Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Last Saturday marked the first full week that The Second Magus has been published on Royal Road. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t taken the website by storm, though it has done noticeably better than The Bloodlet Sun did. That story reached its first 1,000 views in 65, while The Second Magus did it in 8. Still, what I have to show for those 1K views is 17 followers, 1 favourite, and two ratings that amount to a solidly mediocre 4 stars out of 5.
It’s hard to really talk objectively about how the story is doing right now. On the one hand, I should be more than happy about 17 followers. That’s seventeen more than I had two weeks ago; those are actual readers that were interested in my story enough to hit that follow button.
And yet it’s shy of the dreams I’ve crafted in my head. I always said when posting updates in the run-up to uploading The Second Magus that I enjoyed living in the fantasies. The daydreams couldn’t die before I had actually posted my work. And I recognized them for what they were – daydreams. Because even though it’s not impossible to have the success I hope for, I know it’s still a rare thing that few writers attain.
But, just like the lottery ticket whose numbers are not yet called, it was nice to dream.
And, just like with that lottery ticket, even though you knew in your head you weren’t going to win, there is still the disappointment of not walking away a millionaire and then having to shake off your day dreams.
This is the stage I’m at now. My numbers were read, and I didn’t win, and even though I didn’t really think there was a big chance of me winning, the sting is still there.
Except this isn’t about a stupid lottery. Being a writer is who I am, so this sting goes much deeper, and its barbed tip is much more difficult to pull out.
It’s just what you do when you’re a writer and hope to get published – you put yourself out there knowing full well you can get smacked down, knowing full well that even those who find success will need to get smacked down a hundred times first. And yet, we go out there and get knocked down and get up and dust ourselves off.
This time, the getting up part has been more challenging. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of that dusty road, wondering if it’s worth it to get up again, taking deep breaths to hype yourself up because the road is still beautiful despite the setbacks.
It’s not hard to see even on this blog evidence of the wind being taken out of my sails. This entry is about a week later than it should be. I also only just picked up editing again after not touching it for a week, and for the same amount of time the only writing I’ve done was to just maintain my streak. Every novel project, including The Second Magus, has been on unofficial hiatus.
I don’t mean to be a sad-sack about this whole thing. It’s not a tragedy by any means. But sometimes this stuff does get hard and does get to you. And then in the end, it feels like you’re just talking in a circle – on the one hand you know this is what a writer has to go through, and on the other hand you do want to embrace that it’s okay to still feel bad when it happens to you.
Anyway, it was not the way I had wanted to start the year and maybe it’ll take a little while longer to gain back some of that confidence. I think finally finishing and posting this entry is a good first step in that process.
Eventually, it might just become one of those things I remember with a laugh as I fondly look back on the rocky road that led me towards whatever future success I might find.
There is something to be said of delayed gratification, and that is that plenty about it totally sucks, but also, that it can pay off big time.
Sometime last December, I was thinking that it would be cool if I could increase Royal Road traffic to The Bloodlet Sun by writing a story in a genre that does well on that site and cross-promoting the stories if the new one does well. I had an idea for a fantasy story in the dusty bookshelf of my mind for quite some time, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to use. What I thought I was setting out to do was giving it a fair shot, but it turned into something much more.
Looking for a quick short-term reward, I thought I would be able to launch the story that would come to be known as The Second Magus in late spring, and obviously that didn’t happen. Now we’re a full year since I started writing it and it’s ready to debut – not something I wrote simply on a whim but a story that has grown on me deeply since its inception.
To give a flavour of how excited I’d been to launch it, I put together a cover for it about a month after I started writing it, and I’ve sat on that cover ever since, because I didn’t want to start publishing the novel until I thought it was good enough.
Is it actually good enough? Well, I guess I’ll start finding out January 22, when I submit it for approval and publication to Royal Road. Is it actually the fun exciting adventure I thought I cooked up? Or am I suffering from the rose-tinted glasses of an author – too attached to my baby to realize it’s kind of ugly?
In any case, I hope you can at least share in my excited that comes with not knowing what the outcome would be, and dreaming the biggest dreams I possibly could. In the meantime, please check out the cover that I’ll be using for the story:
As I’m sure it shows, I prefer to make these things myself. Maybe one day I’ll feel like I’m ready to engage a professional. I also know that the whole fire and ice thing is a cliché, but when I sat down to do this, the imagery just felt right and I think the image blend turned out pretty good.
See you here again in January with the link to the story once it’s posted.
I’m not entirely sure where this month went. Scratch that. I’m not entirely sure where this entire year went. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or aging or perhaps three kids, but I feel like we were celebrating the last New Year’s not that long ago.
Not to say that it feels like nothing has been accomplished this year. On the contrary, it has been a rich eleven months full of events and milestones, including those related to my writing. Just recently I had surprised 300,000 words written this year, never having before broken even the 200K barrier.
About 70K of those words is my upcoming fantasy web novel The Second Magus.
Good thing I said I was going to launch it in January instead of November as had been my most recent goal. While I do still think that I will meet the announced release date of January 22, I know at this point I will at the very least be cutting it a bit close for comfort. Not sure at all what I was thinking when I said I might be able to be ready in November.
This is especially given that we had kitchen renovations here for a week and our whole house was upside down. Only now life is returning to normal and I’ve got most of the Christmas lights up. To think that I thought I would be able to manage the release of a new writing project at the same time? I’m just glad my common sense prevailed.
What I did say at the time was that I was expecting for a synopsis to be dropped here in November. Since it’s still November, it means that this is another deadline that I technically managed to meet. So without further unnecessary preambles, here it is, the Royal Road synopsis for the upcoming The Second Magus:
"For fire mage Miro Kaldoun, the multitude of low-level magic users scattered around the countryside was a relief. He could leave the dreams of questing for glory to others, while he was content to live as a farm boy, and use his spells to impress the local village girls.
When unexpected visitors arrive at his doorstep, Miro has no choice but to be dragged into adventure, and comes to learn that much like the father he had never known, he is far more than an ordinary mage. With old enemies stirring, and the stability of the entire Kingdom hanging in the balance, Miro must quickly learn whether he has what it takes to follow in his father’s footsteps.
But how closely should he trace that path, considering that his own father’s story ended with the deaths of both Miro’s parents and nearly Miro himself?"
But how closely should their paths follow? At the end of his father’s journey lay the deaths of both Miro’s parents and nearly Miro himself.
I know I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is, after all, it’s not like there’s anything exactly groundbreaking here, but that does nothing to reduce my excitement. Although I’ve lived with these characters for a year now, it’s cool breathing in new life into them by sharing their names with the world.
There’s always that pipe dream too in the back of my head that Miro Kaldoun will one day become a household name. Longshot? Understatement. But what’s the harm in a little dreaming?
As I suspected when I last talked about this, my fantasy web novel, The Second Magus, would not be making its debut in mid-November. The bottleneck remains editing, because even though since last December I had been able to write nearly 70K words, I don’t have any chapters yet that I think are polished enough for publication, let alone having a comfortable enough buffer to launch.
One of the reasons that last September’s relaunch of The Bloodlet Sun, my first web novel, has led to a steady stream of updates over the course of the last year, was because I launched with a hefty buffer. I have since slightly eaten into that buffer, but I credit that lack of pressure for my ability to keep up and maintain interest in the project since then.
So I knew that if I was going to do another web novel that I would make sure I did everything right, even if it means pushing it back by another couple of months.
The good news is, I’ve done enough to now be reasonably certain in when I’m going to be ready, so I want to officially announce that The Second Magus will launch on Royal Road on January 22, 2022 (barring any unexpected delays in Royal Road’s queue). Very happy to be committing myself to a date, and can’t wait to share this one with the world. It had been a fun little side project that really grew on me since I started writing it.
I have to say though this has been one of my biggest exercises in patience. I had intended for it to have a quick and dirty release sometime last this spring, and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve actually been working on this for almost a year now. I’m the kind of person who’s tempted by a quick reward but I’ve been holding back because I wanted to make sure the work product was good.
Well, now we have a release date and it’s only 3 months until I publish the prologue of my first real attempt at a piece of fantasy fiction.
Can’t wait to share it with you guys, and stay tuned for the official synopsis blurb coming out here sometime in November.
Okay, for anyone who’s reading my blog, there’s plenty of evidence in my entries about how The Second Magus isn’t dead, and is actively being worked on. However, the last major update had me estimating that it might be released on Royal Round in early September, but given that we’re basically there, and you haven’t heard anything concrete from me, means that’s not happening anymore.
I’m not sure I can really give a definitive answer as to why my estimates keep proving so wildly inaccurate. I think when I first set out to do my fantasy web novel, I had thought that I’d be able to start posting it by June, and then I had to revise to September and now I’m not even sure what I’m revising it to. Realistically speaking, if I can’t launch by early November, I don’t want to end up competing with Christmas break, so I might end up waiting until January to launch. So I guess what I need to do now is ask myself if I can launch by the second week of November and honestly, I have my doubts.
That is not to say I don’t have plenty of material. Just recently I wrote about how I have 50K words done. It’s the editing that’s been the bane of my existence my entire writing career, and this situation is no exception. I’ve only gone through a single edit of about 24 chapters (my benchmark being 29 chapters before I’m ready to launch in order to have a good buffer) and I won’t be able to consider it as a finished product until I get through at least three edits. So to me it sounds like a lot of work, especially since when it comes to time management, editing for The Second Magus is also competing with editing for The Bloodlet Sun, and I won’t even mention my novel for which I swore I would go through another edit before the end of the year but I actually haven’t touched in months.
There is a little nagging part of me that’s wondering if a commitment to two regularly updated web novels is taking up too much time away from other writing (given how they monopolize my editing time, I begin to wonder what’s the point of writing all the other projects if I don’t have time to finish them into a polished product?), but so far I’m trying to deal with the issue by finding ways to carve out more time for editing. Will I have to reprioritize in the future? Hopefully it never comes to that and I’m able to get my act together here.
So that’s been your non-update on The Second Magus. No hard launch date yet, tough I think I can safely say that it comes it in January at the latest. Maybe I should bite the bullet and declare that official, but for now, optimism will prevail.
With the writing productivity I’ve been having since last year, it’s no surprise that I’m hitting milestones with all my projects. A few nights ago though, I managed to hit two major ones in the same hour – my destined-to-be-a-web-novel fantasy called The Second Magus crossed 50K words, while my second novel whose working title is Maple Vodka has hit 80k.
With The Second Magus, all I had originally set out to do, was to try to bolster my readership for the Bloodlet Sun on Royal Road by producing something in a genre that was more popular on that website and then hoping for some cross-promotion. I started writing it last December and already I’m at 50K, which is hallway into a decent novel length (maybe not so much for epic fantasies, but I’ve got no interest in writing something so voluminous).
What I didn’t expect to happen was just how invested I would become in this. In order to accomplish my original cross-promotion goal, I dusted off an idea I’d been brewing for years, and decided to build something on top. Much to my surprise, I ended up building way more than I bargained for. The amount of story I have going on in my head – I’d barely scratched the surface with these 50K words. And what was supposed to have been a side project, feels very real now. I’ve got the kind of feelings for this story that I have for my long-term projects like my first two novels and The Bloodlet Sun. I want nothing more than for my baby to succeed and I’m putting in as much effort as I can in order to see it happen.
I’m very excited to have shepherded The Second Magus to that much content in less than a year, and I’m getting more and more pumped about eventually releasing it. Last estimated debut date was sometime in September, but now I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I can get it out the door by early November.
For my second novel, the reason I care about the 80K milestone is because that is generally considered the healthy minimal threshold for the length of a contemporary fiction novel. I’ve recently run into issues with word count on my first novel, since from a 96K I managed to edit it down to 71K, and now have to figure out how to get the word count up without looking like I’m forcing it.
So reaching something like 80K on my second novel doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods yet, since I can always pare it down to less than that, but there’s still a few things to consider here: one, is that there’s still plenty of plot left to tie up, so if I had to guess, first draft will clock in between 100K and 110K, and two is that with all this extra word count I will have a pretty decent cushion to edit myself down to something that is still novel length, and finally, it’s just the sense of relief of being there again – having a manuscript that’s long enough that it can be a novel.
They always say that writing a novel is the marathon of writing accomplishments, and now being in that territory for the second time feels like an important hurdle has been jumped. It’s not some mysterious once-in-a-lifetime event for me anymore, but something that I can do, and something that I can tell myself that I can do over and over again.
If I had to guess, I’ll end up finishing the first draft of this novel either before the end of this year or early into the next one, and then off into the editing process, which is another mental hurdle I’m yet to clear, but that’s a future me problem. For the time being, I’ll just bask in my current milestone, and stoke the excitement that comes from actually accomplishing something instead of just endlessly throwing words onto paper.
Back in February I introduced you to my latest writing project – the fantasy story with LitRPG elements entitled “The Second Magus”. I’d gotten the idea for the novel when I saw which kind of genres succeeded on Royal Road after I had posted The Bloodlet Sun to that site I wanted to try my hand at my own story in that vein, while also finally bringing to life an idea that I’ve had brewing for a number of years. I initially estimated that I would like be ready to post this in the spring/summer.
With spring quickly slipping away from us (and if we’re going by the Russian way of counting the seasons, today is the first day of summer), I think I’m likely to miss that goal. The good news is, this has nothing to do with a general lack of progress on the story. In fact, having recently cleared 36K words, I’m further along in it by word count than I’d hoped at the beginning of the year.
The problem is that whereas I’ve seemed to have found time for writing, I’m still having trouble putting in as much editing as I’d hoped. The Second Magus is competing with The Bloodlet Sun, which is already on a schedule where I can’t afford to fall behind, andmy novel, which I’ve sworn and will continue to swear will be done soon. For this reason, the editing is lagging significantly behind the writing, and of those 35K words, none so far are publishing-ready.
This is further compounded by the fact that I want to have a pretty aggressive initial release schedule to increase my chances of getting into the “Trending” section of Royal Road. This means that I need to work up a significant buffer before I launch into it, and as a result have much more work ahead of me. Currently, my more realistic goal is that The Second Magus will launch on Roya Road in September, on the anniversary of the release of The Bloodlet Sun on this blog.
As for the story itself, I think it’s going well. I didn’t know how comfortable I would feel in the genre but I’ve found a niche I can live with – focusing on the character and the plot rather than unique and detailed worldbuilding that can be found in something like the Stormlight Archive. Elements of the world and parts of the plot sometimes sprout as I go, which is another advantage of waiting for a larger buffer to build up. Unlike traditional works which get written in their whole before going to publishing, with my serial web novels, I don’t have the benefit of being able to see the end result and then reworking from the beginning. At least with a buffer it allows me to set most of my pieces right before I gallop ahead and handcuff myself by things written in the earlier chapters.
I’ve also had a chance to try out the first few chapters on my kids and it received their stamp of approval. Wish I could take them further into the story but our story time has been sidetracked over the last month or so by my seven-year-old’s own creation: The Adventures of Bob and Appaly. I might go into that later just for fun – it is quite the ride on the rollercoaster of a kid’s imagination.
In the meantime, I will plug way at The Second Magus and work on fleshing out such minor details as the name of the Kingdom where everything takes place, and the main character’s last name (I know, I know, but fictional names have never been my strong suit so I’m being extra careful here, and with the first name being “Miro”, I think I’m just lucky it’s something that’s only four letters and two syllables long and doesn’t sound like some tertiary Star Wars planet afterthought).
I’ll also need to put n some extra effort into the synopsis, as my previous version of The Bloodlet Sun one has recently been torn to shreds by some very helpful users on Royal Road. Taking those lessons to heart, I should have something prepared in the next month, and it will probably be the next thing I’ll be sharing with you in terms of an update on this project.
There was a time in my life when the protagonists of my short stories had a worse survival rate than early seasons of Game of Thrones characters. I guess back then it seemed like the most definitive way to end a story arc. Character’s dead, what more do you people want? Just go home. Eventually, I’d moved on beyond this, adding more nuance to my stories. Endings were still a troublesome beast that didn’t come easily, but at least I no longer took the simplest way out.
For this reason, death had become a less prominent feature of my writing, while as I grew older, became a somewhat more prominent feature of my life. So it goes.
Other than a few notable exceptions, like the novel that I’m finishing up which does include death in a fairly prominent role (though that could be explained by the fact that I plotted this out years ago), I haven’t had much opportunity to explore the topic until recently. With the ramp up of both my science fiction and fantasy web novels, I’m delving into the kind of adventure whose stakes necessarily involve characters dying. Whether a bandit attack or a starship exploding, someone out there is bound to be caught in the crossfire of plot and meet an untimely end.
I don’t know about other writers, though there is the common stereotype that writers enjoy torturing characters and/or their readers, but this exercise brings me no joy. Sure, there’s some satisfaction to putting together an emotionally impactful death, but that’s a feeling detached from the characters themselves. When it comes to the characters, I have a sense of responsibility for the fictional lives I’ve created (perhaps why I might never be as brave as other writers who have no qualms in making the lives of some of their creations a living hell). What I had recently discovered, is that I have particular sympathy for the “red shirt” characters I write.
I use the term “red shirt” here in reference to how it’s used in Star Trek fandom – characters that are specifically put into dangerous situations alongside the main cast for the simple reason that their deaths will highlight what a high-stakes situation this is for characters we know will survive no matter what’s thrown at them.
I don’t use my red shirts in quite the same blatant way, but sometimes one does need a tragedy with no handy well-established disposable characters to spare. Out come these little side characters, who may be introduced a chapter or two in advance, that I know will need to meet a terrible end in order to advance the plot. I feel terrible for these figments of my imagination.
As their writer and creator, I can pull them out of the ether and into existence – give them a family, hopes and dreams, in short, a life. Instead, I’ve nothing to offer them but death.
They’re grumpy, or bubbly, or stoic, or cheerful. That’s all the red shirts ever hope to be. The reader gets a glimpse of their personality and then the window is shut.
One of my earlier writing idols, Michael Crichton (problematic views on climate change notwithstanding) was a master of these. A new character is introduced in the chapter. Within two pages, you know their sister’s name, their relationship with their father, their entire career trajectory up until that point and their short-term and long-term goals. By page three, they’re stung by a paralyzing octopus and dumped into the bay.
I wonder if the author of Jurassic Park and Westworld had similar reservation about dispatching his disposables or if he approached it more coldly and methodically. I also wonder if it would make me feel better or worse do give them more backstory, though perhaps not in the same rapid-fire way that Crichton used to do it.
In the meantime, I’ll continue serving them up as sacrificial lambs to the plot, and thanking them profusely for their contributions.
I you hadn’t realized this by now, the best solution to having too many projects on the go and feeling that you’re barely keeping up with what you have on your plate is to put more onto your plate. This has obviously worked for me at buffets, the ensuing bellyache but an irrelevant detail, so surely it will work with my writing. Okay, yes, no rational part of my brain believes this. Unfortunately, the Venn diagram of the rational part of my brain and the writing part of my brain are two non-overlapping circles, so somebody please send help, I’ve done it again.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve recently set out to find new audiences forThe Bloodlet Sun and joined Royal Road – one of the internet’s premier homes for web fiction. You can find the page here. It currently follows the same release schedule as my blog, but an account on Royal Road makes following stories easier if you prefer.
Growing my story on Royal Road has been a slow process, which comes as no surprise so I’m not kicking myself over it. My installments tend to fall below average in length and frequency, and science fiction is not the genre that does best on the site. Still, I have five followers, which is success any way you cut it. Looking round Royal Road for the stuff that does do well, which is frequently hardcore progression-style LitRPGs, I had a brilliantly terrible idea – to try my hand at one of those stories myself.
I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, but outside of the story I’ve been telling to my kids over the last two years, haven’t made a serious attempt to write in it. This would be a great opportunity to flex those muscles, and on the off chance that I’m actually decent at it and the story attracts an audience, then I can use that platform to cross-promote The Bloodlet Sun and my other writing. Worst case scenario, the story is bad or falls flat with the website’s audience. It will get deleted and I will pretend it never happened. Either way, I would have had some crucial practice in and hopefully even get feedback out of it as a bonus. Time spent writing is never wasted.
The other benefit of this particular project or experiment, however you want to label it, is I’ve had an idea for a fantasy story that I’ve been developing in my head for years now, unable to figure out what medium to commit it to. I’m sure other authors have that dusty shelf in their mind where ideas gather other ideas but mostly dust, never to see the light of day. So it felt good picking that up, plucking out the stray hairs and dust and whatever gunk collected on it, and then actually trying to polish into a full-fledged plot now that there’s some pressure of delivering a coherent product. Not sure if I ever would have tackled it without finding the web novel outlet for it, but I am certainly intent on giving it all I’ve got now that I’ve started.
As of the time of this entry, I’m about 9,000 words, which translates to maybe 6-7 installments. However, we’re talking rough first draft here where most names are still placeholders and there’s a sea of red underlines and probably some unfinished sentences that I was totally going to complete later but “later” hasn’t arrived yet. If I had to guess, release is still three to four months away depending on how big of a chapter dump and buffer I want to start with. So it’s not exactly like it’s a slipshod hasty solution to getting more exposure for my other story. My whole writing career is a long game, and this is no exception – I’d rather take the time than put out some hot garbage out there.
Speaking of things I’m putting out there, I just want to say that this decision isn’t easy. My writing will now span the entire gamut from a light(ish) fantasy story released on the internet to my continued attempts to get my novel-length contemporary fiction traditionally published. Whether fair or not, there’s a fear that delving into these genres and publication methods would hamper my ability to market myself in this other world I’m trying to break into. And maybe the fear is justified. At the same time, I’m not a fan of trying to cater myself to the tastes of others just because they might unfairly judge me. Life is too short to hide.
So if you’re looking forward to a plucky orphan discovering the world, developing special powers and fighting great evil (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), then look forward to my own take on this, The Second Magus, coming some time this spring/summer.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.