How to Write an Epic Book and Actually Finish It

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So you want to write an epic book? Have you been visited with a creative calling that you just need to get out? Beware!

I’ve always been a very creative guy. I’ve been praised since I was a very small child on my creative endeavors, particularly my writing projects. I always, so it seems, have had a gift of telling great stories, relative to my stage in life of course.

A lot of us have had the ambition to write a book. Few of us will. Fewer still will write a truly epic book. Perhaps it’s a lack of talent, perhaps the project just loses steam. Quite frankly, most people are lazy and quit when the project loses its novelty and the going gets tough. That was almost me.

I almost left a great, truly epic book behind me. It languished for years. Finally, I got my act together, went balls to the wall in devotion to it, and finished it. It was undoubtedly the greatest project of my life, truly worthy of the word “epic.”

I want you to learn from my methods, and from my mistakes.

Beware Your Creativity!

This is one of the biggest obstacles, if not THE biggest obstacle, to writing a truly epic book, especially if you’re a very creative type like me. Often times the problem with these types is not a lack of creativity or a dry spell, but an overflow that makes it difficult to truly focus on your desired project. Eventually the novelty dissipates, so you move on to the next project. Big mistake!

Don’t worry, it’s happened to the best of us. I’ve done it and abandoned more stories and projects than I can count. Leonardo da Vinci was famous for abandoning projects.

But if you abandon projects you won’t finish any of them!

Obviously, if you think a project is not panning out or can’t be turned into something of quality, by all means let it go and move on to more worthy endeavors. But if it’s going well, stick to it. Resist the temptation of starting something new! To finish an epic book, you need to stick to it to the exclusion or near exclusion of all other projects. You need to devote 80-90% of your creative energies on it, or you likely won’t finish it, and even if you do, it won’t be good.

I also want to advise you that even if you think that your book isn’t turning out so well – beware! Often the result will surprise you when you look at it more objectively, with some distance beyond the time of immediate creation.

Sometimes, it felt like as I was writing my epic book, I was just banging out words on a page. When I went over it in my preliminary editing phase, it turned out that it was very well-done, far beyond even my own expectations.

Have faith in yourself and your creative talents.

Be Well-Rounded in Your Sources

It’s a well-known fact that artists steal. Everyone steals. We’re all under the influence of someone else. Artistic works are in essence something of an accretion. My influences on the book, consciously and subconsciously, were wide, and this allowed me to have a great range of material to stand on and enhance the quality of my own writing.

Homer was a big influence on me in this work. I took some Homeric themes and elements, modernized them, mixed them up with the sci-fi setting, and immediately had something great. And that was only one influence that added impetus to my work.

Any writer who says he’s not under the influence of others is lying. Pick good influences to nudge your book along, influences that get you pumped and can add great ideas to your story, theme, and characters, and manifest outward in a truly original fashion that is distinctly you.

Be Knowledgeable of the History of the Subject Matter

My novel is a war story, and so my study of military history (which I have engaged in since the age of 12), has also given me much material to work with, allowing me to paint vivid descriptions of battles and campaigns and the political and economic considerations behind the war. By studying this subject matter for such a long time, I was able to essentially, if imperfectly, get in the minds of past warriors and transport those thoughts to my own characters and my overall theme.

No matter the subject matter you’re writing about, there is a history behind it. The writer should immerse himself in the history of that subject matter so that he will be able to extract a richness with which to seed his own story.

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Record any New Ideas You Have

This was a maxim George Carlin lived by, and it’s as relevant for our own purposes as for his. If you are visited by an inspiration, record it so that you don’t forget. Despite what you may think, it’s all too easy to forget these ideas. Sometimes you may be inspired to write entire passages even though you aren’t at that point in the story yet. Do this. You will get your idea out fully and can put it into the story as needed when you arrive at that point. Whatever you do, don’t lose your ideas. Discard them if you are dissatisfied with them later, but never lose them. Always listen to that voice in your head.

This becomes especially more important if you have an idea for a new project entirely, but you rightly decide to finish the one you’re working on first.

Work Little by Little Over a Long Time

As with most things, you will be able to get your project done by working a little bit over a long time. It’s difficult for me to keep my attention on one thing for too long. This is a weakness of mine (as it is with many creative types), but it’s one that I worked around. The method I wound up using for the most part was rather simple. I would write one page in Microsoft Word an hour during most of my hours of free time. If I went over that, that was good, but I tried to keep up with that schedule. This allowed me to get the lion’s share of my book done.

Maybe this method isn’t best for everyone. Others might find a set quota of words per day a better way to go. That’s fine too. Just find a way to keep eking out the story a little bit at a time so that you find yourself progressing towards the end. Writer’s block, I’ll contend, isn’t so much a block in inspiration as it is hesitation. I thought I had it before, but motivation and this method allowed me to bust through it.

If you choose the benchmark of a set amount of words a day, your goal should be around 2,000-3,000. Anything less means that you aren’t serious.

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Your Story is for You

Ultimately you need to write your project for yourself. Try to make it as high quality as possible of course, and accept nothing less than excellence, but ultimately you need to cater to your own expectations and not what you think other people may desire. There’s a word for that when it comes to art and it’s called mediocre. In case you haven’t noticed, our culture is full of mediocre or downright terrible art, created in an attempt to please others and make quick money rather than being products of their creators’ souls. Buck this trend. Your writing is an extension of what rests in your soul and is your unique commentary on the world. Anything less than this will inevitably devolve into mediocrity.

You will of course need to be able to market your work, but that is ultimately non-germane to the topic of how to write an epic book.

It was by following these principles that I was able to complete my epic novel. If any of you out there find yourself writing something similar (or anything really), you need to follow them as well to be successful in crafting something that is of high quality while simultaneously making sure you don’t fall into the trap of starting a creative work but never finishing it. Begin the task and good luck!

[The original version of this article first appeared in the archive on December 24th, 2014]