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tldr: Though I've been writing fiction for a long time, I have no real training or experience. I've put a lot of thought into a fantasy novel idea (we'll call it the Hail Mary) and am excited to write it. Should I focus on other projects to hone my writing first, before going for the Hail Mary?

Long:

I started writing when I was young, I think I started my first novel when I was 11 and wrote through my teenage years. I was never one for outlining, and I didn't finish many of the novels I started, but I wrote pieces of ~15 novels between the ages of 11 and 17. The majority of these novels were in the fantasy genre.

However, I don't have any professional writing experience. I read a ton (of course) and I've read articles online on how to write. I took two writing classes in college, but they were academic, style-type classes. (I'm an engineer, these classes were about that kind of technical writing.)

I can tell that my writing improves when I am writing more. So, since I haven't been writing as much in the past few years, I feel rusty. I've recently put a lot of time into developing a fantasy world and the plot to a story that is a culmination of the best ideas I've had in years. To the point where I've outlined it chapter by chapter-- something I rarely do-- and it's exciting and interesting (to me) the whole way through.

Should I dive in on starting to write this? Or, since this is my "Golden Goose" should I develop my writing style and practice before I start? I've been using five-minute prompts to write short stories within this world. Is this a good way to practice, or should I be focusing more on writing the actual novel and editing the hell out of it? Would it be better to start and finish an actual (short) novel for practice? (I have plenty of ideas, just not many as "good" as my Golden Goose.)

Any advice would be appreciated, I'm in uncharted territory. I've never wanted a piece of mine to come out better than this one! Thanks in advance :)

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    Do any of the answers to this question help? writing.stackexchange.com/questions/22227/… – Anna A. Fitzgerald Sep 2 at 14:48
  • Is the "Hail Mary" the only idea that excites you? – Alexander Sep 2 at 16:46
  • Thanks for the link Anna A.! That's really helpful. – Stochastic Kat Sep 2 at 17:44
  • @Alexander no, it's just the idea I've given the most focus. – Stochastic Kat Sep 2 at 17:45
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    Then my next question to you - how much do you enjoy editing? If you write a first draft (and it would come out rough), would you be willing to rewrite it, probably multiple times? – Alexander Sep 2 at 17:51
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Write your Hail Mary.

You're assuming that this one idea will be the best idea you'll ever have. This isn't (necessarily) true. Writing is an incredibly creative process. The more you write, the more you'll exercise your creativity, and the more creative you'll become. (Yes, I know that you've already written a lot, but I've found that writing a novel takes my creativity to a whole new level.)

But let's suppose that this really is the only "good idea" you'll ever have. Let's suppose you're JK Rowling and this is your Harry Potter. Still, write it. Why? If you keep saving it until you're "ready," you'll never write it. You're never ready.

I'm currently working my own Hail Mary. I wrote the entire novel, all 100,000 words. And guess what? It was terrible. I was so proud of myself until I put it away and came back three months later. I'm so glad I never showed it to anyone.

So, I wrote it again. I drew inspiration from my original, but threw most of it away. Another 100,000 words later, I put it away and came back to find that I had produced something that was just ok.

So, I wrote it one more time. Every time I rewrite it, my novel gets better.

If you compare my initial draft to my final version (once I finish) you'll see almost no resemblance. The underlying premise, overarching plot, and character names are the same... but character motivations, backstories, and subplots have all gotten richer.

I'm finally at the point where I'm ready to show my work to someone else. And my initial readers are impressed with how much depth is in my novel. While an accomplished writer might be able to add depth in the first draft, my novel's depth came about as a result of my rewriting this entire thing three times.

Write your novel. Re-write it. Write it yet again. Then, start editing. Somewhere along the way, you'll find that this project will take on a life of its own... but you'll never regret starting the process.

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    Right. I started on what I believed was my best novel idea decades ago, finished it and let it sit for a few years. I knew when I finished it that it wasn't up to publishable standard, but rereading it later showed me what it should be -- a series of 4 novels, starting earlier in the timeline, with a different protagonist. But between finishing it and restarting I also developeda new idea I find just as compelling, and while writng those I came up with a couple of extra ideas that I suspect could be developed into similarly good stories. – occipita Sep 4 at 9:40
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I would definitely start to write your Hail Mary. As long as you are prepared to go through multiple stages of editing and re-writing, which you probably will have to do if you want you're novel to get better. If you are really committed to this idea, (Which you don't have to be, ideas come a dime a dozen for a lot of writers) then you can go through a stage of editing/rewriting after your first draft, set it aside for a while and work on something else, (for even up to a year) and then come back with fresh eyes. This can give you a chance to improve your writing technique, and get some more ideas for other pieces of writing! Then you can come back and rework your novel even more.

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Start writing something close to your goal story:

I would start out composing an idea CLOSE to your dream novel, maybe even set in the same world. Perhaps a prequel. Maybe a short story about someone in the novel. This means you are working in your dream world, and the details are the same, but perhaps you focus on some minor characters or an adjacent kingdom. Or even the main character's parents. You are still generating material in the world. If you get a short story published in the world, that's something that will look good to a publisher. Publishing ANYTHING in the field will help you immensely, and if your novel is related to something publishe, even better.

I think of Shards of Honor, by Lois Bujold, where she wrote her first novel focusing on the two characters that would become the parents to the main character in The Warrior's Apprentice. At the time, she couldn't get her novel published, but later went on to get that first noel published after success (and lots of editing, as I understand).

Even if you decide after working on it a bit that it's not going anywhere, you've practiced, developed a deeper storyline in your world with outside characters, and who knows, maybe you have the makings of a sequel/prequel to your dream novel. I have read critics who think first novels are the place novelists make all their mistakes. Material is never wasted, and if you are anything like me you'll ALWAYS have energy for your dream novel.

That's not to say you can't write your dream novel first, or even WHILE you write a side book. Sometimes your passion for that dream is too intense, and the vision in your mind is so clear that you can't see the gaps.

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