Three Lessons I Learned From Writing a Trilogy

My first trilogy — the Vizion series — is live on Amazon today, and to mark the occasion, I want to share three lessons I learned from writing it. (I’m also running a promotion where the first book is free from Friday through Sunday.)

I’m far from an expert on writing fiction, and with only single-digit sales to my name, I’m also a total beginner at self-publishing. My hope is that this post will inspire someone else go from zero books to three books.  

Finishing a trilogy represents a serious start for anyone working to become a full-time fiction writer. For me, clearing this hurdle has also provided a burst of momentum in my writing that is now reinforcing itself and inspiring me even more to pursue the dream of becoming a successful author. 

So even if this series doesn’t find any readers, my writing is already benefiting greatly from the lessons I’ve learned while completing this trilogy:

Lesson 1 –  I learned what kind of writer I am

Writers typically fall somewhere along a spectrum that ranges from meticulous outliners to those who start writing chapter 1 and figure everything else out along the way. I am deep in the outliner camp.

With my first book, I wrote myself into corner after corner, dug a field full of plot holes, and even had to double back and add a whole new first half of the novel. I expended so much mental energy on plot and consistency while I was composing that the flow and tone of the book suffered. It also took forever to finish.

I’m not alone in this. There are some solid books on how outlining improves writing speed, including 2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aron and 5,000 Words an Hour by Chris Fox. I recommend both, but for me, even more important than accelerating my word count, was how having a roadmap improved my quality.

With the second book, I crafted a detailed outline for the first two-thirds and a rough outline of the last third because I grew itchy to start writing. This served me better and allowed me to mentally stay in the scenes as I wrote them because I knew what was going to happen and only had to bring it to life. 

On book three, I wrote a detailed outline for the entire novel and even revised it twice to make the story more thematically coherent. The composition of that book went the quickest and smoothest of any three. 

But even that book had some blank spaces for me when I started writing, largely character motivations and backstories, that I had to stop and think about while in the composing stage. 

So for the book I’m working on now, in an entirely different series, I devoted a week to world building and character outlining so that my outline has even more depth. 

Lesson 2 – I learned how to find time to write

I wish I could say that I have settled into a writing routine, that I wake up early and bang out a few chapters before hopping on the train to the office, or that I tuck my kids into bed, kiss my wife good night, and crack open my laptop to type late into the night. 

The reality is that my life has changed so much in the years that I worked on these stories that I’ve learned to write wherever and whenever I can. Sometimes that means getting up early, and sometimes it means staying up late. Other times, it means ducking away from the office at lunchtime or skipping a workout on a weekend afternoon.

A consistent routine would be ideal. Failing that, a schedule is second best.

So now I spend Sunday evening looking at my week and figuring out where I can fit ten hours of writing in the upcoming week. That’s less time than most professional writers clock, but it’s decent for a part-timer like myself, and it’s more than enough to keep my momentum from flagging.

Lesson 3 – I learned the value of finishing

In college, when I thought I should probably start on my dream of becoming a writer, I began dozens of stories. I’d outline an interesting plot idea, spend an hour writing in the voice of a character I found intriguing, or sketch out a rambling philosophical dialogue that led nowhere.

But I never actually finished a story. 

Fast forward about ten years after I graduated, and one day I decided that I was going to finish a short story and submit it to some literary journals. I did, and to my amazement, it actually was accepted. 

Finishing that first story propelled me into completing more stories and even a novel that I haven’t published.  

With every story or novel that I finished, the inspiration to finish the next project grew even stronger. 

I published Waking Dream in June, and holding the first paperback copy of that book in my hand a week after it hit Amazon has permanently altered my relationship to writing. 

The experience of bringing a whole universe and a cast of characters into being — not just once, but three times — makes it impossible for me to ever turn back from this goal of becoming a successful author. 

The pride of finishing a task as monumental as a trilogy is a feeling I’m going to chase for the rest of my life. And if you want to be a writer, I can’t help but think it will have the same effect on you.

As I mentioned at the top, the first book in the series will be free from Friday through Sunday. If you want to be notified about future promotions, click here to join my mailing list.

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