Category Archives: Your Writing Career

The Accidental Series

Writing a series wasn’t really the plan.

After several years of writing stories mostly intended to help me level up in my abilities, two years ago I felt I had reached the point where I was writing publishable work. After some debate, I decided to self-publish and began to plan writing my debut novel. I had a few different ideas that were good starting points, but I decided on a fantasy adventure novel focused on a magical portal found on Mount Everest.

I chose this idea for a few reasons:

  1. I loved the idea. It combined three of my favorite things: fantasy, adventure and the Himalayas. I didn’t want to spend time working on something that didn’t excite me.
  2. I felt it would be the easiest to market of my available ideas. Everest was a known quantity that I hoped would help me in discoverability, and I felt the setting and concept was something that would stand out.
  3. The idea had long-term potential. If the Everest book was successful, there were many options for other books that could be written in the same universe.

UNDER EVEREST was written during the next six months as a one-and-done story, with hooks that could lead to other novels in the future if I so chose. When I arrived to the point where I thought I had the book close to launch ready, I consulted my friends who were already self-publishing about how best to move forward.

Consistently they had two questions:

  1. Could this be a series?
  2. Could you afford to wait and write more in the series before releasing?

After much thought and consternation, I decided to delay the launch of UNDER EVEREST by a year and re-purpose the project as a trilogy. Since I had a book that was fairly self-contained and I didn’t want to re-write it from the ground up, I decided to mirror what I felt was the methodology of the original STAR WARS film series.

That is:

  • Opening story introduces characters and arcs that mostly resolve inside the same story, but with hints to larger problems and a bigger world.
  • Second and third stories are essentially one connected tale that ends on a cliffhanger at the conclusion of story two and significantly broadens the world and deepens the characters.

I decided I would outline Books 2 and 3 at the same time and write them in immediate succession, so to better ensure they felt like a connected element. Over a few weeks that outline produced the road map through SEAS OF EVEREST and DRAGONS OF EVEREST, and the rest of 2017 was spent writing those books and modifying UNDER EVEREST to better fit the new model.

Now that I am on the other side of that project and all three books are approaching release, I can look back on the challenges and advantages I discovered while writing an entire trilogy before releasing any of it.


Certainly the most immediate challenge to this decision was that I was putting off revenue, likely for a year or more. At the time I had no idea how long it would take me to write two more books in the series, but a release of UNDER EVEREST was now off the table until the other two books could be done. I was fortunate to be in a position where I could afford to wait.

Next I had to take those additional hooks I had left myself and see if there was a workable series there. I had left a lot of dangling threads there, but I didn’t have a solid plan as to where most of them would lead. Additionally I had left myself with a real story challenge in the ending to UNDER EVEREST, scattering my heroes to different locations. Any new story would have to have multiple narratives, which was a challenge I had never tackled before.


The primary advantage should be sales, but I admit that will be hard to prove even after the books release. My hope is I will see more sales and a stronger brand building than if I had released UNDER EVEREST as a stand-alone, but there’s no real way to know that. 

As I pushed through this process though, I found myself finding some additional unexpected benefits. As the character’s voices began to grow deeper and stronger in later books, I had the ability to go back to the first book and add those voices from the beginning. I was able to craft themes and character arcs that progressed through all three novels. Most importantly, I could correct plot dead-ends and cul-de-sacs before they ever saw print, cutting or foreshadowing elements as needed.

In short, writing all three books in the series before releasing them allowed me to create a series with a level of cohesion I don’t think I could have achieved writing them one at a time.


So did it work? I suppose the final truth of that answer is still a few months away when I finally launch the series and get feedback from readers. It certainly meant doing a lot of writing without seeing any return on my investment of money and time. Yet from my perspective the advantages were well worth the tradeoffs. It allowed me more time to find the the true voice for my characters, to be less hamstrung by earlier plot decisions that became dead ends, and most importantly to help me build a cohesive series that I am very proud of.

This is now my new model going forward, and it is one I recommend as long as you can afford the wait between releases. 

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals

There are many writers and aspiring writers with chronic illnesses. These illnesses sabotage our goals and writing time when we experience flare ups. Chronic illnesses can sabotage our goals and objectives and make the smallest task seem daunting. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). CFS has changed how I function as a writer. It has forced me to choose what I do and if I do it at all. It has forced me to prioritize and focus. These things are not bad in and of themselves. They simply mean that I have had to adjust but adjusting has not always been easy or simple. Here are a few Tips to Manage Writing with Chronic Illness and achieving goals:

1) Practise Self-Care.
This is one of the hardest things ever to learn. Sounds simple enough but consider the following:

A) As writers we’re driven to tell the story and to succeed in this industry. There are shining examples of successful authors who write one, two or three novels a year, and do all sorts of marketing stuff. This is who we aspire to be and when we can’t be, that voice of sabotage in our heads tells us we are failures. Self-care here means changing the expectation, accepting what we can and cannot do, setting realistic goals for ourselves. Most important, we need to change the paradigm of success we have in our heads. There are writers with chronic illness who are successful. We can do it. On our terms we certainly can!

B) Self care means telling the energy drains in your life to take a back seat or to buzz off. Whether its people, involvement with social media (there’s a reason why I don’t do Face Book), or house cleaning (I had to resort to getting a housekeeper to come in every three weeks to do the cleaning I cannot. I had to give up something else but that was worth it). Some will call it selfish, but this type of selfish is healthy as is claiming your writing time and enforcing it.

C) Gratitude is really important. I’m generally optimistic but when I’m grateful for the things I can accomplish, and grateful for the writing however slow or sporadic at times, the world feels like a much more fun and wonderful place. Gratitude helps me get through the tough times because I recover more quickly if I’m not down on myself.

2) Know Your Limitations and Work Within Them
Many days, if I can write for an hour, it’s been a good day. Then, I do some of the other things and if I’m lucky, I can get more writing time in. First thing in the morning is my best writing time, when my brain is the freshest. This system works because now my brain and I have learned to work together. As I wake up, ideas emerge, scenes are visualized and when my feet hit the floor, it’s off to the laptop to write it all down. This works best, I think, because when at rest, minimal muscle energy is used, and the brain is less engaged with making the body function properly. Hence, there is more energy for thinking. I’ve written over 14,000 words this way this month and the month isn’t done yet! One of the reasons why this system works for me is that when I’m done writing, I take a minute to decide what I want to work on the next day. It seems my subconscious then ‘works’ on it while I sleep and the ideas come the next morning.

3) Use Spoons to Portion Out Your Energy and to Help Others Understand
Spoons are a way to explain available energy. Some days I don’t know how few I have because it varies and I don’t know until I’ve attempted my first activity. It can be a three spoon day where all I can do is make meals, eat and clean up. It can be a six spoon day were I can write for half an hour and then do the necessities. And if it’s an 8 spoon day, I can maybe go for groceries recognizing that driving each way is a spoon, getting the groceries is worth three spoons, unloading and putting away is another two spoons but by now I’m spent enough that it takes four spoons to do a two spoon job. By now, I’ve used either seven of the eight spoons (and I haven’t made dinner, eaten and cleaned up yet which is another three spoons) or I’ve gone over and used up nine spoons. Overdoing it will hamper my energy for the next one to three days.

This is on a good day and I haven’t written a word and won’t have enough energy for my brain to do the thinking it needs to. When it’s really bad and I’m in pain and the world seems to pass me by, writing is the furthest thing from my mind – it has to be. Practising self-care takes priority.

3) Set Your Goals and Objectives. Then Ignore, Adjust or Rethink
A goal is the long-term thing you want to accomplish. I want to write an 80,000 word novel this year. Goals give us direction, or a target if you prefer. Without knowing the target, we can’t reach it.

An objective is the series of concrete steps it takes to get to the goal. I will research the world for one month. I will outline the novel for two months. I will write the novel in eight months with the smaller objective of writing 10,000 words per month.

Illness will sabotage an objective. Objectives not met change the goal or part of the goal. I may still want to write the novel, but it may take a year and a half instead of a year to do so. Objectives are small pieces of the goal. By understanding that, I feel more in control of the outcome as I make adjustments. Most importantly, I can break down objectives into manageable parts which are more realistic for what I can accomplish in any given time period.

Here’s something I haven’t admitted publicly – there was a time last year when I was ill enough that the world seemed dark, and I wanted to give up writing. I cried a lot because I felt like I was giving up on part of my soul and I didn’t want to do that. From somewhere came the idea that if I could not write, I would take a course on writing. That saved me. It gave me purpose, and a new perspective on craft. My fatigue almost sabotaged my fledgling career as a writer, but a new direction, a new distraction saved me.

4) Be Honest with Yourself and Others
This was the hardest for the longest time. I didn’t want to be sick. Still don’t but ignoring the fact was hurting me and my writing.

Seriously – be honest with yourself and others whether it be friends, family or colleagues. Chronic illness is an energy suck. It can flare up unexpectedly. We have limitations. We can’t be all things to anyone. No ever again. I used to be able to do it all – work, family, write, family dinners, garden – have an endless amount of energy and be all things to all people. Now, I have to manage energy and plan. If we go see the grandchildren at Christmas, how much energy will it take and how do I portion it out for the things I want to do like make or buy Christmas presents, travel, and so on. It all gets done, differently than when I had boundless energy.

The great thing is that the family and friends who care are respectful and make accommodations when I give them, like when I need to rest in quiet for an hour. Those who choose not to understand are no longer part of my life in any significant way. They can’t be. That goes back to the first principle of self care.

Honesty has a painful angle. There was a time when I could write 3,000 words a day and have a novel written in a month! That is no longer my reality. I had to own up to that and set more realistic goals and objectives. Doing that has staved off feeling worthless, the sabotaging voice in my head and has allowed me to write again.

The Final Word
So dear reader, I have taken the time to write this blog this morning because I thought it was important and I wanted to. It’s such a relief to be able to share this. I wrote this post knowing that the likelihood of my working on my novel today is zero spoons. But that’s okay. My remaining energy will be spent on going for a walk, reading, or listening to an audio book. These things I love and they are important too as is the delicious dinner I’m making tonight.

Stay well my friends and practice self care!

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear

One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever received was that if you want it to be your occupation, you need to treat it as a business. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a business plan — though it doesn’t hurt — but you do have to set regular working hours, make goals, and keep them. Part of that, especially when self-publishing, is to set a publishing schedule and to stick to it. However, sometimes keeping that schedule is not always possible.

I do realize that there has been a great deal of discussion about publishing delays lately, and I’m not going to give any opinions on someone else’s schedule. It’s none of my business whether or not (insert name of big author) is publishing a book this year, next year, or at all. The only person whose publication schedule I can comment on with any authority is my own and as it so happens I’ve had to make some difficult choices of my own.

Knowing that my debut novel was launching last June, I started writing the next book in the series at a writing retreat the month before. I managed to write the first third that week and figured that at my normal pace, I could probably finish it by the end of the summer, October by the latest. That would have given my beta readers plenty of time to read it, and time for me to put together a short story collection (and possibly release it in the spring). It was also plenty of time for revisions so I could release book 2 in the summer. Well, we ended up being really busy and short handed at the day job over the summer and that left me too exhausted to get much done on the book. It took me the entire summer to write two chapters. That’s it. That’s all I got done.

As far as progress goes that’s dismal. However, I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I did get something done and it was impossible for me to do more. All of this meant that I had two choices. If I wanted to finish on schedule, I’d pretty much have to work myself to death for eight months. The other option was to put off the short story collection for another year, and postpone the novel release until sometime in 2019. It seems pretty straight forward as far as decisions go but what of the fans? There are people eagerly awaiting the next Oneiroi War book. Plus there’s the reader anxiety that seems to pop up these days anytime an author talks about a delay. On the other hand, I really don’t want to work myself to death for that long. It’s not healthy and the extra pressure would probably cause me to hate the book in the end because of what I had to go through to complete it.

I really don’t want to work myself to death and I don’t want to hate the book (because it’s really awesome) so I chose the latter but I do still feel bad about it — which is a bit insane. I shouldn’t feel guilty for putting my health and wellbeing first but letting down my fans still isn’t something that I wanted to do. It certainly isn’t something that I want to do lightly or make a habit of.

So what does all of this have to do with making goals? I think one thing that often is forgotten is that when setting goals it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. Yes, we can definitely keep our goals realistic, but that still isn’t going to prepare us — or our readers — for when things go sideways. When they do go sideways, it’s important to reassess the situation, and adjust the goal accordingly. Most importantly, it’s important not to see it as a failure; especially if circumstances were out of your control and you did your best in spite of it. After all, a goal is not a promise or a contract. It’s a determination to attain. The goal is still attainable…it’ll just take a bit longer than you originally planned and that’s okay.


Quitting with feeling

Quitting, as a word, has a real negative connotation to it. In the context of writing, I prefer to think of it as re-prioritizing my resources. Knowing when I’m not using my valuable writing time to the best advantage is a valuable skill to have. Like the song says, know when to walk away and know when to run.

There are any number of writing goals where the decision to quit or keep going might come into play, but I would like to focus on when to walk away from a story. The moment when you make that decision is an individual one, and will vary from writer to writer. My only goal is to provide the method that works for me, and that is a goal I will not quit.

To give my approach, I need to provide a little context on my professional life outside writing. For many years I have provided high-level technical support to customers on various pieces of network infrastructure equipment. Some of this is done through email, but a lot of the interaction is over the phone. Over time, a support engineer develops a relationship with the phone itself and its ability to provide the engineer with his or her task, which is the customer at the other end.

When that phone rings, you feel something. Excitement perhaps, or anticipation. Where the alarm bells start to go off for me is when that ring would produce negative emotions like irritation or even anger. Now I don’t like this customer and I haven’t even spoken to him or her yet. That’s a problem, and a sign that I needed a break or a change of pace.

For me, writing is the same. When I sit down at the keyboard I should want to be there. I don’t have to completely like all of my characters all the time, but I have to be excited to write about them. If I’m not – if I’m dragging myself to the keyboard with a grumble as I dread another session with this story, that’s when I think about walking away.

The nice thing about writing stories though is it’s a job you can quit and come back to as many times as you want. I have ‘quit’ many stories for a time, only to come back at them fresh some weeks or months later. Many of them I ended up enjoying and finishing, and if I didn’t I at least learned something by thinking about why that story didn’t grab me in the end.

So, quitting is not bad thing and it doesn’t have to be forever. The skill of knowing when to quit is just another tool in your writer’s toolbox.