Here’s what I learned from a Lengthy, Epic, FLOP. By Cailey Tarriane
Writing every book will be different. The time that the magical, immersed-into-the-story moment happens will occur at its own unique pace. The writing process for each book should not be compared, but the experience of writing my first "official" book will always be unforgettable. It's a decent starting point for future projects, too.
Prior to writing this book, I wrote many novellas and short stories, but they were mostly incomplete. I believed this was a waste of potential for the concepts I had, which made me more determined to push through a tough project for six months. My first novel ever written was a fantasy, reaching over two hundred thousand words and taking up hours of my days. Word count spreadsheets were created; books of a similar genre were devoured, but the results were disastrous. Really disastrous.
Now, looking back, I realize that the project was too ambitious for a novice writer to execute, but still, I stuck with it through thick and thin, until I could type the words "the end." It’s a lesson in perseverance, and my knowledge of the writing craft grew as my style changed throughout the piece. I toyed with new ideas and gained a tough writing experience. I found my voice.
Then titled "A Nation’s Journey," the first and last chapters of this project feel like they've been written by two different authors. I learned so much and improved drastically in only six months, but it left me with a story that was impossible to continue without a complete rewrite.
So how did I move on from this step? To the untrained eye, I wasted months and months completing an epic with weak characters and shaky pacing (I apologize to my characters for referring to them as weak, but at least now I have the opportunity to improve them). (More on that later.)
Moving on to different stories and "letting go" of my lengthy first draft taught me that writing entails typing, creating, and editing, but it also entails deleting to make room for growth.
Being a writer, or any type of artist, means you have to appreciate your work but know when to "call it a day" or "give it a rest," because every passing minute you spend on your craft is an addition to your armor. You don’t become decent at something with the snap of a finger. But, after reflecting on and reading the shorter stories I wrote after this fantasy novel, I noticed a difference in skill, world building, character development, and everything else.
I began taking writing seriously the year I wrote "A Nation’s Journey." I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I embarked on the journey of a large family and their tangled family ties on a dreary February day. Hopefully, I do now.
In terms of technical writing mistakes, there were concepts that needed to be revisited because I held them dear and the ideas were personal. One character possessed too many flaws, while the other, with the help of the "opposite twin" trope, was perfect and had almost zero personality.
The prose sounded like a five-year-old had penned it. I had no idea how formatting worked. Pacing was a constant problem because it was my first time writing a book, and without a single idea of how to plot (or what it even was), I wrote like a blind bat. Sometimes I didn’t even know where the story was going, and the frustration delayed the story.
I let the idea of publishing and the complexity of the industry get to me; I compared my writing with that of already successful authors, and the "no-no" list goes on. In a future article, I'll delve deeper into these topics in order to help others avoid the rabbit hole of rarely discussed mistakes (so stay tuned).
However, no matter how much advice goes into your ears or how much knowledge you absorb from tutorial books, nothing will help you improve more than personal experience. Write, edit, and delete if you have to. Even if doing all of the above means that you have to get your "hands dirty" by typing away at a story that will never see the light of day in about a year, Invest in yourself. In the art world, it’s the only way to progress with your craft.
I was understanding this as I typed "the end" on a story I wanted to throw away, but the surge of pride and proudness still came to me as I made a new document, inserting the chapters of the first draft that would make it to the second. If I wrote a second draft, that is.
Fast forward to a long time later, and I’ve decided to embark on the journey of completing this, well, journey. My fantasy novel won’t be titled with that word anymore, and for now I call it "Project Estancia." Hopefully, once I’m finished with a middle grade project, the rewrite of the fantasy novel can be completed sometime this year.
There will be a new set of challenges, discoveries, and growth along the way. At least this time I get to say hello to my characters and their (heavily edited from the first draft) world. Also, I know how to plot a book now. Thank goodness!
Cailey Tarriane (she/her) is an avid reader, poet, and writer of everything that stills the shaking of her miserable heart. She has poetry published in Your Fire Magazine, Gypsophila zine, and Fairfield Scribes, among others. She has written over four novels to share with the world once they've reached peak misery.