Writing the Sequel While Editing the First Book 

My writing project is big. Too big. And it’s all my fault. Whatever writing advice told me to start small: start with short stories, master the fundamentals, and then move to bigger projects, I didn’t listen. 

In one of my previous updates, I mentioned that I’m working on a novel. Guess what, it’s going to be more than a one-off. It’s at least two books, but probably going to be three. A trilogy. Maybe more. I’ve committed to a long game. I wanted a project that could pull me out of the Covid world and drop me on the other side. And I found it. Regardless of what this trilogy becomes, it’s going to be a significant part of my life. For that I’m lucky. 

But what I want to talk about today is my awkward process. I’m currently editing the fourth draft of book one, while I’m writing the first draft of book two. It’s awkward because I feel like I’m looking into the future to write and I’m traveling back in time to edit. Unconventional as it may be, I do find it productive. At this very moment, where the world is in chaos and motivation is hard to come by, it’s easier to maintain productivity if I’m active in two separate phases: writing and editing. 

When I’m writing, I’m using a different creative muscle from editing. I’m a pantser or a discovery writer, so I don’t do many outlines. My first draft is the outline and I just let it flow. 

However, editing is a slog. I don’t take a lot of pleasure in editing. It’s the act of cleaning up the mess that the pantser-writer-me made, and in this project, it’s a big mess. In order to ensure I fully develop the world, understand my characters, and build out the story arc, I’m writing beyond my first book to gain clarity on what I should focus on while editing it. 

Writing sequel editing first book

I also want to keep the structure of my books the same and there was a fortuitous period of the process where I was writing the first and second acts of the sequel while editing the first and second acts of book one. This allowed me to see critical turning points in the stories from both books at the same time and try to spot and create parallels. 

Ideally, I’d like this series to resemble each other in form even though the story changes as it goes. I want to be consistent where I can while letting my characters roam free and explore. This process also allowed me to go back and check on all the motivations and scenarios in the first book and make sure they support what the character will do in the second. I can even sneak some foreshadows or other storytelling devices in and hint at the events to come. 

Now, I don’t recommend this as writing advice, it really does depend on your goals. For me, this writing while editing is most helpful for my editing process. I am still trying to strengthen the story in the first book and by writing beyond, I gain a better understanding of the world and characters. I can also discover whether or not the characters will achieve their goals so that I can set the tone properly. For example, if my character will face greater hardship in the second book, maybe I can lighten up in the first. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I want the lessons in the first to come into play in the second. These are all still options. 

By starting my sequel before I finalize my first, I give myself room to experiment. Since I’m not an established author who has an impending deadline, this is a luxury. By doing this, with a bit of editing in the first book, I can ensure I won’t write myself into a trap I can’t escape from. Little by little, I’ll eventually bring my whole story to a close. 

I will probably use this same process to complete the whole trilogy. It sickens me to think how much more I have to do, but getting started on the second book makes me feel like I’m happily invested. It proves to me that I enjoy writing this story. It makes me hopeful that I can reach the end if I just keep moving forward. At the very least I’d have it all written. Once it’s all written, then who knows… but that will be a while from now. After all, this is a big project and I’m in it for the long term. 

There you have it. If you’re stuck editing your first book, try writing a sequel. Even if you don’t plan on publishing a sequel, it can help you flush out your story more. And hey, who knows, maybe you’ll discover a better ending. Maybe you’ll discover that the sequel is actually the story that matters. 

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Writing Through the Backfill: The Swimming Pool Theory

At some point in your story, your readers will require backfill, also known as expository details. You’ll need to describe the characters, explain the history of a location, or establish a relationship. But how do you include this information without slowing the plot so much that your readers become disinterested? 

First, I ask, “Is this part even necessary?” If the answer is yes, and the rest of your story won’t make sense without it, don’t fear, there is a way to include this information while still engaging the reader. 

Here’s how you can approach it with The Swimming Pool Theory:

Consider your story like a kick off the sidewall in a swimming pool, pushing off to the deep end, propelling your narrative forward. If you want your readers to float past the backfill of your story, loaded with descriptions and historical context, you need to first create momentum. 

This push should come as an intriguing moment in the story: a moment of intensity, a moment where a problem occurs, a defining turning point, or a moment where something surprising was said. These moments pose new questions that must be answered and powered by curiosity, the readers will continue reading, desperate to discover.

This allows you to maintain the tension while including backfill, essential but less exciting information. These are information that readers need but they might not want to continue reading if it was in the first paragraph. These information are not hooks, but rather promises. You are now making a promise that if they swim through all this exposition, there will be a payoff. They will learn the answer. 

Writing is all about choosing what details to share and when to share them. By recognizing how your story ebbs and flows, you can weave a tale that is well-paced and enjoyable the whole way through, also known as a page-turner

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Instead of giving out information as it happens, switch it around. Switch paragraphs, scenes, and even chapters around. If you’re ever in an editing rut, and you’re not sure what to look for, look at what’s kicking your story off the wall in the swimming pool. Feel for how far that momentum will take the readers and decide when you need another intriguing scene to kick forward. And if you don’t have enough of these key moments pushing your readers along, that means you’ll have to write it. 

Backfill is necessary for a story, especially if you’re world-building. However, if all you give them are details, they are going to lose interest. So think of your story as being in a pool, how will you push off to the deep end? 

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4 Punctuation Principles You Must Master

The comma is the most complicated punctuation mark in the English language. Not only does it have many uses, but it also has many misuses. In The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and EB White (Amazon), four punctuation principles were deemed most important and that “they should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.” 

Now,  if you’re ready, grab a pen and notebook, strap yourself in because we are going to quickly go through these 4 important punctuation rules:  

1.  Enclose parenthetical expressions with commas 

Take this example:

The dog that ran away came back with a cat. 

The fact that the dog ran away is extra information. But this information is also essential to the sentence.

It’s this essentialness, or restrictiveness, that determines the role commas play.

A parenthetical expression is a word or phrase that adds to the sentence to give extra information. 

If the information is essential such as in: 

The dog that ran away came back with a cat. 

You may omit the commas. 

However, you can add commas to separate, if the information is nonessential, such as in: 

The dog, hungry for treats, came back with a cat. 

So remember it this way, if the information is essential you may omit the commas, but if the information can be removed without influencing the meaning of the sentence then you should add the commas. 

Another way to put it is to recognize nonrestrictive terms and clauses, as they will often require commas. In the middle of a sentence these nonrestrictive clauses are often preceded by “Which”, “When”, and “Where”: Such as:

The car, which was illegally parked, got towed. 

Nonrestrictive clauses may also appear at the beginning of a sentence:

Parking the car illegally, the man hurried into the store. 

To summarize:

You won’t need commas for a sentence like: The boy is a criminal.  

But you will need one for: My son, Billy, stole my car. 

How are we doing? A little confusing, eh? You’re not alone. This rule for me is one of the most challenging in the entire language because sometimes the importance of the information can feel subjective. 

But don’t feel bogged down by all the commas, Strunk and White give you permission to omit them if the interruption is short. 

If you are to remove the commas, however, don’t remove one but not the other. 

If you are to remove the commas, however don’t remove one but not the other. 

Personally, I always use commas to break up “however”, as well as dates: Saturday, June 4, 2022

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

2. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause. 

A conjunction is a word that connects two separate elements or sentences. Common examples include FANBOYS:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

And also:

  • As (used in relation to Because)
  • While (used in relation to events happening at the same time) 

When a conjunction comes before an independent clause (which can serve as a single sentence in itself), a comma is required in front of it. 

The traffic was bad, but the robbers were going to escape no matter what. 

Or

The police chased on foot, for the roads were gridlocked. 

However, with a dependent clause, it gets a little tricky. 

According to Strunk and White: If the clauses in the sentence share the same subject, the subject is only expressed once, and the conjunction is “but” then adding a comma will be useful. 

The robbers found a hiding spot, but forgot to take the money. 

However, if the conjunction is “and” then omitting the comma will be okay as the two interlinking thoughts are closely related. 

The police found the money in the car and decided to keep it for themselves. 

3. Do not join independent clauses with a comma. 

If you have two complete and separate thoughts with their own subject and verb, such as:

WRONG: The monster emerged from the swamp, the terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

Do Not place a comma between them. 

To correct it, you have a few options: 

The first option is breaking it into two sentences and using a period — or an exclamation mark — while capitalizing the first letter of the following sentence: 

The monster emerged from the swap. The terrified campers climbed up the tree.

The monster emerged from the swap! The terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

Alternatively, you can combine the sentences by using a semi-colon or adding a comma and conjunction. 

The monster emerged from the swap; the terrified campers climbed up the tree.

The monster emerged from the swap, so the terrified campers climbed up the tree. 

As you can tell, changing the punctuation mark changes the relationship between the two statements. The better you understand this principle, the better control you’ll have of your writing style. Personally, I’m a comma/conjunction type of guy, but let me know which one you prefer in the comment below. 

4. Do not break sentences in two. 

Simply put, commas cannot replace periods and periods cannot replace commas. A period’s primary function is to separate complete sentences, so when you use it instead of commas, you’ll likely end up with sentence fragments. For example: 

He was a wealthy man. Having earned all his money through buying and trading crypto. 

It should be: 

He was a wealthy man, having earned all his money through buying and trading crypto. 

A complete sentence has a subject and verb, and while the first part can stand as an independent clause, the second half of that sentence is missing the subject. 

An exception to this principle, which I’d recommend using sparingly, is to break the sentence when you want to emphasize a specific word. Such as: 

He punched the wall. Hard. 

There you have it! Those are four of the most important punctuation principles according to Strunk and White. Once you get a hang of them, you will be well on your way to being a proficient writer and editor with another tool in your tool belt. 

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How to Be Consistent When Writing: Focus on the Valleys Not the Peaks

Photo by Sangay Lama on Unsplash

One way to stay consistent is to keep track of what you’re doing. By keeping track you can actually see — over the course of many months and years — how consistent you’ve actually been. Did you take a break during the holidays? Did you make big progress during the summer? These are things you can see when you start tracking your writing and other creative projects. 

A tracker can be anything you want, it can be a notebook, it could be a spreadsheet, but I like a simple calendar. Preferably Google Calendar. 

When you start tracking your work, whether you’re writing a novel, building a YouTube channel, or growing a business, you’ll begin to see ups and downs. Sometimes you’re doing great: you increase your word count or you hit a record high days in a row of working on a project. Other times you see lows: days where you didn’t even open your notebook or edit a video. It’s that week that you got sick and you didn’t publish or that month when you were on vacation. 

It is in these lows — or as I like to call them, valleys — that you lose your momentum. These valleys can expand into canyons if you don’t handle them properly. These valleys can be so demoralizing, especially when you are looking up and seeing how high your peaks were and you question whether you can ever get back to that level. 

Tracking your work keeps you honest and it can be a compassionate motivator if you know how to use it. The secret is in how we define “progress”. 

Sure there will be days where you don’t make a lot of progress in your writing, but you took some photographs that help to inspire your next chapter. It’s easy to dismiss that activity and call it something else besides work and, therefore, you don’t track it. But maybe you can track it. Mark it down as “Doing research for the novel”, categorize it differently from “word counts” or “publishing”, give it a different color in the tracker if you must, but track it.

You get to decide what you want to track as creative work. It could be reading, watching a movie, or listening to a new album to get inspiration. All this could be considered research. All this could be a way to refresh your creativity because creativity can come in those moments where you aren’t at the computer writing or editing. 

As you begin to include these other activities in your tracker, you’ll see that your valleys aren’t a dramatic drop-off. Your valleys aren’t pits and they contain moments where you were making progress, albeit you weren’t increasing your word count, polishing your piece, or hitting publish. 

Focusing on raising your valleys to me has been super effective in staying consistent. And it works for all things. No project or business can maintain a straight hockey stick growth forever. Eventually, you’ll have to battle with peaks and valleys. Peaks are great! Everything is wonderful when you are at the peak. 

In fact, it feels so good, we end up putting too much attention on it. Our highest records, our biggest profit, or recorded breaking post. The peak is great, but it doesn’t need your immediate attention. Focus on the valleys. It is the valleys that will make all the difference in terms of your longevity and growth. Focus on increasing your valleys by tracking what you did during those days that impacted your project indirectly. The higher your valleys become, the higher your baseline will be over time. 

Rather than trying to reach a higher peak by putting in all-nighters for a week and then burning out. Focus on doing a little bit every day, adding more as you go, and pulling back if you need rest. Maintaining your valley will keep you consistent. The beautiful thing about all of this is that you get to decide how to track your growth. Not all tasks are equal, but all tasks can be tracked. When they are, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. You’ll see progress, even if it is a long slog through the valley. 

This is a mindset that has worked for me, I hope it works for you. Let me know if you have another method of staying consistent in the comments below. 

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