Know your format

There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. Some of it is fairly obvious, some of it is fairly useless, and some of it is contradictory. I’m not some incredibly successful author with a heap of credits to my name, so I have little grounds to go on when giving advice on writing. However, there is one piece of advice I really wish I’d been given, something that I didn’t read anywhere or hear at a lecture.

It’s incredibly important to understand what format you’re most comfortable working in.

I’ve been writing since I was in primary school. Right from the start, I wanted to write big fantasy epics, enormous doorstopper novels that contained hugely complex plots and beautiful, detailed worlds. I started worked drafts for a few, at various points, but I always ran out of steam or got distracted or my depression was acting up or I stopped for any number of other reasons. It wasn’t until I stepped back a couple of years ago to re-evaluate my writing that I noticed something: every single part-finished novel I’d written, every fantasy, every sci fi, every fan fiction… all petered out at around 45,000 to 50,000 words.

I saw this, and went: ‘I seem to consistently be able to write around that much. Why not make that the goal, then, instead?’

So I did an experiment. Just picked a random concept I had and decided to write it as a 40-50,000 word novella. Three months later I had a full, complete first draft. It was the first time I’d ever really completely anything.

That was not Prometheus’ Daughter. That particular draft is still sitting on my computer, and there it will remain for the foreseeable future. Not that it was bad, exactly, just that it will require quite a bit of work and doesn’t fit into my existing publishing schedule terribly well. I do plan on revisiting it at some point and getting it into proper form, but it served its purpose: it was my proof of concept.

Pretty much almost exactly a year later, Prometheus’ Daughter was published.

I can’t write enormous doorstopper novels. What I can do is short novels/novellas, and serialise them. So that’s what I’m doing. And with two books out now, I think it’s working out quite nicely. So that’s what I’m going to stick with. I know now what I’m comfortable and capable of accomplishing.

So, yeah. It’s really important to understand what format you’re best at. I just wish someone had told me that ten years ago.

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