Why I Love Serial Novel Writing (or How to Break Down Challanges to Managable Goals)

Greetings, current subscribers (and future readers visiting this post from the future. How is the future? I hope it’s better. Say hello to future me when you read this). I wanted to take a minute to explain my experience in writing so far, and why it has allowed me to experiment in the audacious attempt at creating an ongoing fictional world.

I am one of those writers who started off with goofy sci-fi stories written as a pre-teen, and then moved on to extensive and cathartic journal writing (including horrible gothic poetry) in high school, and dabbled a bit in anonymous blogging before lucking my way into a paid freelancing gig and eventually the fictional series on which this blog depends.

From the time I was a child until now, I have wanted to be a writer, a storyteller, a world-builder. But until very recently I never really believed that such a thing would ever happen. The idea of “writing a book” was just too big for me to wrap my mind around, and as I have researched the craft in recent months I’ve realized just how common that mindset is. Every would-be author who has a great idea for a story, yet is stuck in the quagmire of world-building, plot-layout, or even writing-the-perfect-opening-line, is stuck for the same reason.

They are stuck on the enormous nature of the goal that is being set before them. Books are massive, and daunting; they paralyze the inexperienced; yet creative newcomers to the craft sometimes, somehow manage to get the job done. The question is “how”. What distinguishes writers from the many would-be, maybe, one-day writers of the world? To risk sounding blunt, one group writes, the other group just imagines. If you can get to the point where you have an idea that is just too exciting to leave you alone to another Netflix marathon, you will be compelled to write that idea out.

The magic happens when that first idea leads to another idea, and then conflict entangles your characters as new situations emerge. At some point, with all good stories, the writer sits back and allows their creations to dictate events, and that happens when the writer learns to walk the fine line between creating, and not knowing. Once you set up a series of characters, and you establish their strengths and flaws and you agree to abide by those rules, the characters themselves will propel the story in ways you would have never expected. This process will happen only if you allow it. If you are the kind of writer that needs to be in control of every line of dialogue, every choice, and every circumstance: your story will fall flat and your characters will all share one voice (yours). The trick is to allow your observations of how other people behave to take over the instinct to write how you, personally, would behave in the same circumstance.

Since we’re talking about neat tricks (which the internet seems to love so much), let me share with you the single, best, most approachable aspect to writing a novel in a serial format: deadlines are a chapter at a time. Expectations come a chapter at a time, and story is unfolding a chapter at a time. The difference between writing a book and writing a chapter is best expressed in the zen proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. If you approach your story one chapter at a time, or better yet, one sentence at a time, you will be able to navigate the landscape of a make-believe-world-that-you-are-conjuring-on-the-fly with much more precision than any other outlining, or pre-writing measure could manage.  If you can somehow surprise yourself by a series of actions or line of dialogue in your story, you’d better believe that your readers will experience the same sensation. And they will love it!

The paralyzing view of writing a book is to see it as a book. The liberating view is to see it as an ongoing story, which unfolds and reveals itself one sentence at a time. Anyone can write a sentence, everyone can “find the time” to write a sentence, but much fewer people can find the time or inclination to write a book. Just as all empires are composed of bricks and other building blocks, all books are composed of thousands of sentences. The difference between dreamers and doers in writing is that dreamers wait, waste time, get lost, and invite distraction. Doers do, no matter what. They constantly build, constantly adjust, constantly expand and evaluate and cannot be stopped. The difference between dreamers and doers is that doers understand by experience how much fun it is to actually write (or achieve any goal in life). Dreamers haven’t yet given themselves permission to do so, and have no idea how engaging and reinforcing and skill-building the process of “doing” is. The “one big trick” to creating anything is that you already have permission to try, but you will almost certainly fail the first time. However, if your dedication to succeed is stronger than your inclination to avoid failure, you will eventually triumph over the obstacles that block us all, you will overcome your own personal “hero’s journey” and then be in a position where you can write (or live and express yourself in another venture) with an authority bred by experience which other people will come to trust. The real trick is to never give up, no matter what your dream is. To hang on for dear life and absolutely refuse to take “no” for an answer. Believe in yourself, in your craft, in your dreams enough to endure the series of obstacles that everyone faces when they really try. If you can survive those obstacles, can learn from every failure, and can refuse to let go, you will find success eventually.

The problem with the world seems to be that there just isn’t enough encouragement to go around. There’s too much competition, bred by fear, bred by insecurity, bred by exclusivity, to allow a truly cooperative and helpful environment to emerge online. No one trusts a link that promises a few neat tricks to help them navigate life better, and why would they? Almost all of them are click bait nonsense trying to woo people into a solution after they turn over their credit card numbers. Sharks are circling the web, looking for anyone that wants an easy out. Everyone has their guard up (and for good reason).

I hope that in the near future more people will figure out the power we have all been given in the modern era, and that a culture of pure, simple, no-strings-attached helpfulness will guide the internet into a more enlightened, more inclusive, less inflammatory state of being. If we could disengage from our sense of competition, and re-engage in the idea that we can achieve tremendous things when we work together and help each other, the world itself will stand to benefit tremendously. A great example of that philosophy in action is TED talks. I have benefited greatly in my own journey by taking the time to hear the advice given by various speakers in the series. While there is a tremendous amount of skepticism online these days, there are a number of resources like this which are being planted, and are growing, under a different philosophy than the “don’t trust anything you read online” mentality that dominates the internet. Time will tell which viewpoint dictates the internet of the future. But in the meantime, while the issue is still unresolved just remember to follow your heart, believe in your dreams, expect to fail, learn from those failures, and keep trying, no matter what you want to do. Take your challenges one step at a time, and build your worlds one brick at a time. If you refuse to give up on your dreams, your dreams will refuse to give up on you.