On September 30, 2021, I hit a special milestone. I finished my 10th original novel. “Finished” used very, very loosely—there’s still a lot of editing to come.
The funny thing is…I didn’t expect this book to be No. 10. I’ve been waiting to hit this milestone for nearly three years now, and I never would’ve guessed this would be the 10th book to write a full, complete draft for. I guess it’s just yet another example of how life doesn’t go the way you expect it—and that’s always for the best.
While I personally love to read and hear about the writing history and development of other writers, I’ve never covered my personal writing history as a whole on my blog before. Telling the history of Our Company of Fools last year was the closest I’ve gotten. As I reflect on reaching this milestone of writing and completing 10 books, now seems like a good time to trace the path of my “completed” novels over the years.
Book No. 1: Mountain Cats. Ah, the book that started it all. Or perhaps I should say books, plural? Mountain Cats was originally written as a “trilogy,” and by “trilogy,” I mean I basically wrote three very short stories and called each one a “book.” Those “books” averaged 12-14 pages each. Not bad for a 10-year-old, but I don’t formally count them as separate “books” today. When I was 12, I realized that these three little micro-stories could actually be combined and lengthened into a longer story, and so I wrote a new version of the tale as a nearly 30K word book. (Writer’s aside: 30K is a reasonable length for the intended middle grade audience.) The book still holds a special place in my heart, and I’m still a little proud of it, though I have no desire to revisit it. There are several plot holes and clichés that need patching up, but completing that book felt like making my dream a reality. Writing it and editing it a couple of times helped me believe I could truly be a published writer someday.
Books No. 2 & No. 3: Valda’s Saga & The Condemned. I group these two together because both were born out of my early One Year Adventure Novel days. I wrote Valda’s Saga (30K words) at the age of 15, and The Condemned (25K words) at 16. The former is a Viking story, and the latter is about a hidden society of dragon trainers in our modern day world. Like my first finished novel, both of these projects are cliché-heavy, but unlike my first novel, both stories involve elements I plan or hope to recycle one day. I still want to write a (different) Viking story, or create a Viking-like fantasy world, eventually. The concept of The Condemned ended up feeding directly into The Myth-Keepers, where a few recycled plot devices and characters appear. Both of these books, coupled with my introduction to the One Year Adventure Novel program and community, were important stepping stones in helping me see some of my biggest issues as a young writer.
Books No. 4 & No. 5: Enter Destiny & Brave the Dark. Book 1 and Book 2 of The Mythics (later retitled The Myth-Keepers) were the first same-series books I successfully completed. They were also the first of my books to break into the “full novel” word count length, at 100K and 80K words respectively. (Writer’s aside: 60K-120K words is the typical range for teen, young adult, and adult fiction.) The Myth-Keepers has a long and fascinating writing history as one of my longest active projects, and even at the age of 16/17, it was very rewarding to finally write not just one book, but two books of this series, which I’d been piecing together since the age of 11. While both of these books today are slated for a dramatic revision and revamp, the originals still give me a lot of nostalgia when I reread them. One of these days, I want to try and write out the history of this series, as I see it as the most critical in my personal development as a fantasy writer.
Book No. 6: Soar. This book was the precursor to my Untitled Star Series that I occasionally mention working on. While this specific book is no longer an active project, it did help me find my voice as a writer and create unique characters with strong, interesting dialogue. It was also the first book I vividly remember moving me to tears for thematic reasons; I truly heard God speak to me through the themes of fear and courage the book explored. I wrote it the summer before I went to college, a time when I was praying for courage to face my upcoming adventure as a college student. It is also the longest draft I’ve ever written at just shy of 120K words. It actually broke my spell check because of how long it was; I had so many invented fantasy names that eventually the document couldn’t keep track of all of them after so many pages, ha!
Book No. 7: Our Company of Fools. The quickest novel I’ve ever written, started January 4th and finished January 23rd, written in a span of 19 days. Also the first book I published. Last year, I talked at length about what this book means to me, but I’ll add here that this book dramatically changed my perception of my goals as a writer and moved me towards thinking about the humanity in my stories. It helped me to mature as a writer and in my storytelling.
Book No. 8: Onward to Tryon. Ugh. This one. The ugly sequel to Our Company of Fools, written about two and a half years after its predecessor. And the worst book I’ve ever written. But I finished it at a time where I needed to finish something to break my writing drought. Honestly, I don’t even think the draft is actually coherent, as I changed pieces of the story as I went, intending to just go back and edit later. I went back and forth on whether or not to write a Fools sequel/series for a long time, and ultimately decided against it. The problems of this book are a big reason why, although I’ll admit, there are certain characters and scenes from this book or its attempts at revision that I do feel some fondness for. The biggest lesson I take away from this book is that writing a sequel is only worth it if there’s a need for the story and it brings me joy to write it. This book was both unnecessary and not that enjoyable for me.
Book No. 9: The Queen of Imagination [now titled The Queen of Whitman Court]. This book probably holds the record of longest time it took for me to complete. I don’t remember how old I was when I started this book, but it was sometime in late high school. I finished it after college, in November 2018. I’ve also talked quite a bit about this book and its recent transformation to a series, but I’ll also add here that this book helped me feel confident as a writer again. Coming off of a messy, tricky book (see No. 8), at the time, I needed to then finish a story that sparked that sense of joy and creativity that my writing lacked in that season. The Queen of Imagination was the perfect project for that.
Now, before I talk about Book No. 10, I think it’s important to address the time gap. Over the past three years, there have been several candidates for Book No. 10. The Untitled Star Series books. A rewrite of The Myth-Keepers. A third Fools book. Even a couple of random story ideas I’ve had over the years and started drafts for. Basically, I thought Book No. 10 would be a large-scale, sweeping fantasy epic.
And yet—Book No. 10 is a mildly unimpressive little story of just under 25K words.
Book No. 10 is The Knights of Whitman Court, the second book in my new Whitman Court series. While I did use a couple of old scenes from the original Queen of Imagination book, most of the material and story content for this book was completely new.
In the grand scheme of things, the fact that The Knights of Whitman Court is my 10th book to finish might not be that surprising. I mean, I am actively working on the series, so in some sense, it was inevitable that one of the Whitman Court books would hit this milestone for me.
I think it feels unexpected for me because I’ve been anticipating hitting this point in my writing journey for nearly three years, and out of all the possible candidates, it is the humblest one that takes the prize. A book that isn’t perfect, that I seriously contemplated shelving, and one that I outlined as I went, an unusual move for me, who likes to have all the plot detailed arranged before I start writing.
Personally, I think it’s a fitting plot twist for this fun little middle grade story (not quite big enough to be a “real novel”) to be my No. 10 instead of one of the grand, sweeping epics I’ve been pining to write successfully. It’s humble, like I’m learning to be. It’s unexpected, like life is—another lesson God’s slowly and patiently teaching me. It was written in a very open-handed way, too, often deviating from the outline I did scrounge up as I went. It all points to lessons I’m learning in my writing and in my life as a whole. That’s cool.
Hitting this milestone feels very quiet, too. That, perhaps strangely, feels right as well, as I learn not to glory in the work I’ve made, but to glory in the Creator I’m made to reflect. If you were to ask how I feel about hitting this milestone in my writing journey, I’d say satisfied and resolved. I’m marking it and moving on. It is important for me to recognize, but there there’s a lot more work to do. After all, if my goal is publishing, I’ve only really finished one book, when all’s said and done.
As I reflect back on my writing journey, I’m humbled too by the projects that didn’t make this list. As much as it is exciting to finally be able to say I’ve written 10 books, I also have to consider that I have at least twice or thrice as many drafts that I started but never finished, and many, many more abandoned outlines and ideas scattered in my notebooks. Yet none of that is wasted. Without those attempts, those ideas, those failures, I would never have hit Book No. 10. It’s the refining fire of progress at work. It’s the unglamorous adventure of writing.