Reply To: Writing Paces and Schedules

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Brian Stansell



Hi Rosea and Noah,

Oh, so you’re actually writing first draft for multiple books in the series instead of working b-lining the publication of the first one? I think my sister plans to do something similar.

I decided to do it that way because I needed a break from the first draft to get some perspective on it, so I might as well write book 2, and I find it makes continuity easier. If I know what’ll happen, I can add a little foreshadowing and start setting up things in the earlier books.

That’s what I did too.  In late September of 2019, I did sign a contract with Westbow Press (A division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan Publishing) to publish the first book of the series, but I had already written the Prologue and sixty-six chapters of the series and would continue writing more, but realized I already had so much done.  (When you’re in the zone, you stay in the zone for the full run. 😉)  When I printed the whole thing out the “book” was already 550 pages long (including the prologue), so I realized I had to no longer think of it as “a book”, but in terms of a trilogy or a tetralogy or a series.  Soft-cover bindings and hardback bindings have limitations.  Tolkien’s LOTR was originally to be one book (…to rule them all… [sorry, couldn’t resist. 😜]), but his publisher convinced him to split it into the 3 books we have today.  So, I looked down the plot lines and found a way to divide “the book” up, with some of the major pivotal events serving as each climax with a recovery period for the denouement, and a sneaky epilogue tease at the end of each book, which creates a cliff-hanger entry into “the following book”.  The series has an overarching story arc and the concept of the 3 Act breakdown… (Thank you Story Embers “Engaging Plots Summit”! [nods, grins, and bows]) …helped me conceptualize the structure and frame it better so that the editing process is easier with this framed mindset approach.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I start a first draft, I have no idea where it will lead, and for me, that is part of the fun.   As the story questions progress, I find the plot emerges if I stick with it.  I’ll readily admit I am a panster, but that doesn’t mean I do not appreciate order or symmetry.  I think the human mind seeks order and tries to “make sense” of the things and circumstances we find ourselves in, and that is true of writing too…unless, well, nevermind… [dark influences seek chaos]  ’nuff said.

Being a reader all my life, I have also learned that professional “published” writers who make a living, doing what they do, always have a piece of writing sitting ahead of publication dates.  Both Stephen King and Dean Koontz admit to doing this.  They have about 3 books stashed, ahead of their “current” novel, because readers often set unreasonable expectations for when they should get the “next book”.  In the mass market, if an author does not write ahead, they will get behind, and that is not good for staying “relevant” with their fans.  Humans are an impatient lot.  They assume writers just operate like a factory assembly line and can churn out bestseller after bestseller writing “to formula”, but as you both know, that’s not how it works.  We can get bored, and monotony annoys us, just like it does anyone else.   We seek the fresh and the new taste.  Familiarity is comforting up to a point, but is does not sustain the creative mind.  We are a river-fed lake, not the dead sea.  We need fresh ideas to flow into and out of us.

For a seemingly “prolific” author, we have to understand that it is an illusion.  Dean and Stephen are way ahead of their “upcoming bestseller”.
For a series writer, like Terry Brooks with “the Shannara series”, he has mapped out years in advance where he is taking the series and the off-shoots for that larger mythology. 

When writing a series, we do have to write organically.  I defer to Steven James who has successfully done that with his Patrick Bowers series and even wrote “Story Trumps Structure” and “Troubleshooting Your Novel”.  A series is a long game plan, that a panster must work out in the writing, and therefore must find where the story leads, to better know how to edit and refine the earlier pieces.

My grandparents were cotton farmers in the Texas panhandle.  They plowed the cotton fields with a team of horses, and eventually with large multi-row plows behind a large and powerful John Deere tractor.  The way to effectively plow a field to bear a crop, one must drive the tractor with a clear focus on fixed points on the horizon, where the row terminates, and follow the contour of the land.  Writing a series can be analogous to this idea.  A series needs some fixed points in the future the allow the story to progress to, but these are longer-term endpoints that may or may not appear in the first draft pass through on the first book.  Only the more rare planners who plot out everything may be able to pull that off, but most of us must seek and find each fixed focal point as we are drafting.  The further ahead we are in the writing, the more we can clarify the hindsight to know how to edit and re-draft in such a way that the series foreshadows its goals and movement.  I think “pansters” should take advantage of drafting at least two novels or even three novels into their series, before attempting to edit and re-write the prior drafts.  It is strategic and makes for a more cohesive series, and it also takes advantage of the “3 books ahead” practice used by successful authors to manage reader’s unrealistic expectations of a new book release every year or six to eight months.
Well, those are my thoughts, anyway, and what I gleaned from research.  I do like to read the bios of prominent authors and hear what methods work for them through their seasoned trial and error periods.

Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
I was born in war.
Fighting from my first breath.

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