I recognize that updates have been sparse for a while. But I promise that it was for a good reason – and now, I can explain why.
I’ve been struggling with trying to decide on what direction to bring The Sapeiro Chronicles in. Specifically, regarding book 2 in the series, Dawn of Chaos. After a lot of hesitation, peppered with moments of intense motivation, I’ve made the terrifying and exciting decision to strike it out on my own and continue the series as a self-published author!
This is the first time I’ll be responsible for every facet of a project, from beginning to end. Although daunting, the creative freedom this decision comes with is also thrilling, and I am so excited to share my vision of what Dawn of Chaos is about with you!
Stay tuned for more news about Dawn of Chaos, coming this April 2023! The blurb, cover reveal and exact publishing date will follow soon.
Now that the news is out, I am also happy to open applications for ARC readers! These readers would get an advance copy of the book, with the promise of leaving an honest review on Amazon, Kobo, Goodreads, and any other platforms they feel like.
My personal goal was 25. It had been a long, long time since I’d read that many books in a whole year, mainly because I just didn’t have that many available and didn’t quite know where to start. That changed recently. For one, book-buying has become one of my pandemic hobbies and comfort purchases. And secondly, I recently moved and acquired beautiful bookshelves that needed to be filled. Two birds, one stone, right?
All that to say, this year I nearly doubled my goal and read a whopping 46 books. I don’t think I’ve ever read this many in a single year! So let me tell you: when it came to picking the top six, it was both very hard and very easy. Some stellar reads stood out from the first page, while for others, it was a tossup.
Without further ado, here is the list of the top books I read in 2021:
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.
Without a doubt, this book was beautiful to read. The prose and wordsmithing were like nothing I’d ever seen before. This is not your typical ‘fighting for survival after a catastrophic worldwide collapse’ story. It is hopeful, it is optimistic in its own way. Reading it during a global pandemic was cathartic, but Station Eleven was a beautiful reminder that life goes on, and that even in the darkest days there is always an ‘after’.
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s tale in this futuristic story, set in a world inspired by Chinese cultural elements. Iron Widow is fast-paced, edgy, and unabashedly feminist. Zetian does not mince words, and has no problem with taking down those who she feels have crossed her. As she becomes more powerful, and therefore more dangerous to those who wish to maintain the status quo, Zetian will have to decide if she wants to change the world, or burn it down to the ground. I loved this book and had a hard time putting it down. The story was like nothing I’d ever read before, and it reads almost like a villain origin story, which was different from what you usually find in the YA genre. There is nothing soft about this book, it’s full of rough edges and hard truths. I highly recommend!
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
This book was an automatic five-star read for me. The story is told in two timelines: the present, where the MC, Ryland Grace is on the Hail Mary, and the past, which come in the form of burst of his memories. These memories also happen to contextualize what is happening in the present, and I found it a brilliant way to show the reader what happened, without telling them outright. The back and forth also did a great job in cranking up the tension, especially as it becomes clear that Earth’s position is even more dire than initially thought.
And, without giving any spoilers…the ending of the book was one of the most beautiful I’ve read in a long time. I teared up reading those last few pages, and was completely taken by surprise. This is for sure going to become a classic in the sci-fi genre!
Kingdom of Ash, Sarah J. Mass
Aelin Galathynius has vowed to save her people ― but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. The knowledge that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, but her resolve is unraveling with each passing day…
With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.
I finished reading the whole Throne of Glass series for the first time this year, and I finally understood the hype around Aelin and her adventures. The series as a whole was so good, and the finale, Kingdom of Ash, is a fantastic end to the series, where all the different plots converge and come together to form a beautiful tapestry of storytelling. This series has redefined how I think of good storytelling, and the importance of worldbuilding to push the narrative forward.
The Cruel Prince (series), Holly Black
One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong. But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan.
I’m always down for a story that incorporates politics and political intrigue. The Folk of the Air series does exactly that, and it does it very well. I was really impressed with the storytelling, plot, and love story. It felt like one of the most genuine enemies to lovers stories I’ve read, and I really liked how the immortal love interest was an authentic idiot kid, at the beginning of his long immortal lifespan.
There’s so much I enjoyed in this trilogy, from the political intrigue and subterfuge to the MC needing to acquire power in impressive ways to make up for her otherwise lackluster defenses as a human in a world of magic. Overall, it was *chef’s kiss*.
The Grace Year, Kim Liggett
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden. In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
This book came in just under the wire to be able to count in my 2021 reading tally. I’d heard a lot about The Grace Year, and so my expectations were pretty high. Yet still, I was floored by how amazing this story was. I was tense reading it the entire time, waiting to see what would happen next. The plot kept me on edge and I was always questioning myself on what was happening, and whether anything was really real. It was SO good and was one of the rare stories that I can call jaw-dropping.
So tell me in the comments: what were some of your top reads in 2021?
In The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, girls who are found to have golden blood are sentenced to death for being impure. Except, as sixteen-year old Deka will find out, there’s more to her golden blood than has been shared with her.
This is Forna’s debut novel. Initially, it was supposed to be published last year, but due to the pandemic the publishing house opted to wait. The Gilded Ones is a good debut novel, but it felt clunky and clumsy at times. I wanted to like this book, I really did. It had some strong aspects to it that I found particularly interesting, but ultimately, there were some aspects that I couldn’t move past.
Here’s a quick synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs. But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
One of the strongest aspects of The Gilded Ones was the worldbuilding. Forna built a beautifully diverse world with creatures that are both fantastical and terrifying, with an intricate culture and belief system that guides the character’s actions in their everyday lives.
Forna clearly spent a lot of time delving into the culture and fleshing out what this world would look like. It is rich, and complicated, and interesting, with all the hallmarks of high fantasy writing. However, it happened a few times where things were mentioned and spoken about, only to never be mentioned again. As a reader, this made it difficult to decipher what information was important to the plot, and what was only a passing element that we wouldn’t see again.
The world of The Gilded Ones is an intensely patriarchal society that is unabashedly misogynist. Girls are tested for their purity, and are forced to always be accompanied by a male relative after reaching adult age. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with including this in a story. However, what is odd is that The Gilded Ones is often touted as a feminist work. Although a case can be made as such, seeing as there are quite a few strong female characters, the story reads more as a dystopia akin to the Handmaid’s tale.
Whereas the worldbuilding was one of the strong suites of the book, I found that the characters were one of the story’s weaknesses.
The main character, Deka, was very two-dimensional, which is interesting considering the story was entirely told from her perspective. I found Deka’s character arc was not nearly as pronounced as it could have been. For a long time she remained stagnant as the narrative moved forward. It’s really only in the very few last pages that suddenly, her character flourishes in a surprising way that would have been nice to see earlier in the story. Ultimately though, I found it difficult to care for her, and never really got the impression that the reader got to actually know her very well. Her struggles through training were only glanced upon, which is a shame.
The book also bounced around between being so slow and introspective that it didn’t feel like anything was happening, to so fast that it was difficult to understand what was going on.
AIMED FOR THE RIGHT AUDIENCE?
The Gilded Ones was a very brutal and violent book. Although violence isn’t outside of the scope of YA literature, the violence in The Gilded Ones was often of a sexual nature that seems at odds with the YA genre.
Frankly, with a few changes to the quality of the dialogue, and with slightly older protagonists, this would have made a really great New Adult book. And with an older, more mature audience in mind, the dark themes of this work could have been thoroughly explored without the constraints of the YA genre.
Ultimately, I’m so far divided on this book. On the one hand it was refreshing and interesting to read a book with so many cultures and diverse characters. But then again, it also fell into many of the pitfalls that YA is critiqued for, and clumsily at that.
It’s a book worth reading, and I’m not giving up on the series just yet. But I think there are other books who deal with these very serious issues in a better manner.
House of Salt and Sorrows (HoSS) is a Young Adult fantasy novel written by Erin A. Craig. It is a dark and twisted fairy tale retelling, with elements of mystery and horror woven through that keep you wondering what’s really going on the whole time.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.
HoSS is one of the best standalone YA Fantasy books I’ve read, and is one of my top picks so far for this year. Unsurprisingly, I was first drawn to the book because of the title and the beautiful cover. The blurb also had me hooked – it seemed full of mystery and intrigue, and I immediately wanted to know more.
I had high expectations for this story for a few reasons, mainly because of the amount of positive reviews on Goodreads, but also because I’d heard so much about it from other fans in the genre. I’m very happy to say I was not disappointed. HoSS is a beautiful read that incorporates elements of magic effortlessly. These elements become so infused with the story as your progress that it’s easy to miss when this book goes from a creepy thriller to a full-on low fantasy novel, with mischievous forces hovering nearby, wreaking havoc.
Even if the novel is aimed at a YA audience, it deals with very real and very raw issues, such as the loss of a sibling (or rather, several siblings), the death of a parent, and what to do when the remaining parent remarries.
Craig masterfully created tension, friction and emotion through the character of Morella, new wife of Orton Thaumas and now stepmother to his collection of daughters. Morella instantly ignites frustration within the reader, after co-opting the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s recently deceased sisters to announce the happy news that she is pregnant with Orton’s child. She then continues to spark ire when she assumes that her son – as she is positive she is pregnant with a boy – will inherit the Thaumas fortune and estate.
Morella becomes an early target of dislike, however, as tragedy strikes the Thaumas household over and over again, it becomes apparent that there is more to this tale than just an evil stepmother. Soon, Annaleigh finds herself at the center of a high-stakes game played by mischievous divinities, where the veil between what is real and what is imagined wears thinner and thinner.
And as Annaleighs comes closer to solving the mystery of what evil is beseeching her family, her grip on reality also begins to loosen, leaving the reader confused as to what is actually happening. This is emphasized by the fact that Annaleigh is the only character through which we see the story – meaning her perceived reality, be it true or false, is the only one we are subjected to.
As mentioned, HoSS is a wonderfully crafted story with a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. One note, however, is that is can sometimes be confusing to remember which sister is which, and distinguish between their personalities. But even with this confusion, it isn’t terribly difficult to keep the characters separate from one another.
There’s no rulebook for what to do once you finish a series that’s so epic that you question your abilities as a writer. At least, that’s how I felt earlier this week after finishing Kingdom of Ash, and therefore, finishing the entire Throne of Glass series for the first time. And let me tell you, it has been a wild ride.
Warning: this series review has spoilers. So if you haven’t read every book, from The Assassin’s Blade to Kingdom of Ash, I strongly recommend you stop reading this review, and instead read the series. Then make sure to tell me once you did, so I can talk to someone about it!
I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a ten-year long reading slump while I was finishing school, and that finally, mercifully, ended last year once I dove head-first into the publishing world and saw the wonderful books, especially in young adult fantasy, that had come out while I wasn’t paying attention.
Throne of Glass was one of the fantasy series that immediately caught my eye, for many reasons. The covers were neat. I heard good things about a strong female lead, whispers of a romantic interest, and a very good friend of mine confirmed it was one of the best series she’d ever read. And that for me was the final push I needed. Plus, the hardcover set was on deep discount, so…
The memory of reading the first book brings back a chuckle, because although I was fairly confident the story would be good, based on the hype I’d noticed for the series, I really had no idea of what to expect. An assassin? A king’s tournament? Alright, fine.
Now here’s an important point I want to clarify. As much as the series was amazing, it wasn’t perfect. But I truly believe that the merits of this series far outweigh any negative points. And the progression of Maas’s writing was something that was also really interesting to see.
It would be impossible to write a fully comprehensible review of the entire series while only having read it once. But there are several aspects that I really enjoyed that I want to focus on, so let’s do that.
The first is a little obvious, but let’s talk about the story for a minute.
The series begins with Celeana Sardothien imprisoned in Endovier, where she undergoes forced labor and whippings for bad behaviour – which is often. It ends with Aelin Galathynius Whitethorn Ashryver, in her palace in Orynth, overlooking a field of Kingsflame flowers – a divine approval of her as ruler of Terrasen.
And there’s a lot that happens in between.
The story, from start to finish, was always engaging and interesting. And it was really refreshing that the series had an ever-evolving goal, that changed with the information that was made available to the reader. It made sense for the goal to change, because our understanding of the world of Erilea changed. And while the goals themselves were lofty and grand (killing the king, bringing magic back, wiping Erawan out of existence), the obstacles that were in the way of the goals were equally just as insurmountable.
One thing I also appreciated about the series is how everything tied in together. Characters that we met in passing in The Assassin’s Blade suddenly became really important in Empire of Storms. Conversations and threads that were spun in Throne of Glass kept re-appearing throughout the series, such as the Wyrdmarks, Wyrdstone, or tales of great shadows and evils of the past.
So yes, the story remained fresh over the course of eight books, which is a huge undertaking. And each book was its own self-contained narrative, while also fitting into the broader series ecosystem. The planning that author Sarah J. Maas had to do before even laying pen to paper must have been incredible to see.
Now on to the second part of what made this series so awesome: the characters.
As with most fantasy stories, there are a ton of characters in the Throne of Glass series. Some are part of each book, some only make a brief appearance. And then some come to play a much larger role than anyone would have thought. But there are two particular strengths that applies to all of these characters that I was to draw attention to.
For one, each of these characters is vastly different. Aelin is a much different person than Sorscha or Elide, for example. And Chaol is different from Aedion and Rowan. This is really a testament to Maas’s character-building skills. It’s difficult to write so many characters and have each one feel like a real person with goals and aspirations. And in a world with as many characters as the Throne of Glass series, it can be difficult to remember each of their names. But if each of these characters feels like its own unique person, then it’s easier to distinguish them.
For example: I cannot remember each name of the Khagan’s children. But I recognize their personalities enough to know who the Ruk-rider one is versus the horse-rider one. And that in itself is an important accomplishment, because it is difficult to make an entire cast of characters all feel different from one another. Some characters are deeply flawed, but those flaws make them who they are and help in turn to advance the narrative.
Secondly, nearly every single important character goes through a change. If characters did not change over the course of eight books, then the series would have been stagnant. But miraculously, every single character goes through a drastic arc, some even going through multiple changes over the course of the series.
This development, to me, was crucial in keeping me glued to the series and reading as fast as I could. Character arcs like Manon’s, for example, made me feel invested in the series. And her redemption arc, if you will, was one of the strongest. Even Aelin goes through a host of changes, some brought about by internal goals, some by external circumstances. These character arcs kept the reading fresh and went hand in hand with what they were experiencing around them in the story.
So what does one do, after reading an epic series of this magnitude?
I’m asking for myself, because I’m not sure what the answer is. As a reader, the series was incredible in ways I never could have anticipated. But as a writer, a not insignificant part of me is jealous. Jealous of how this series came together, and concerned that I might never be able to tell as good a story.
Oh well. Brooding on that point won’t accomplish anything. I’m better off honing my craft and sharpening my skills.
Great news! For a limited time only, The Sapeiro Chronicles, A Forgotten Past is ON SALE at the Kindle store for $0.99. Get yourself a copy, or better yet, get a head-start on some Holiday shopping and get a copy for the Fantasy fan in your life. It is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with a tinge of Hunger Games and a dash of Throne of Glass. A perfect holiday read!
Here’s what readers have to say so far about A Forgotten Past:
“When I say, I was hooked… I mean, procrastinate, stay up late, could not put it down hooked! Jumping into the Sapeiro world has been one of the best highlights of quarantine life. I need to know more; Lily is an amazingly written heroine who is both strong and vulnerable. I was kept guessing the entire book and NEED THE SECOND BOOK TO COME OUT ASAP!!!!! Highly Recommend!”
“Fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns. Very exciting read. Can’t wait for book 2.”
“A very well-written novel with an intricate story and surprising, unexpected twists! The author introduces a lot of different characters in this first volume, but still manages to establish each of their distinct personalities without entirely revealing their motivations; I found myself rooting for, suspicious of, or despising certain characters before I was even halfway through. The sheer scale of the world is also impressive; I felt like we only got a small glimpse of Sapeiro in this book, even though we’re introduced to many different places. Can’t wait for the second book to come out!”
Curiosity piqued? Here’s the blurb:
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who is supposed to be dead. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.
Maybe you have an idea for a story that’s been kicking around in your head, screaming to be let out, nurtured, and put on paper. It might have come to you just as you were falling asleep, or as you were on your fourth kilometer while jogging around the block. But now, it’s here and it isn’t letting you rest easy.
It’s time to write it down and make the jump from half-baked idea to a full-fledged narrative. Cue the sudden realization that writing a whole book is…well, it can feel overwhelming. The first milestone is hammering out that first draft.
Here’s where it gets tricky, and this is where a lot of fledgling (and even well-seasoned) writers get stuck: writing the ominous, terrifying first initial draft.
But how does one write a first draft? Surely there are steps that must be accomplished before sitting down with your hot beverage of choice, a solid amount of motivation, and a healthy amount of optimism.
I’m here to tell you that yes, yes there is. There are indeed many things to consider before putting pen to paper for the first time. Character sketches, maps, floor designs, plotting the narrative, story development are but a few things to consider working on before writing.
It may seem like a lot. Take a deep breath. Good. Now, here’s the question of the day for you: what kind of writer are you?
It may seem innocuous enough. And may also seem completely irrelevant to writing a first draft. But determining what kind of writer you are may help in figuring out what kind of planning you need to do before sitting down to write.
From my musings with other writers, I’ve noticed there are two overarching ‘types’ of writers: those who write without a plan, and those who write with one.
Both are equally good ways of writing a story. Personally, I’m a planner who writes. I don’t feel comfortable writing unless I have over-analyzed the whole world I’m trying to build. But Stephen King is perhaps the best-known writer who just writes, without tethering himself to a plan. And to give complete credit where credit is due, I think Mr. King has written enough stories at this point in his career that he can absolutely do whatever he wants.
Before sitting down and working on your story, determine which type of writer you are. There are pros and cons of each style, and becoming familiar with the pitfalls or advantages will really help determine how to approach your first draft.
The ‘just do it’ writers
These writers don’t plan. They have an idea and execute it as the story evolves in their minds. After a first draft is written, they reexamine their story and try to find common threads that can be tied together and exploited to strengthen the storyline.
The advantage of this approach to writing is that the absence of a plan can feel liberating. You can do whatever you want! Your muse will guide you! The characters will speak for themselves! The story may even feel more authentic because even you, the writer, are flying by the seat of your pants!
There may not be much room to plan in this stage, and so the prevalent concern is to keep writing. Not having a story outline may feel freeing, but the weight of the blank page staring back at you feels a lot heavier when you don’t have a captain to steer the ship.
What’s important to keep in mind when pumping out your first draft is that the quality really doesn’t matter much. The longer you stay stuck in a particularly knotty area of your story, the longer you’re ignoring the rest of the narrative.
And here’s where the downside of this technique comes in: when you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of the big picture while you agonize over details. Or, even worse, lose motivation to write after you’ve written yourself into a corner and can’t see a way out.
For ‘just-do-it’ writers, it’s important to remember that what counts is to keep writing, no matter how thorny or difficult the task may seem. Things can be altered, and since you haven’t adhered to any firm plan, everything can be changed anyway. But the crucial bit is hunkering down and pecking away at the keyboard, stringing sentences together so they make sense.
A good tip to unstructured writing is to structure your time. Set yourself a goal for how long you want to write, undisturbed, and then stick to it. And no matter how eloquently the siren of distraction calls, keep your butt glued to that writing chair until you’ve completed the required time to do so. Best to fit it into your schedule, or risk being at the mercy of ‘inspiration’.
As a planner myself, this method is what I subscribe to and fully endorse. I’ve tried the unstructured writing, but to be completely honest, I find it stressful. So I’ve always over-planned my stories, going into the nitty gritty of character development and plot structure before ever considering putting pen to paper. I draw maps, sketch out characters, and concoct whole backstories for my main characters, including the antagonists.
The planning method of writing means exactly that: planning the nitty-gritty of the story, the narrative arc, and plot structure so you get an idea of the big picture before sitting down to write.
The advantage of the planning method of writing is that staring at a blank page isn’t as intimidating, since you already broadly know what you want to say. It’s just a question of how you want to phrase it. By breaking it up into little chunks, it also minimizes the burden of knowing you need to write a whole book, because you can take the story one chapter at a time. It’s a nice way to confidently chug away at the narrative that was oh-so-brilliantly charted out by a past version of yourself. This way, you can blindly follow along to the arc that was pre-determined and concentrate on throwing words on the paper.
The downside of planning so much of the story ahead of time is that it may result in the story feeling forced, or at some point the narrative may outgrown the arc you’re trying to force through. In these instances, it’s totally okay to switch up the plan you had on the fly and spend some time re-charting your course, if you know it isn’t going anywhere anymore.
So, what now?
Hopefully, by this point you’ve giving some thought to what kind of writer you are, and what steps you may need to take before sitting down and typing out the first draft of your masterpiece. And don’t forget, you are also free to combine the two methods to create your own hybrid version that works perfectly just for you! Nothing is stopping you!
When I was writing the first draft of my Young Adult Fantasy novel, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, I first spent countless hours delving into the culture, religion, and structure of the land. Then I agonized over character development and sketched out key locations. After that, I loosely plotted out what I wanted to happen, and used that plan to then section the whole novel into chapter blurbs. These chapter blurbs were the foundation of the first draft, and although the final result was immeasurably different from that initial first 50,000-word draft, sectioning it as I did helped in taking it one step at a time and, more importantly, see the big picture.