About those unfinished novels
Being a completer-finisher
This is the second part of my revised How to Write Serialised Fiction guide. Missed the previous instalment? Check it out here:
Writers write. That's what we do, all through our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes more toward the lesser. Often it can all feel like tinkering, or bursts of action followed by extended fallow periods. A lot of writing courses focus on the art of writing, to help you write better. But none of that is any use if you can’t get the words down - any words, regardless of quality. Being consistent, being productive: now that's the real trick.
I've lost track of how many projects I’ve started and never finished. Going way back to my teenage years, I always had something I'd be working on, whether it was a short story or a novel or a screenplay. I’d work on the story excitedly, or get 20,000 words down while the furnace was burning white hot. Maybe, very rarely, I’d even finish the first draft and get that rush of satisfaction; but then comes the editing, or the shiny, distracting new idea, and the procrastinating.
That's how projects used to go for me: beginning with enthusiasm and drive and passion, before fizzling out and being forgotten. I’d plough through the word count, ideas flowing, and I’d think this is the one. But at some point my attention would drift or another idea sparked in your brain, and off I would go, chasing down endless unfinished ambitions.
Sound familiar? It was definitely my repeating experience as a young writer. Sure, I had vague aspirations of getting published or turning my writing into a career of some sort, but there was no apparent path from where I was to where I wanted to be. And thus, my motivation ebbed and flowed. The creeping doubt that it is all for nothing doesn't help when you're trying to pound your way towards 100,000 words.
Writing a novel is like climbing a mountain. You can see the summit before you even begin, but the space in-between is endless and unknowable and impossibly vast. Most people never think to try to climb it. Of the few that do, most of them give up somewhere on the way to the peak. Even if you do get to the top, utterly exhausted, only then do you realise that you still need to climb safely back down again before it truly means anything. Tenuous metaphor for editing, giving you a little wave.
My hard drives used to be full of half-finished projects. Entire novels completed to a rough first draft state but never edited to publishable quality. Short stories that never quite came together. Screenplays that were never filmed. Months, years of work, languishing in the digital dungeon of my computer's darkest recesses, unread. I suspect you have similar folders of shame and regret - or perhaps drawers or binders or notebooks.
Note that I’m using the past tense here. There is hope. I’ll get to it in a minute.
The thing about life is that it tends to get busier, and harder, and faster as you get older. More responsibilities, more family, more work, more financial burden, less creative time. It becomes easier over time to come up with quite legitimate-sounding excuses for not writing, until one day you're 75 years old and your dream of being an author has faded to nothing but a crumpled, faded childhood memory.
Here’s the thing: this on-going guide isn’t just about the form of serialised fiction. It’s also about how serialised fiction can help you as a writer. Now, if you're one of those people who is endlessly productive and sharply ambitious before they're even into their mid-twenties, the productivity elements of the guide probably aren’t going to speak to you. Also, I hate you (not really). But if you're not one of those lucky people, if you’re more like me, then there’s a good chance that you’re investigating serialised fiction not just for the creative and artistic aspects, but also because you desperately want to reach your potential as a fiction writer and think that serialisation might hold the keys.
In early 2015 I fixed my procrastination issues. I wrote a 94,000 word novel in just over a year, without it interfering with - or being interrupted by - the rest of my life. I then wrote a 250,000 fantasy epic. I followed that up with a 60,000 word YA adventure. I spent 35 years of my life never quite finishing any writing projects - and in the last six years I’ve written three novels and reached thousands of readers.
And the thing is, it turned out to be pretty easy.
Next time, I’m going to take a closer look at that mountain. And then chop it down with the edge of my hand.
Launching the new book
Last Friday I published the first chapter of my new book, Tales from the Triverse. If you’re a subscriber it should have popped into your inbox. Responses I’ve seen so far are positive, but as with most of these things it’s going to be a slow build. If you missed it you can check it out here:
If you’re already a writer of serialised fiction please do let me know!
Simon K Jones