Hello lovely. I haven’t got any cute images or videos or other cheats today, and I’ve just had a load of announcements, so I thought I’d actually write a regular, rambling, blog post for once. Fancy that? A word of comment, first. I started writing a post about what it’s like to write a series instead of a one-shot, about an hour ago and suddenly realized that it’s way too long. Which will become hilarious in a minute. So, this is part 1. I’ll post part 2 later on.
Before I can really talk about my experience of writing a series, I feel I should give a bit more background about my writing history. The first book I ever wrote was a sci-fi world-jumping novel, and it took me about a year to get the first draft on paper. I started it in 1997 and I think I finished it in 1998, when I was a wee little 15 year-old. Naturally, it was over 100,000 words and horrendous. #noobwriter But I re-wrote it about 14 times over the next 8 years (yes, I said 8), until it improved into a solidly mediocre and derivative piece. Feeling pleased with my moderate success, I moved on to writing the sequel to this first book and was already thinking about it as a trilogy. As of today, no one outside of my family and mentors have ever seen any of it, and now that I know what I’m doing no one ever will until it gets a massive overhaul.
Now, let’s just re-count what my very first writing experience actually was. I didn’t start with a short-story. I didn’t even start with fan-fiction. I started with a beef-stake sci-fi novel that turned into part 1 of a trilogy before I finished the first draft. More than that, I was re-working the same story and the same basic plot for years, without really taking a break. Sure, I was in school and had lots of things going on, but I was working seriously on that book/trilogy for about 8 years solid, and was trying to get it published, right up until I got another idea.
The second book I finished was inspired by my visits to Tokyo. I went there a few times for vacation with a friend, then studied abroad in Tokyo a few years after that. The book I wrote about Japan wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy at all, but was just general fiction, about riding the trains in Tokyo. This time, I had a pretty good idea of how to put a book together before I started it, and I got it into a decent shape and polished enough to start shopping it around to my publishing contacts in less than two years, by 2007. But since that was so much easier than stumbling about with my first trilogy, I immediately thought I might make the Japan book into a series, and also use it as an excuse to travel. I could write the same kind of story in any city with trains, after all. How about Paris, or New York, or Hong Kong? Splendid!
Then, life hit me square in the nose. For the first time in 10 years, I stopped writing because I just didn’t have the time. I still tried from time to time to work up something fun or go back and add more to my old series, just for fun, but I had not series. Things eventually calmed down in my life and I finally managed to write an actual short story in 2010. It was about a man who was a projectionist at an old movie theater, and was obsessed with old movies from the 30s and 40s, rejecting modern life for the silver elegance of the past. I still think it’s pretty good. And I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to be writing again! As soon as I finished the story, however, and saw that it came to a neat and elegant end, I felt an enormous sense of loss. The story was over. What a horrible thought. I instantly rejected the idea and tried to stretch it into a book at least, but it just wasn’t there. I had to let it go.
Desperate now to get back under that cozy, heavy, warm duvet of writing a series after years out in the cold, I picked up Steampunk. I’d recently realized that all my favorite books and movies fit until that genre title, and was enamored with the whole idea. But I’d never tried to write in it. So, after my recent success, I started with a short story. Before I got ten pages in, it became a book. But, since I wasn’t used to Steampunk, it wasn’t working as well as I’d liked. I kept swinging wide over historical fiction, then coming back over pure fantasy, without ever getting the feel for it. Plus, as much as I liked the characters, they weren’t as good as the projectionist and his friends. Frustrated, I decided to start over with a new idea entirely, just as soon as I came up with something.
Then, after seeing a fantastic live play that was a Steampunk version of Twelfth Night, something finally clicked in my head and I got a grip on Steampunk. I went home after the play and wrote the first chapter of Waking. The moment I saw Twist, I knew something was different. He was special. And by the time I was 5 pages in, I knew he needed room to run. I decided, right there on the 5th page, to go for the series. In three months (my personal best at the time) the first book was done and I’d started on the second. With re-writes and edits of previous Twist books to pad out my time, I wrote another two 80,000 page novels in the next year, and two more the year after that. Last year I wrote three.
So, in the last 17 years I’ve spent 3 not working on a series of some kind. The only time I ever stopped a story and didn’t just shelve it for later continuation, it was traumatic. I still miss Steve the projectionist sometimes. I can’t imagine what I’m going to do at the end of Twist 12. And no, I won’t just keep going because I watched Lost and I’m not going to do that to you. There will be an ending, because Twist needs one to be whole. But over the years, I’ve begun to realize that series writing is very much a comfy mental duvet for me. Stuck in an elevator? It’s cool, I’ll just work on pruning my mythology for a minute. Can’t sleep? Well, how am I going to get Twist to do that thing he really doesn’t want to do in that next scene? Red Light? No problem, I’ve got delicate social interactions between deeply damaged people to sort out. It’s always there, and it’s soft and comfortable, and as familiar as pumpkin spice.
So, besides some rather obvious emotional issues I might want to stop ignoring, what does all this mean? Is it possible that some writers just can’t do short while others just can’t do long? Is it really that different at all? I don’t know, but I hope to find out. I’ll continue this idea in a later post. In the meantime, please share your thoughts on writing in a comment. Whether you’re an accomplished author, or just dabble in writing, I’d love to hear what your experience has been like. Or have you noticed anything like this in your reading habits? Let me know. And thanks for reading so far.