I tried writing a book in a month. I failed. Here’s Why. (Hrain Update #3).

If you’ve been following along, you might know that I set myself up with the goal of writing a tie-in novel to my science-fiction story Sagitta in one month. Well, it’s March now, and I’m still not finished. It turns out writing an entire book in a month is very hard! I’m not sure how those NANOWRIMO people do it. Although now I have a bit of insight.

My previous posts on this effort are here:

I’m Writing a Tie-In Novel

Hrain Update (writing a tie-in novel in a month)

Hrain Update #2

In summary, I plotted out a short novel of about 40,000 words. It’s a stand-alone tie-in novel to the first book in my StarFighter series, and it fleshes out a single character named Hrain. I thought a month was a reasonable amount of time to write this, as opposed to the 10+ years it took me to write Sagitta, because:

  1. I’ve had a lot of practice at writing in the last 10 years
  2. Sagitta is a multiple-viewpoint book, whereas Hrain focuses on a single character
  3. I actually wrote  a chapter-by-chapter outline for Hrain prior to starting the project
  4. Hrain should be less than half as long as Sagitta
  5. I’m extremely motivated to get a second book available on Amazon for purely selfish reasons (make more money, 2 books to my name, etc)
  6. Although a short month, there wasn’t much going on in February (no travel weekends planned, no birthdays, and the weather’s still cold here in New England)

I knew this was an aggressive goal, but I was sure I could do it! Halfway through the month of February, I was even on-track, with just under 20,000 words written. But, then everything fell apart.

Reasons Why it Didn’t Work

I couldn’t stick to my outline.

As I wrote Hrain, I soon found that the story was bigger than I thought. Hrain is a very interesting character, and the point of writing this side novel was to do his backstory justice. I learned more about him as I wrote this story (which is one reason it’s great to give side-characters their own stories). One telling example is that the prelude portion of my outline ended up being three chapters by itself, detailing Hrain’s childhood, his escape from persecution, and his arrival at the safe-haven orphanage for telepathic children on the ice-world of Sledgim.

So, even though I was 20,000 words in, I was only on chapter 2 of my 10-chapter outline. At this rate, the book would need to be 100,000 words long! This is much longer than my 40,000 word target, and longer indeed than Sagitta, which is about 85,000 words.

There’s a Whole Universe to Consider

Although Hrain isn’t the sequel to Sagitta, it takes place in my StarFighter Universe, and thus needs to be consistent with that universe. When writing it, I found I had to constantly go back to Sagitta to make things consistent. Worse, I found places where I actually had to modify Sagitta to make it consistent with Hrain. This was unexpected, but worth doing (as opposed to retconning Sagitta later). As a result of writing Hrain, my primary book, Sagitta, became more rich and complex. This is why, if you can, waiting to publish all the books in a series (or in a universe) till the very end, when they all have been written, is best, since you can link them all to each other.

In my case, Sagitta is available for sale, but I have never advertised it and I’ve only sold a few copies (unexpected in itself). So I didn’t think it was a big deal to make a few tweaks and re-realease it as a new version on Amazon.

The takeaway from all of this is that writing my tie-in novel within the constraints of the pre-existing universe slowed me down. And, by making the choice to go back to Sagitta and tweak things like character backstories and lore, it took longer to write Hrain. 

My Other Book Started Selling

This is a dumb reason, but I’m still listing it. If you’ve been following along, you might know that my first novel started selling on Amazon. This caught me completely by surprise. I had had my paperback version of Sagitta listed on Amazon for some time, mostly to just play around with cover art, and to experience the joy of holding my own book in my hands. I also used this paperback copy to give to beta readers to help me in the editing process.

Long story short, I had sold zero paperback copies other than to close friends and family who knew I was doing this. This wasn’t surprising. Just because you list a book on Amazon doesn’t mean it will sell. I had done zero self-promotion, and I got what I deserved with zero sales.

Everything changed when I listed the draft version of Sagitta in Kindle E-Book form. It started selling by itself! This was hugely distracting, and instead of writing Hrain, I found myself watching the sales stats on Sagitta. I also freaked out a bit. The purpose of listing Sagitta as an e-book was to get familiar with the Kindle publishing process, to get some practice with the Kindle Create tool, and to have an electronic review copy available for my beta readers to keep giving me comments on.

When it started selling, and selling well, my jaw hit the floor. I dropped Hrain for an entire week and focused on some of the tweaks to Sagitta I mentioned earlier, because I didn’t want the people reading Sagitta to be reading a version that would conflict with Hrain. 

Life Happens

The last reason is probably the most important. As any writer will tell you, there are other demands beyond writing that will cut into the time you have allocated for writing. In my case there are normal things (a full-time job + a family with little kids). I had accounted for all that before starting this project by setting aside time every night specifically for this project.

What I didn’t count on was my boss at work going on vacation, leaving me in charge. This added stress made it so I was too tired to write anything. Before this, my wife and kids all caught colds, and between helping out at home and going to bed early so I didn’t get sick myself, I couldn’t write.

Finally, we had an unexpected family event. As I write this, I’m in another state, because my wife’s grandmother is dying in the hospital. It’s a bittersweet time. The family (all Christians) are glad that Grammy will go to be with God, but we’re all sad she won’t be here anymore. This is one of those times where everything else needs to be pushed aside.

My Advice for Aspiring Writers with Aggressive Goals

In conclusion, I don’t regret trying to write a book in a month. Whether you’re trying to do it in November like all these crazies or in any other month, I think if you’re dedicated you will get a lot done, if not the whole thing. I’m at 30,000 words, and am about half-done by my estimate, since my story is now longer than I originally planned. That’s a huge accomplishment and I’m proud of it.

Here are some things to remember. First, don’t sacrifice the story due to the schedule. If the book demands to be longer than you originally thought, embrace it and do the book justice! Next, if you need to edit other works to make them compatible with your new book, do so. And finally, don’t set your writing goal above things like your love for your family, your day job, God, etc. Being a writer is awesome, and your personal goals are important, but at the end of the day there are things that matter more.

What’s Next for Hrain?

I’ll do another update on Hrain at some point. For now I need to take a break and think about where I am with the story, and find a path to finish it. One of the reasons I chose February for this project was because nothing was going on. March is the opposite…I’ve got potential work travel, plus two travel weekends for family birthdays that are out of state, along with the current out of state trip to say goodbye to my wife’s grandmother. So I can’t promise anything, but hopefully Hrain will be done sometime in the next few months.


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