been spending all this time making separate pieces of art that are casually related, when you suddenly realize they are in fact part of a much larger tapestry, and that there are blank holes to fill in to make something even bigger and greater than before.
It also means that I'm even more intimidated, because the stakes feel higher somehow if this is truly a series, but that certainly isn't going to stop me. :)
In any case, thank you for your support, and hopefully in the coming months I'll have even more to share. I'm sure there are some (actual) side short stories to be shared as well. :) Onward and upward!