I’ve seen this advice a few times: write the project you’re afraid of, the book that you know is going to challenge you to the limits of your ability, the book that you’ll have to level up to complete.
I’m not entirely sure I agree with this advice (more on that below), but this year I’m going for it. I’m taking another stab at my teen novel (working title Replacing the Princess) that I stubbed my toe on last year. I’m determined to work hard and do it justice.
The novel has several difficult bits that I’m juggling: a non-human main character with gender issues who is not entirely likeable (because she’s an assassin), and a secondary viewpoint character who is a Person of Color and, in the current version at least, comes from a fantasy version of a First Nations culture--which means I need to come to a better understanding of cultural appropriation. I’m also struggling with the ending. I want it to have a strong climax that isn’t an outright cliffhanger yet sets up book two nicely. On top of my usual goals of telling a fast-paced story in an interesting world with dynamic characters… well, it’s a lot. I may succeed. I may fall flat on my face. I may fall flat on my face, then later succeed. We shall see.
I want to grow as a writer. I want to level up. But the idea of being this ambitious for every project is one that I find, frankly, exhausting.
Mostly, however, I think the advice is a bit misleading, because it makes it sound like there are easy novels to write.
True story: my previous big project before this one was supposed to be easy--a rewrite of a trunked adult fantasy novel of mine (working title Path of Power) that I had some new ideas for. I had last worked on the novel eight years before and, while I liked the main storyline, I felt my writing skills had improved significantly. I thought it would be easy-peasy to pull this one out, shake off the rust, and produce a competent, saleable fantasy novel in about six months.
Yeah. That would be a big, fat no. It took me a year, and it was *not* easy. It was every bit as hard as starting a new novel fresh would have been.
Because I had grown as a writer, I wasn’t satisfied with the simple story I had previously told. I decided it needed more viewpoint, including from multiple antagonists (a headache I solemnly swear NEVER to do again), more plot twists, better world-building, stronger characters… better everything really. The book almost doubled in length.
So, in summary, writing an ambitious book is hard. So is rewriting a trunked novel. Pretty much writing any book up to high standards is hard.
If you find this advice inspiring, by all means go for it! But if the thought of it exhausts you, don't feel that you're chickening out or letting yourself down. As long as there is something you love about the current project then it's the right project for you.