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Sunday, June 7, 2015

5 Things I learned about myself when writing Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devilbone

This is a post I've been meaning to write for over a year. I see lots of articles and blog posts about what new authors learned about writing while penning their first novel, but very few articles on self-assessment after the fact. While I was writing Devilbone I greedily devoured writing advice, knowledge, and strategies for crafting my novel. I was reading fantasy, and writing fantasy, and suffocating on the second floor of a house with no AC in August. But the most important lessons about writing were the ones I learned about myself, and so they may not apply to you as well, but hopefully you'll get something out of it.

1. Being able to identify mistakes in others' work did not stop me from making the same mistakes.

Love triangles, chosen ones, wishy-washy morality lectures, infodumps, and a hundred other tropes and cliches. They stick out like a sore thumb when you're reading a book, but when I sat down and started typing I realized that even aware of them, some writing pitfalls were extremely easy to fall into, and hard to climb back out of. Sometimes I just didn't see a way to accomplish something that wasn't terrible. A lot of time was spent in the re-writes simply removing huge sections and redoing them to try to avoid pitfalls, but I lacked the experience to remove them all.

2. The biggest key to finishing was a working habit I built as an artist.

As part of a behavioral experiment before I ever began outlining a novel, I had long resolved to spend at least one hour per day (for me between 11:00PM and Midnight) working on creative pursuits, regardless of other obligations. To this day as the clock starts creeping towards 10:30 I start wrapping up whatever I'm doing to prepare for my creative hour. When I started Devilbone, the creative hour became an hour in which I could do nothing but write. This rule had two caveats for me. Sunday would be a rest day, and if I spent an extra hour on one day I could 'bank' that hour to miss another day.

Many first-time authors hit stumbling points when they attempt to write, start off with a whole bunch out outlining and worldbuilding, and then burn themselves out in the first 50 pages. By preparing yourself for hard work and extended projects you better acclimate yourself to writing. Patience is just as important as fervor. Even writing an hour a night, or 3-4 pages, so long as you write every night you will have a completed rough draft in 3-4 months. The biggest key to maintaining this discipline is this: Do not skip a day of writing. If you skip a day for a good reason, next time you'll do it for a bad reason, and the next time you won't need a reason. Miss three days in a row, and you've essentially lost the habit and have to start over.

3. All the outlining in the world goes out the window when the narrative demands it.

When I started writing Devilbone, I had a beginning, an ending, and then I started to figure out what would span the gap. I went chapter-by-chapter on the outline, and quickly realized that the approach simply wasn't working for me at all. No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

4. The media I consumed did not inform the Fantasy books I would write.

Devilbone ended up very different than I imagined it would. I thought reading would make me well equipped to emulate several of my favorite authors, but this turned out to be far from the truth. I read Game of Thrones, but had no head for medieval politics or the shenanigans of the noble classes. I read Malazan, but lacked the sense of scope for continent-spanning conflicts, enormous casts, and living worlds. I watched The Wire, but had no grasp on creating intricate investigative efforts and portraying a crime-riddled city. I read 

Once I stepped away from these and began to find my own style I was much happier. The Sorcerous Crimes Division ended up being something completely and wholly different from any of my several influences. And in the end it was better for it. One of the most common things I hear is that Devilbone nails the exact things for which my influences are not typically known. The world is familiar, yet unique, the story is a police/detective procedural that feels completely at home in a medieval fantasy setting, and the pacing is solid despite being half the length of the 500 page meganovels I spend my evenings reading.

5. My decision to self-publish was driven by my personality, not by any discreet plan.

I am a shy person, by nature. I'm sure many writers are. When it came down to deciding whether to self-publish or begin soliciting agents? Well, one route was a great deal less stressful and more immediate. I could never be a salesman, I have a hard time imagining myself trying to push a product on an unsuspecting agent and standing out among hundreds of others. The idea of sending personal letters to dozens of prospective agents terrified me. Self-publishing was a lot of work, but it felt safe and sure.

If you are like me, but decide to commit to the traditional route, you will have to overcome these feelings. Be ready for them, expect them, and hopefully you are able to overcome them. When I decide Vick's Vultures is ready, I may try to pursue a more traditional route, but I feel as though continuing to self-publish will be my go-to path.

Hopefully this list gave any first-time authors some insight into how to self-evaluate their own processes. If you would like to check out some of my work, The Sorcerous Crimes Division is available on Amazon.

-Scott Warren

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