Earlier this week I hit an important milestone: I’m officially half-way through writing the first draft of my book! The process has most definitely not been smooth, but the camel’s back is finally getting broken. As I begin the journey into the second half, I feel as though now is the perfect time to reflect on everything that has happened so far. Hopefully, by analysing my experiences from the past ten months I should be able to put myself into a much better place to understand what’s gone well, what hasn’t, the areas where I need to improve, and the sections I know I’m going to have to return to. The end goal is to make this novel as good as it can be, so I suspect I’ll be doing another one of these reflections when the draft is fully complete.
I started off with the best of intentions. I was going to write a chapter a week and everything was going to be grand. Things were going sort of ok throughout September; I had a better grasp of the character designs, I had the beginnings of exciting combat writing, and I was pumped. But then I started struggling with writer’s block. I’d sit down to write and the energy just vanished. I started to get quite down because of it all. I couldn’t find a job, I didn’t have the energy to do anything, and I couldn’t do the one thing that I desperately wanted to do. I didn’t really want to accept it back then, but I definitely became depressed. Thankfully, I managed to get my stewarding job in the October and that partially improved my state of mind. It didn’t really help with the writing process though, as I ended up taking on a lot of shifts and still not really being able to find the words I needed to make any decent progress.
After a bit of an emotional breakdown at New Year, I realised that the only way I was going to get to where I wanted to be was to just keep plugging away at it. I needed to think positively, break everything down into manageable tasks and just plod along. I no longer had to worry about not having any sort of job, so that meant I could relax a bit. This gave me the kick I needed and I managed to keep on top of everything. I kept a consistent flow of blog posts coming to my website, I kept up all of my YouTube commitments, and I managed to get back to writing my book. While it had taken me five months to get through five chapters, in four months I managed to get through ten. This still wasn’t a perfect run as March basically fell by the wayside.
However, part-way through May my situation changed. Firstly, I got diagnosed with depression and have since started on a low dose medication to help with the symptoms. For the most part, it does seem to be helping and that can only be a good thing. Secondly, I finally managed to nab myself a full time job. It’s only for a year, but it should give me the experience I need to get something more permanent afterwards. These two things have brought some hope back into my life. Where once I felt myself wasting away into a hermit, I’ve now got a bit of purpose. That purpose is what’s driving me now. With a start date for my job in mid-September, I’ve got until then to make the most of the free time I’ve got. So, I’m ramping up how much I’m writing and aiming for two chapters a week. It’s been working so far, and if I manage to pull it off I will easily finish by the end of August.
So that’s where I am in the process so far. It’s definitely not been easy, as you can see, but I’m in a better place now and it’s doing wonders for breaking my writer’s block. Now that we’ve covered the general process, let’s look into how I think some of the specifics of my book are going.
I miss receiving these. (Source)
One of the first things that faded away rather quickly was getting feedback. People are busy and doing this sort of thing can be pretty time-consuming so it was inevitable that I’d have to start running blind at some point. The main issue that’s arisen from this is the fact that I’m unsure whether my general style has improved or not throughout writing. As I go, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to vary my sentence lengths and keep the prose interesting and readable, but at present I’m unsure whether it’s been entirely successful. I know for a fact that my opening Prologue and the first half of Chapter 1 are in a much better state now as I’ve had a bit of extra feedback from my parents on those, but everything past Chapter 3 is an unknown quantity. Since I’ve reached the half-way point now, I think I’m going to ask a few people to have a look at it to see if there are any issues that immediately need addressing for the second half.
The Hero’s Journey that I’m not really following in this plot. (Source)
I’ve always had a pretty firm idea of where I want the plot of The Burning Ash to go and for the most part, I’ve stuck pretty rigidly to the narrative arc I set out all those years ago. That said, there are a few things that have changed over the course of this draft. One of the biggest problems with my original draft was that it just went by far too quickly. Everything was too rushed and there just wasn’t any time to breathe. By purposefully introducing numerous chapters to provide a bit of padding and downtime between the fight scenes, I believe that the flow of the narrative works much more successfully. The first half now has a much more measured arc that I feel does a reasonable job of putting the two protagonists’ relationship at the fore. I’ve also tried to have some more character moments to develop a few character arcs for the main supporting cast and tried to make main antagonist’s presence felt a bit more throughout, and these are certainly changes for the better. Plus, as I drew closer to the events that close the first half, I found a way to more fittingly tie up the arc. The events just unfold naturally, rather than having a cringe-inducing reward in the form of a wish.
I am slightly concerned at how I’ve dealt with exposition, and I am rather unhappy with the way I’ve introduced the quest which will take up the remainder of the book; but these are two issues which I suspect will be easier to rectify in the fullness of time.
On the whole, I think I’ve done a much better job of the characters this time around. So far, they’ve all had a few defining moments and I feel like they all work really well together. That said, there is one thing that I’m worried about: Hideki. He’s certainly kind and caring, yet capable. But there’s the very real possibility that he’s either boring or a bit of a Gary Stu. In some ways, this is partially inevitable. Hideki is the hero of the story and the story is ultimately a loving homage to the tropes of fantasy, gaming, and anime. Because of that, it can be quite difficult to figure out how to avoid the issue. There are certain things I’ve tried to avoid the likes of prophecies and ‘the chosen one’ but I know I’ve fallen into many others. I suppose the big question will become whether these things are ultimately a problem or not. We’ll just have to wait and see.
I talked a big talk when I was discussing finding inspiration for my fight scenes. I had these grand visions of climactic battles that were just awesome to behold. I also wanted to try and make each fight scene unique and interesting. At present, I’m not sure I’ve achieved that. Part of the problem is that I’m trying to construct battles when I really have no real knowledge of battle tactics. The other part is that I’m trying to create fights that have realistic heft but which also exude some of the stylish flair of my favourite fight scenes. They may have turned out better than I think they have, but they’re certainly something I would like to revisit when it comes to the editing process.
And finally there’s the prose. While I think my style has certainly improved over the years I have begun to notice I have quite a few bad habits in my writing. The main offences are an over-abundance of triplets, lots of alliteration, and I also have a tendency towards using similar descriptive words. There’s a positive at least in the consistency, but these sorts of issues don’t really lead to excellent prose. My main solace in this is that I know that through editing I can tighten everything up a lot more. I managed it with my Prologue and Chapter 1, so I can definitely do it with the rest of the book. The other solace is that the first draft of a novel is always a bit of a mess. That and there are loads of books out there that got published in spite of their awful prose.
So there you have it, that’s where I’m at with The Burning Ash so far. I perhaps shouldn’t be so self-critical at this point, especially as that’s what lead to the decision to re-write anyway. That said, being aware of what is and is not working now should mean that I’ve can develop a much clearer plan for when the time comes to edit. On the whole though, despite my concerns, I’m very happy with the progress I’m making. The major changes I’ve made to the narrative and the greater focus on having some character moments seem to be really working, and I know I’ve written a few really wonderful scenes. So, it’s time for me to dive right back in. This draft is going to be finished by the end of August. I’m certain of it.