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I've finally committed to writing my first novel. I've been listening to things like Writing Excuses which encourages first time writers to finish their works, but I'm definitely writing an old darling.

I have three POVs. It would be hard to fit this book solidly into a genre as it treads the line of about five of them. I'm 30,000 words in, and while I expect to leave significant portion of that on the cutting room floor, I only have 4 chapters worth of material and the outline currently accounts for about 10 chapters a character. Extrapolating, that's going to put me in a position of about 225,000 words; which I hear is twice the length of an acceptable novel.

More over, I already know the end because in college we wrote and produced the radio drama that this is a prequel to. What I'm writing must end on a significant down note, and so I've been thinking that after I write this, I'm going to have to novelize the radio drama and just call that the middle of book 1.

Someone like Brandon Sanderson can write a 700,000 word chihuahua killer because he's been published. I'm worried that the project I've chosen is too big and violates too many rules if I actually want to publish.

Should I stop now? Or is it valuable to finish, see how much I can cut in editing and try to sell it anyways? I'm worried that if I stop I will never finish anything. But I also have a day job so my writing time is precious and limited. If it takes me a year to finish this, which it probably will; this is the only thing I'll have at the end of the year.

  • Hi Kirk, and welcome to Writers. I removed your last paragraph because 1) we prefer to keep to one question per post 2) it was a legal/copyright question which might be better handled on Law SE, or with a lawyer. – Lauren Ipsum Mar 17 '17 at 13:52
  • You might want to adjust your expectations on timing. A year is nothing! :D – Chris Sunami Feb 26 at 15:57
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Finish the story.

Finish it whether it's one book, two, or five. Writing is practice for writing; editing is practice for editing. No effort is wasted.

If you have two or three really good books, then when you present book 1 to an agent you can say "book 2/3 is already finished and edited." This means that if the agent likes it, there is/are already sequel(s) in the pipeline, and the publisher doesn't have to worry about a one-hit wonder who can't produce another book. This also shows you have the stick-to-it-ive-ness to complete a long work, or several, and maintain complex plots. These are good things.

Related and useful:

Do I write the entire series and edit, or edit the books as I go?

  • I've heard that most publishers want a 1-off story to start with so that they know you can complete things. Writing a whole series instead of a 1-off sounds like a losing proposition if I'm missing something in my writing. I understand the value of practice. I'm worried that I'm delaying the point at which I can get pertinent feedback by choosing a larger work. A writers group won't be as discerning as a group of people who are staking their livelihood on me. – Kirk Mar 17 '17 at 19:56
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If the POVs seem balanced (rotating one per chapter or in some other predictable pattern), then it's not breaking any rule.

For length -- the projected draft is 225k -- maybe the actual draft won't be that long. You'll never know until you try!

Once you have that draft, if it is too long, then you can cut it as needed. Pull some out for side stories! Maybe you'll realize that you don't need one of the POVs.

You won't know until you get the thing done. (I jumped randomly into NaNoWriMo's Pep Talks, and this one seems to fit: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/aimee-bender )

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It's great that you're going to have 250K words to start from. Note that I said "start from." Keep writing, make your way all the way to the end of the story, and don't worry at all about the length, or any other publishing concerns --yet.

Once that's all done, it's time to get ruthless. Get out your sharpest knife, and carve out a single tight, perfectly structured, 75K novel with a beginning, middle and end, and without a single ounce of fat on it. It might all come from the beginning of your narrative. It might all come from the end. It might all come from the middle. Or it might be pieces from all across the scope of your narrative. It doesn't matter which one, as long as it works for your book. (It especially doesn't matter if it actually does line up with your college radio drama or not.) Remember, it's OK that approximately 3/4 of your writing will be left on the cutting room floor.

After that's done, if you have enough meat left to carve out a second great novel --or a third one, after the second one is done --do it. If not, start in on a new 250K words.

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Yes, I was breaking too many rules.

It's over a year later. I finished the book based on advice here, largely sticking to my original timeline and expected word count. The novel has been placed in a trunk. It was helpful to get to the end, to know I could do that, but in some ways it was also a gigantic waste of time. There were clear indicators that remained as true when I got to the end of the first draft as when I posted this question.

  1. All readers felt really bad about the way the story ended. No one wanted a "and now for part 2" ending. And no one was satisfied with the down-note conclusion.

  2. There was soooooo much content, especially disparate content, that it was unwieldy to plan an edit. I spent a few months trying to outline what a fix would look like and it was essentially would have been a novel re-write. So instead, I ended up taking what I learned (This is not how you write a book) and started a new project with tighter goals and a tighter structure.

  3. One of the primary problems with the book was that the 3 POVs really were separate stories. 2 of the 3 might be salvageable as separate works with different endings. That's the good news, but I've lost my apatite to work on the project for now.

If you find yourself in a similar situation this is my answer:

If you have researched the writing process and have found that you have over committed to a story that is too large, back up and commit to a smaller story that is a segment of what you are writing. Writing without a plan, and having these types of questions early is an indicator that you may be reaching a point where you won't be content with the final product and it is worthy evaluating your objectives.

If you are writing to prove that you can write, by all means finish the story. I felt great finishing something. But I felt awful putting the work away. Went into a depressive slide for about 3 months that kept me from writing anything. That's my own personal issue, whatever. The point is, I'm the kind of person who has dealt with large projects in the past and knows when it's time to cut bate. For ME, I should have listened to that sense and tried to come up with a plan of action that got me where I actually wanted to be.

It's hard to know, still, that that would have been the correct choice. Its possible that only having finished and seen the end result did I end up here knowing what I know now. But, I've totally resolved to never start a book the same way and if you are writing and feeling this way; and you want to be a professional writer you can't wait a year to find out.

Diagnose the problems, make sure you're not getting stuck in swirl, and plot a chart forward to success. Do not fall for the sunk-cost fallacy that you must finish what you start. Finish only if you need that "i can finish feeling". Frankly, at 30,000 words, maybe I didn't know that. By 80,000 clearly I was in the realm of "publishable" word count and it was time for a re-evaluation.

Changing this to my answer because someone else can benefit from my hindsight and someone bumped this question. Might as well accept what I consider to be the best answer.

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You finished your book, congratulations! But almost nobody writes a novel that doesn't require major restructuring, especially not on the first try.

If your readers liked it in general, but had issues with the ending and some other things, then your novel is not finished! Yes it's a "novel re-write" as you say, but it's really just Step Two. Step One was finishing that first draft.

May I suggest you consider a trilogy? Or two books in a series. I say trilogy because they're a lot more common. Lots of stories are set up as trilogies where each book has a natural pause in the plot, but really they're one huge book A good example of this is The Queen of the Tearling trilogy. There are various ways to structure a trilogy and your length seems to fit right in.

If you're really just done with it, I get it. That feeling might change in a year. Or five. Especially after you get some smaller projects done. Either way, good luck.

  • Readers liked it in general: Nope (most never got to the end). - Step 1: finish first draft: Isn't necessarily true. There are clear indicators when you're off track sometimes. - Trilogy: You don't know enough to know why this is a bad idea. Which is fair, I haven't given you enough info. But it's not a good a idea or possible for this story at this time. --- This might be correct for someone else with some other work. – Kirk Feb 26 at 20:10
  • @Kirk All fair. I can only answer based on what you've written. I wish you luck with your current and future writing. – Cyn Feb 26 at 20:12

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