Topic: How I wrote Three Novels in 2021
So, at the end of last year my friend Malcolm approached me about working on an ongoing series together.
We set the goal of writing three books in twenty twenty-one.
This was something I would not have considered achievable even a month prior.
Whilst I had written some novels the amount of story required for an ongoing series was simply unimaginable at that point until I actually sat down and did just that.
We kicked around ideas for genre and decided on space opera. Mainly because it's the thing I read more than anything. It’s where I live.
Rather than plan a story we began by planning a universe. similarly to how you would develop a Bible for a TV series when you wrote the pilot script.
The idea was to come up with characters, locations and situations that would allow us to continue generating story rather than simply coming up with a story and trying to hook a sequel after it.
The initial character ideas we had for the most part remained in place throughout the writing process.
We made a point not to give anyone final names and most, have changed at least once as we have gone on.
The thing that went through the most changes was the setting for the stories. We didn't initially want to simply set it on a single ship.
One idea was there would be a mining planet that would act as the outpost for humanity in this sector.
But we ended up setting it on a luxury liner known as SS Olympic, a ship that has most definitely seen how better days much like humanities Empire itself. It is currently in decline.
Like series such as Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5 we wanted to flesh out a single corner of the sector where our characters would reside that the audience could come to get familiar with like Hogwarts, or The Belt in The Expanse rather than try and set up an entire universe.
It had to be somewhere where humanity had an outpost and where other races came and intermingled which is how I coined the project title "Gibraltar". The British conclave where Europe and Africa meet.
The first thing I wrote for the project was a would-be reader magnet. In hindsight this was a great exercise in fleshing out the universe, but less successful in writing a reader magnet.
It focused on a character who would have featured in a side plot in the first novel which is usually a good way to go with reader magnets. Unfortunately as we continued to develop the novel that subplot ended up being dropped.
On the twenty second of february I began working on the first book. the draft was completed in seven weeks and it, like all good first entries. Sticks closest to the traditional heroes journey than any of the later instalments.
Every week we were having writers conferences to keep developing the story and give feedback on scenes as they were written.
Initially this was whilst I was walking home from work in the cold, and the dark, and the rain until we figured out a time that could accommodate both our schedules.
I decided to stop drafting after book one and spend the rest of April and May outlining the second and third books back to back.
I realised I would lose momentum if I were continually stopping and starting and it made more sense to just take the time to figure out a roadmap that I could follow for the rest of the year.
I have a love, hate relationship with outlining. Once it's done it's the best experience imaginable but when you're doing it, it is like pulling teeth except I've had teeth pulled and it usually over in about an hour, not so with outlining!
I made a point to break down exactly how many chapters and scenes these novels would require. I have a spreadsheet for this because you can't have fun without a spreadsheet.
I looked at various books in the genre and made a note of the usual word count, how many chapters they had.
Now I know that many people flinch at the idea of this kind of structured writing seeing it as a paint-by-numbers formula rather than a guideline but these are not hard and fast rules.
if I feel a chapter needs to be longer or shorter I will tweak it later but at the outlining stage it gives me a structure to work with, rather than the blank page to stare at.
Knowing that the books would be around twenty-one chapters with about four POV characters allowed me to break everything down in a way that I could outline it relatively quickly.
I then started book two at the end of May and finished it in mid-july.
I took a couple of weeks off to rest before cracking on with book three.
Book three took the longest to write, mainly due to other things happening in my life but slowed things down. I endeavour to write every day when I’m on a project but I don't make it a rule.
There's plenty of stress in one's life already without beating yourself up for not getting writing done.
However where possible I did try and write, even if it was only ten minutes a day. I figured that even when I was at my most exhausted I could go for ten minutes, and when I couldn't I didn't.
Towards the end of October I was starting to get a bit frustrated with how long it was taking and decided to double down on getting it finished. So in the spirit of nanowrimo I aimed for two thousand word today and after a week and a half I had the finished manuscript.
Ironically if book four what outlined I would have probably been quite content to keep going at that rate for a bit longer.
Writing is like a muscle and if you keep using it, you get better at using it. The worst thing you can do is to take too long off between projects.
I'm always at my slowest when starting fresh.
So, we did it we have three manuscripts written and there is even a prologue that has been released to the public, subscribe to the newsletter if you want to check it out. Link below.
So next we will continue editing Book one. Malcolm has taken his pass at that and now I'm taking a second look and then I will write a reader magnet, properly this time.