Knowing Your Limits
However, being a good writer also means recognizing one's limits. It means knowing what one can and cannot write at their current level and a good sense of when to try something new, something you never thought you could do but now have more confidence to do.
I have come to that point in my writing career where I realize that there are certain things I cannot handle, at least at this point in my writing level. Let me introduce you to Terra Apocalypse, my NaNoWriMo novel that I hope(d) to one day expand into a trilogy.
It's an immense tale, exploring what would happen to a planet facing, well, the apocalypse. It would have dealt with religious extremism, whole countries going to war, racism, and various other neat things that interest me like that. The next two books in the trilogy would have dealt with even grander things, such as the origin of life and the idea of God. Add in complex, well-rounded characters, interesting plot twists at every turn, and cool sci-fi settings and it sounds like an idea that cannot fail.
I even wrote two whole drafts of TA, plus half of the third one. I did a lot of research and even read the entire Book of Revelation from beginning to end in one sitting several times to get me in the mindset necessary to write such a story of epic proportions. I told myself, "This is it. This is going to be my crowning work. When this is all over, I'm going to get it published and everyone will want to read it and it will get a crudy movie adaptation that the true fans will hate."
And yet, despite my world-building notes and desire to write this story, it never came out quite right. Drafts One and Two are, to be blunt, crud, while I gave up Draft Three and renamed it Draft Two Point Five because I couldn't finish it. I soon came face-to-face with the problem of writing a novel about the apocalypse, set on a world that wasn't Earth or anywhere else I'd previously written in. I had to deal with a lot of plot absurdities and try to justify certain character choices that, at face value, made no sense whatsoever and required far too much explanation to make sense.
At first, I thought it was really only the beginning of the story that needed work. I mean, the book opens with a royal marriage; how boring is that? Or, at least, it wasn't as interesting as it could have been, in my opinion, so I came up with a complication that never made it into any of the drafts but could have added some interest to the scene (having bandits crash the party and kidnap the bride and groom as part of a complicated political plot on the groom's brother's part).
Yet it still felt wrong whenever I tried to write Draft Three. Even bandits kidnapping royalty didn't seem quite as interesting when I began to seriously ask myself how a group of rough, uncivilized bandits could break into a royal wedding that was rife with bodyguards and security of all kinds. Even if they were hired by someone attending the wedding who had a realistic motive for getting the bride and groom out of the picture, the idea still seemed too illogical and sensational, however 'exciting' it might have been.
It was then that I had an epiphany. I realized that, however good a writer I may be, I am simply not at the point in my writing career where it was possible for me to write a tale as big and epic as Terra Apocalypse. Looking at my fanfics, I realize that I never have written a story spanning whole planets before. I mean, Dimension Hoppers come close, but even then, I only covered the parts of each dimension the protagonists visited that were important, such as a city or a ship. I didn't cover the entire dimension.
I should have realized this earlier. I had attempted to write a story like TA before, which some of you might remember me talking about in the past. It was called Two Worlds, which I gave up on because it was simply too big for me as a writer at the time. I mean, I was dealing with two worlds (as the title subtly suggests), which is definitely bigger than anything I'd dealt with previously. Even coming up with hundreds of pages of world-building didn't help; in fact, I suspect the immense world-building is what turned me off TW in the first place.
So, for now, at least, I've put aside Terra Apocalypse. I've begun work on a new original novel, currently titled The Nameless(referring to a character, not the book itself), which is thus far smaller in scope than TA or TW, but that's fine with me. I have zero world-building notes on TN, but that's also fine with me. It gives me the freedom to make up whatever I need and then figure out how it all comes together later, which is generally how I work.
Now that doesn't mean I will never go back to TA or even TW. Some day, I might return to those projects, particularly TA because I stil love the idea of using apocalyptic imagery in a world populated by robots, golems, and mandrakes.
It's just that, as a writer, I am not quite ready for a story as big or epic as TA. I should stick with what I am better at, which is stories set in one, not terribly large location, with little of the surrounding world fleshed out. That's kind of what The Nameless is like, which is why I like it so much and why I think it has a better chance of making it to the final stages of editing than TA or TW ever had.
My piece of advice for other writers out there, then, is to know your limits. If you're a new writer, you might not know what you can and cannot do, so I suggest experimenting. Or if you're dealing with a story that seems to be going nowhere, you might just need to drop it for now because you might not be good enough to do the story justice.
Just don't think of it as a failure or look at yourself as a failure. Both TA and TW have taught me my limits as a writer, which means there will likely be less unfinished manuscripts sitting on my laptop's hard drive now because I know what stories I can and cannot do. Perhaps this story you're working on will teach you the same thing or another important lesson that you as a writer need to learn in order to improve.