June 12, 2020, is a day that will forever live with me because it is the day that I finally brought to a close the series that is Guardian of the Core. Clocking in at 472 pages, 69 chapters, and over 250,000 words it has been the longest, and most difficult, novel that I have ever written. But, with every great challenge, there is an opportunity for growth, and this was no exception to that rule. On the contrary, I learned “The Four Truths of Writing” that I want to share with you all here.
Truth #1: Ending is Different than Stopping
Unlike the other books in the series where you want to leave readers with a cliffhanger in order to whet their appetites while they eagerly await the next book, the last novel in the series cannot have such a “stop” ending. It has to end. All of the loose ends have to come together and it should, for the most part, tie everything in a nice little bow as a perfect holiday gift for the readers.
What should an author take into consideration doing this?
Well, first and foremost, your characters (if writing in more than one perspective) all should have reached the conclusion of their character arcs with appropriate endings. Notice the italicization there. They do not have to be satisfying, but they should be appropriate for the reader. Also, if a certain character doesn’t have a complete character arc, there should be a reason why. In this last series, for example, I do have two characters who have yet to complete their character arc and that is done intentionally.
Next, of course, is the plot. Are there any loose ends that you have left out there for the reader? If so, it would make sense (again unless if done intentionally) to go back and tie up those loose ends for the reader. I’ll give a clear example of this and how it didn’t work. In the last book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini there are a few plot points that were never wrapped up effectively like the belt with the gems on it that Eragon could gather energy from and I believe (although it’s been some time since I’ve read it) that the last dragon egg had never hatched. In the last battle with Galbatorix Murtagh is able to strip Galbatorix of his hundreds and hundreds of wards all at once with an unidentified spell (saying the Name of Names), but we don’t ever really understand how this name gets to be used. Furthermore, Galbatorix has a huge black dragon that intimidates everyone and is why he is the baddest dude around, but this dragon actually doesn’t do anything in the last fight. For more problems with this series visit here, but I think you get the point.
Finally, I think it’s necessary to really take into account the themes and symbolism of not only your novel but the series as a whole. Does it do what you intended it to do? For the most part, this will be tied up in the previous two points concerning plot and characters, but it’s crucial that readers get something out of the novel and that, if done successfully, they can go back and read it again and find hidden nuggets of symbolism, themes, and motifs that should be sprinkled throughout. If you have a character who is meant to represent hope and bring hope to others, that should be the feeling left with the reader at the end of the novel. Similarly, if a character is meant to feel pain and perhaps mourning then they should invoke that in the reader as well by the series conclusion.
Truth #2: Just Go With It
As a writer, I plan everything. Well, I try to plan everything. This last novel I already knew that I was intending to break it into three parts and had chapter descriptions and titles written for each of the chapters in the novel.
Now, what is interesting, is that sometimes these plans go awry. Meaning, things happen in the novel that you don’t really expect to happen, they just do. I was very surprised, for example, when one of the lords in the novel dies unexpectedly as did his son. I intended him to live and him to offer advice and words to make another thing happen in the novel, but he couldn’t’ any longer because of his untimely (and most unforeseen) death.
What do you do when this happens?
Go with it.
Seriously, see where it takes you. In this case, it took to the subsequent arrest of this individual which then ends up becoming a huge factor in the latter half of the novel and helps resolve some of the character archs at the end. For me, when these moments occur that don’t necessarily follow the plan I had outlined in the flowchart, it’s for a good reason and I’ve learned that sometimes the story just builds itself where it needs to. It’s a hard concept to explain, and perhaps trying to would be futile until you write your own story yourself and see it happen firsthand, but I tell you any author, any good author, who has crafted good characters, will have those characters come to life on the page and, subsequently, they will determine their own death or destiny.
So, while I recommend having an outline for a larger piece of work such as a novel, I do think it is impossible to stick within those confines the whole time. During the course of writing this fourth book, there were entire chapters that I didn’t bother with because they were no longer relevant. Other chapters I had to create on the spot in order to finish character arcs or expand the scene and the world. Any successful person after all will be adaptable and the characters that we create, likewise, will be adaptable and they will react to the environment we thrust upon them in different ways. But, don’t worry, stay calm, and go with it.
Truth #3: Persistence
If there is anything that I’ve learned more than the other things is that writing a novel, especially this one coming in at over 250,000 words, takes persistence. Anything that we want to do or become great at takes persistence. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes this as the 10,000 rule; other books like Atomic Habit by James Clear talks about how much our habits define us and shape how successful we become. I cannot agree more with either of these two authors.
To help me reach my goal of finishing this novel by the thirtieth birthday (June 29, 2020), I built a habit of writing in the morning from 8 – 9:30 or 9:00-10:30. Usually, an hour and a half to two hours and all of that time on the computer, focused and without a phone.
My typical pace for writing is 750 words per hour. In my last post here about inspiration and the sources of inspiration and how I wrote faster when I was going through a breakup or an emotional flux in my life. Well, what’s interesting, is that since I’ve been writing now for a few months always at this time (in fact I’m even writing this blog post now at 9 a.m.) I have learned that that skill has been sharpened. I can now successfully manage to type 1000 words per hour or even more. One day I had 2000 words in 1.5 hours which is an incredible feat. Obviously this doesn’t happen all the time, and it depends on the scene being written, but I am consistently now doing above 750 words per hour. That is all thanks to persistence and consistency. That is also because, as it should go without saying, the more we do something, the better we become at it. Obviously, writing is no exception.
Both of those revelations shouldn’t truly be revelations at all, but sometimes we need that reaffirmation in our lives to truly let it sink in. On the other hand, I want to be clear that just because I write this fast doesn’t mean that you have to. In fact, that is a limiting belief. I was listening to a podcast (I’m a big fan of the Rebel Author Podcast. Sacha Black does very good interviews). Anyway, I was listening to the podcast, and she brought on Adam Croft in her first episode and he mentioned that a bad day of writing for him is 4000 words. For me, that is an EXCELLENT day of writing and something I’ve only managed to hit less than a handful of times during this last book.
But, if I hold that standard as needing to write that much every day to be prolific, then I would automatically give up considering my current success rate. What I’m trying to say is that books don’t write themselves. Even if you can only push out 200 words per day that is still 200 more words you have written in a novel that you can eventually release to the world. And, if done consistently, that will be 73,000 words over the course of a year which could very well be a novel in itself.
The idea behind this that I’ve learned with this last novel, and through listening to these podcasts, is the idea of mindset and really being adamant about writing. Taking it as a career, not just as a hobby. And, that, like anything we take seriously, requires persistence and consistency. You don’t just show up at work one day a week, do you?
And while we may never become masters in writing, and while there may be always something new to learn, that is the fun of our job, isn’t it? It’s exciting to do something new. To create something new.
Truth #4: Set Yourself Up for Success
Similarly, as in Truth 3 about persistence, setting yourself up for success is how we go about our writing and how we go about finishing a novel or a series.
At the business level, this equates to having a planned time set aside for writing, for plotting, for marketing, etc. It’s about being persistent and consistent at writing and getting your ass down in that chair and plugging out as many words as you can do in whatever time you’ve dedicated. It’s about mindset. At the author level, however, it is comprised of a few different things.
As I mentioned before, an outline is really crucial in the pre-writing stage before any of the novel gets written. It gives you a baseline to start off with, and while you may not (and probably should not) adhere to all of that outline, it sets you up for success in a few other ways. First, if done correctly, an outline gives you an overarching view of the story and where it is going and how the “plane lands” as they say in the editing world. A long flight with a crash landing isn’t successful. Similarly, if a reader reads a novel, especially a series, and it stops, well then Harry Potter might as well have never battled Voldermort in the first place. Second, by plotting it should also introduce things you need to finish up in the novel. I actually have a word document that I labeled “things to finish up in the novel.” You can find that in the image below.
I consulted this as I wrote and reached the series conclusion. Does this happen? Check. Did that happen? Check. Do I still need to do this? Yep. Okay, then I’d see where possible points of organic entry are and make it happen. This will help your story to end instead of just stop.
Another way to set yourself up for success as an author is to have reference documents with places, characters, unique objects, backstories. I have all of this. For example, in the Guardian of the Core series, there are unique weapons called Ether Weapons. There are 11 of them and each of them has a special ability; also, each of them has a unique ability and a different name. I have a document solely dedicated just to this. (See above image). There is one with every character that I’ve ever introduced in my novels, a short description about them, and what nation they are from. I could make this even better by including the page number I reference them on and importance to the storyline, but currently, I don’t have that. Many times I refer to this document to remember which eye color the character has or how old they are. You don’t want inconsistencies!
Another thing you can do to set yourself up for success is don’t revise. Don’t be a perfectionist. This comment may have some of you cringing and clicking away from this website right now, but there is a reason for this comment. By revising constantly, nothing new is written, and when you don’t get anything new written you don’t have new ideas. Substantial revising as you write is counterproductive. Remember how I said that the story just shapes itself sometimes? Well, if you constantly revise you are, in essence, lessening this occurrence. So, as much as it may pain you to write a bad sentence or through a scene, do it. Just do it. Write to get the words down on the screen and to get a basic skeleton to your baby. Afterward, in the subsequent drafts, you can start giving the flesh and skin and circulating the blood into it until it’s ready to be birthed.
Another really nice way that you can set yourself up for success if by recording how many words you’ve written every day. Take that number and post that to a social media website. Or, have “accountability friends” who ask you every day about your word count. This will make you feel as though you have to produce and will nicely complement what I’ve talked about in other ways of setting yourself up for success.
Those are “The Four Truths” that I’ve learned throughout the writing of the last book of the series. Truly, it was an unforgettable experience and definitely eye-opening in many different facets. I mentioned in an earlier blog post here about my goals for this new year, and I am happy to have completed another one of them successfully.
So, what’s next?
Well, in the next blog post, I’ll be talking about exactly that topic. Where does one go after the idea finishes? After it ends? Stay tuned! Until next week!
P.S. I want to apologize to all of you that I haven’t been consistent with the blog. Writing this (which is around 2500 words) has already exhausted my 1.5 hours of dedicated writing time and contributed to words not in the novel. While all these are words, and writing is writing, when I have a goal in mind, I finish it and don’t let myself get distracted so the novel, for me, took precedence over the blog.
Anyway, I just want to mention that I’ll be on a more consistent post schedule from here on out.