Why First Novels Aren’t Publishable – A Ramble

Well, although I’d planned to write about the horror genre, I thought that I’d talk about first novels today.

This is mostly because, during the 2-3 months before preparing this article, I tried to write my first proper full-length novel ( apart from this old thing. Although that was technically a novella, still it felt like a novel at the time. But, I digress…).

And, yes, the full-length novel project was a horror novel. Well, technically, it was a post-apocalyptic alternate history dark comedy heavy metal zombie thriller with romance elements. But, “horror novel” is shorter.

Anyway, I ended up with a finished 63-chapter, 54,800-word second draft. But, after trying to improve the first draft for a couple of weeks, I realised that it wasn’t even close to publishable quality.

It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, but after looking over it for a couple of weeks, I noticed so many faults and flaws (eg: unresolved plot points, crappy pacing, cardboard characters, bland dialogue, a confusingly non-linear timeline, very bland/repetitive narration in some parts etc..) that even the most extensive editing probably wouldn’t salvage the thing.

Or, to put it another way, it wasn’t something I thought was worth splashing out on a proper editor for or spending time trying to get published. Yes, I was amazed that I actually wrote the thing, but I didn’t have the confidence in it that I’d expected.

This, of course, made me think of the classic writing advice about first novels. You know, the one about how they are never publishable. Of course, like I did, you’ll think that you’re the exception to the rule. That the manuscript that you’ve spent months on will break this gloomy, miserable rule. Well, after testing this rule out for myself, I thought that I’d offer some explanation for why people say this about first novels.

But, let me say this right now, your first novel isn’t a “waste of time”. Even if you are the only person to ever read the whole thing, it isn’t a waste of time!

Your first novel is a way to practice writing a full-length novel. It is there to show you that you can write a novel (seriously, actually finishing it is a real confidence boost 🙂 ) and, more importantly, to show you what you need to improve for your second novel.

I cannot stress the importance of this second point enough! Your first novel is a way of revealing things about your writing that you might not have known before you wrote it. It is there to teach you what you need to do differently in your second novel. It is a dry run, a test, a practice project. When it fails, that failure shows you how not to fail the next time.

After all, if you were trying to learn any other skill, then you wouldn’t expect instant perfection. You wouldn’t expect your first cookery project, musical performance, online multiplayer match, craft project etc… to be the pinnacle of perfection. So, why is it any different with novels? With all of these things, you need to fail and learn from it before you become good at it.

You also need to do your research in order to know how and why you’ve failed. In the case of writing, this mostly involves reading lots of other novels. When you read a lot, you’ll compare your first novel to the books you’re reading and, chances are, you’ll think “It isn’t as good as them“. The trick is to ask yourself why. Is it the characterisation? The writing style? The pacing? The structure?

If you do this, rather than just thinking “I’ll never be as good as these other writers“, then your unpublishable first novel won’t be a waste of time. It will be an important step on the path towards your second novel. After all, you can’t write a better second novel without writing a bad first novel beforehand.

So, yes, your first novel is important. It is very, very important. Because it won’t be good enough to publish, not despite it. If you’ve actually finished your first novel, you are already better at writing novels than most so-called writers. If you think “I can do better next time”, then you probably will.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Art Practice Works! – A Ramble

If you’re new to making art, then it can be easy to feel discouraged. After all, even if you practice regularly, then it can sometimes be difficult to see improvements on a day-to-day basis. But, even though your improvements might be very gradual, you will get better at making art if you keep practicing.

When preparing a remake of an old painting of mine the night before I wrote this article, I was reminded of an amazing quote (from this page) by the webcomic creator Winston Rowntree. Rowntree’s quote is: “Practice is weird: pyhsically, you just do what you’ve always done, except one day you notice it’s resulting in far better artwork.

Never have truer words been spoken!

Anyway, the painting that I had decided to remake was an old painting of mine from 2016. It’s one of my favourite paintings from that year and I’d finally got the push to remake it after realising that I felt too uninspired to think of a good idea for a new painting.

Still, as I began to sketch out my new version of it, I initally started to worry that it wouldn’t look as good as the original. But, as the painting progressed, I suddenly realised how much I’d learnt over the past 1-2 years of daily practice.

I realised how my experiments with limited colour palettes (red, yellow, green, blue and black in this case) in late 2015/early 2016 had – along with some other inspirations – led to the eventual discovery of my current colour palette.

I realised that, 1-2 years ago, I didn’t know some of the digital image editing techniques (eg: for adding rain effects, realistic shading etc..) I use regularly these days. I realised how much the lighting in my art had improved over the past 1-2 years. Here’s a reduced-size preview of the new version of the painting:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is the result of 1-2 years of daily art practice.

So, yes, art practice works. You won’t actually notice improvements happening literally every day, but every extra piece of art that you make will make you a slightly confident and better. And this builds up over time!

One way to think of art practice is that it is like a stalagmite in an underground cave. Whilst an individual droplet of water might not look like it is doing anything to the stalagmite – over time, the mineral deposits from lots of water droplets can result in a really impressive-looking stalagmite.

Yes, art practice can feel more like a marathon than a sprint, but it is important to keep going. Once you’ve been practicing for a while, then even an uninspired painting that you make on a bad day will still look better than the “good” paintings that you made a few months or years ago.

Likewise, your art can also improve in slightly strange ways too. For example, the bulk of the improvements in the comparison I showed you earlier weren’t to the actual drawing itself but to surrounding things like the lighting, colours and shading. So, if it looks like regular practice isn’t improving one part of your art much, then it usually means that another part of your art is improving instead.

But, in summary, regular practice works! It might not work quickly, but it certainly works!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why The Old Adage About “It’s Not The Winning That Matters” Applies To Regular Art Practice


If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably heard the saying “it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part that counts” whenever you did anything vaguely competitive. Although some hyper-competitive people might question the wisdom of this saying, it’s actually a surprisingly good thing to remember when you are doing art practice.

If you are practicing art regularly, then you probably aren’t going to produce masterpieces every day or every week or whenever. You’re going to have days when you feel uninspired, days when you aren’t in a great mood and days when you are tired.

If at all possible, you should still do art practice on these days – even if the end result looks like this digitally-edited painting of mine that will be posted here in late July:

 This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st July.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st July.

But, even though this “failed” painting is kind of random – it was more than just a waste of time. Whilst making it, I decided to experiment with a technique called “foreshortening“, which is why the woman’s right arm looks so tiny. This is a perspective trick where, when someone reaches towards the audience, their arms look shorter and wider in order to mimic how this looks in real life.

If I’d actually bothered to look at some reference pictures, I might have done a better job at using the technique. But, although it wasn’t perfect, it looked at least mildly better than I had expected it to. And it looked a hundred times better than if I’d never done any practice that day at all.

The thing to remember about regular art practice is that it’s more about getting used to making art and about learning how to make art even when you aren’t feeling “inspired”. It’s more about being able to fail, to move on from that failure and learn from it. It’s more about trying out any of your ideas that begin with “I wonder if I can draw this…” or “I wonder if I can paint this…“.

Regular art practice is more about learning techniques you can use to make your art look better, even when you aren’t having a good day (eg: the ‘terrible’ picture I showed you earlier is probably still better than any ‘good’ picture I could make 3-5 years ago). Regular art practice is about building up the confidence to be able to make art “whatever the weather”. It’s about building up the confidence to call yourself an “artist”.

It’s also more about learning to avoid perfectionism and to actually finish paintings. Regular art practice is about learning how to make your art more efficiently, in order to get it done within the time you’ve set aside for art practice.

Regular art practice It isn’t about producing masterpieces every day.

Yes, this is something to aim towards and – when you’ve been practicing for a while – your current “mediocre” artwork will probably look amazing when compared to your old artwork. But, if you go into your daily practice expecting to “win” every time – then you’re probably not going to practice very often. You’ll either be too overwhelmed with disappointment or too frozen by perfectionism to actually do the practice you need to do in order to make good art.

In other words, regular art practice is more about the “taking part” than it is about the “winning”.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Starting A Webcomic? Remember, No-One Starts Out Good At It

2017 Artwork Even the best webcomics started out badly

If you’re new to making webcomics, then it can be very easy to look at the webcomics that have inspired you to start making your own and feel discouraged. After all, you might think that the art looks ten times better than anything you can make and the writing makes yours look terrible.

Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal! In fact, the people who made the very webcomics that inspired you probably thought exactly the same thing when they were starting out. Being terrible at making webcomics is a phase that literally every webcomic creator has to go through.

I’m hardly the first person to point this fact out, but you can see evidence of this yourself by comparing the both the very first and the very latest updates from your favourite long-running webcomic.

One will look terrible (and will probably be badly-written too), the other will look and read significantly better. If both look good, then all this means is that the comic creator in question is hiding their really early stuff.

The best way to think about making a webcomic is that it’s a bit like playing an old-school RPG game. When you start playing, your character is at level one and has no experience or skills, but through repeated, regular activity – you’ll gain experience and your character’s skill level will increase. Like in an old RPG game, you might start out as a weak character – but, after playing the game regularly for a while, you’ll become an absolute badass.

However, if you give up early because you don’t think that your webcomic is very good, then you’ll never gain the practice, knowledge or experience that you need in order to make better webcomics. The format itself will help you with this for the simple reason that webcomics are traditionally meant to be updated regularly (but, beware of comics burnout – it’s why I only make comics occasionally these days, even though I still do daily art practice), so it’s a good incentive to get lots of comic-making practice

Likewise, don’t expect instant improvement. Webcomic improvements are the kind of subtle, gradual things that you’ll probably only notice when you look back on your comics from several years earlier.

To use a personal example, here’s what my occasional long-running webcomic series looked like in 2012 (I technically started posting webcomics online in 2010, but only started my current occasional comic in 2011/ 2012):

"Damania - Haunted" By C. A. Brown [16th October 2012]

“Damania – Haunted” By C. A. Brown [16th October 2012]

And here’s another comic update from a mini series that I posted here earlier this year ( as the first part of a trilogy that also includes this mini series and this one). This is after 4-5 years of daily art practice and occasional comic practice:

“Damania Retrofuturistic – Time Police” By C. A. Brown

So, how do you keep going even when your webcomics look terrible and are badly-written? Well, if you actually need to ask, then you’re possibly not quite ready to start making webcomics yet.

You keep going even when your webcomic looks like crap because you’re actually making webcomics. Because the idea of actually posting a webcomic (however bad) online seems ten times cooler than the idea of not posting a webcomic online.

In other words, the thing that will carry you through the crappy earlier phases of your webcomic is your enthusiasm for the medium itself. If you don’t have this enthusiasm, then wait until you do before you start making webcomics.

This enthusiasm will also carry you through days when you are feeling uninspired or dispirited. It will also carry you through the inevitable times when making comics feels more like a chore than anything else. It’ll help you to fight uninspiration, rather than give in to it. And, most importantly of all, it will make you keep making comics even when they look crappy.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Simple Ways To Chart Your Artistic Progress – Past And Future.

2017 Artwork Artistic Progress article sketch

If you’re practicing making art on a regular basis, then it can be very easy to lose track of time and/or to feel like you aren’t progressing. After all, when you’re practicing regularly, you’ll rarely see day-to-day improvements or even have a clue how good your art might be in the future if you keep practicing.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to chart both your past and future artistic progress.

1) Regular remakes: One of the easiest ways to chart your past artistic progress is to choose one significant painting or drawing (either due to it’s quality or when it was made) and to make a new version of it every year or so.

Like this little gallery of all of the versions of the first picture I made when I decided to practice making art regularly. I’ve posted one of these online on the 17th April every year since I started getting into art again (and, yes, the gallery contains a preview of this year’s one):

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

Even if you’re having a bad day when you make the new version of this picture, then it will probably still look better than the old versions for the simple reason that you’ve had an extra year of experience and knowledge. This, incidentally, will also show you what you’ve learnt and how your art style has changed over the past few years.

This is extra noticeable if you, say, remake a picture once every two years or so. The only problem with this approach is that, when you see how terrible your old pictures look when compared to your new ones – you might be worried that your new painting won’t look good in the future. It won’t, but this won’t matter, because you’ll be an even better artist!

2) The art that inspires you: One easy way to see what your art might look like in the future (if you keep practicing) is to take a look at the things that really inspire you. If you aren’t sure what these are, then either take a look at your own art and see if it’s been influenced by anything or just ask yourself “what types of art, movies, comics etc.. do I think are really cool 🙂

Generally, if you see something cool, then it’s probably going to have an effect on your art. You’re probably going to try to learn from it, or use similar techniques in your own art. It’s probably going to shape what you choose to learn and what you choose to practice.

As such, it can be a great way to get a sneak peek at parts of your artistic future and/or a way to consciously shape that future.

3) Intervals: If you’re making drawings or paintings regularly, then it can be very easy to feel like it’s one long, endless, continuous thing. This can get fairly dispiriting and it can reduce any sense of progression or accomplishment you might feel. So, split your practice up into longer segments that can be “finished” at similar intervals.

If you’re making art traditionally, then this is fairly easy to do. After all, if you fill one or two sketchbook pages with art every day then – for example- you’re going to get through a 48-page sketchbook in about a month or so. You’ll have a completed sketchbook, which you can mark with the time and date that you finished it.

If you’re making or editing art digitally, then doing something similar can be a bit more complicated – but you can do things like putting time and date information in the file names of your artwork (eg: with mine, I usually put the date it’ll be posted here in the file name) , starting a new art folder every month etc…

If you split your collection of practice artwork up into time-based segments, then this will help you to avoid the feeling of just adding to a continuous, never-ending collection of art.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When…

2017 Artwork Fringe Benefits Of Regular Art Practice article

Well, I thought that I’d do something a bit sillier (but with a serious point) for today’s article. Namely, I thought that I’d write a list of cool things that can happen if you stick to practicing making art regularly.

If you’re making art regularly, you might recognise some of the things on this list and – if you don’t – then this might help get you in the mood to practice more often. Of course, it might just sound like smug, self-righteous nonsense. And, if this is the case, then I apologise and promise that tomorrow’s article won’t contain any of this (it’ll probably be a computer game review, since I haven’t written one of these in a while).

So, without any further ado…..

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When….

– Your “totally uninspired failure of a throwaway painting (that you just KNOW everyone will hate)” that you made just to keep up with your practice schedule looks like the sort of thing that would have literally knocked you off your feet with it’s sheer awesomeness if you’d made it a few years ago.

– The time between feeling “completely uninspired” and actually making a painting is measured in minutes (or possibly hours in extreme cases) rather than days or weeks.

– You can look at a random piece of art in a magazine or on the internet and not only be able to instantly tell whether it was made with digital and/or traditional materials, but also sometimes what materials were used.

– When a time traveller from the ancient year of 2015 asks you what colour the dress is, you can look at it for literally one second and say “light brown and grey/blue/white”, because those are the colours you would instinctively use when painting it.

– The idea of not making art every day/two days/ week etc… feels more “difficult” than the idea of making art on a regular schedule.

– When you see a confusing photo, you are usually quickly able to tell what is happening in it because your image analysis skills have been finely honed by years of studying pictures in order to learn how to draw or paint better (or, more accurately, learning how to draw or paint more things).

– You finally understand the truth that is is impossible for any creative work to be “100% original”. As such, you have slightly more complicated and nuanced thoughts about copyright than you did a few years ago.

– When you want to draw a scene from a first-person shooter game for a comic, it’s really easy to do, since you have an intuitive understanding of one-point perspective. This is despite the fact that, a few years ago, you would have thought of the idea and then spent the next three hours thinking “how the hell do I draw THAT?!

– When you see some seriously cool-looking art in a comic, your first thought is “what can I learn from this?“. Your second thought is “how much can I get away with learning from this?

– When you realise that you can make your own greeting cards.

– You not only have a very clear idea of what your art style looks like when you draw people, but you also know what it looks like when you don’t draw people. You may also possibly know how to spell the word “chiaroscuro” without having to look it up (well, I almost spelled it correctly in the first draft of this article. But the spellchecker soon pointed out my arrogant hubris).

– You’ve used, and abandoned, at least one or two different art mediums- before finding the right one for you.

– You know what you don’t know, and you know exactly how you would learn these things… when you eventually get round to it.

– You can call yourself “an artist” without feeling too embarrassed.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Can Art Skills Atrophy? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Can Art skills atrophy article sketch

Although this is an article about artistic skills and art practice, I’m going to have to start by talking about my webcomics and about computer games for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Even though my “Damania Reappears” webcomic mini series will be appearing here every night for another week or so, I’ve already got started on the next comic – this will be a horror comedy comic (featuring the characters from my mini series) called “Zombies Again!”. Expect to see it begin about a week and a half before Halloween.

Anyway, when I was making the second page of this comic, I included a call-back to one of my other comics from 2015. This was one of the comics that I made when I got back into making comics occasionally after a long comic hiatus in 2014.

The shocking thing was that when I compared my comic page from 2015 to my one from this year, I noticed that the old comic had much better shading. I took a look at the other B&W comics I’d made this year, and the same was true for them too. I had actually got worse at drawing in black and white, even though most of my art starts out as a B&W drawing before I add paint.

Although, I could explain it by saying that I took more time with the comics I made in 2015 – this didn’t discount the fact that my upcoming Halloween comic contained some fairly basic contrast errors (which I later had to correct in MS Paint after I scanned the relevant pages). These were the kinds of basic mistakes that I just wouldn’t have made in 2015 – since I’d have paid much closer attention to the number and position of blank, shaded and dark areas in each panel.

Of course, back in late 2014 and early-mid 2015, I was absolutely fascinated by black & white drawing. I practiced a lot and considered it to be one of the “coolest” ways to make art.

Then, in late 2015, I discovered the joys of limited palette painting – this had all of the advantages of B&W drawing, but it resulted in even cooler-looking paintings. So, naturally, I started focusing on this instead – in fact, the majority of my more recent paintings use a limited palette of just four watercolour pencils.

I guess that returning to black and white drawing again is sort of like returning to the “basic” version of a computer game after you’ve got completely used to playing a particular fan-made modification for it.

Presciently, I actually had this exact experience shortly before starting my upcoming Halloween comic. I’d been using a mod called “Brutal Doom” for “Doom II” quite often for the past few weeks, only to play a fan-made level that was designed for the original un-modified version of “Doom II”. Suddenly, I found that I wasn’t quite as good at playing a game that I usually consider myself to be fairly good at.

So, have I lost these skills? Is it even possible to lose skills through a lack of practice?

Personally, I’d say probably not. Whilst it is true that skills tend to recede into the background if they aren’t practiced regularly, I’d hardly say that these skills are lost. They might temporarily degrade slightly, but you just need to take some time to re-acquaint yourself with them.

Not to mention that, although you might not instantly be as good as you were – you will still probably be much better than someone who has never practised these skills. After all, you’ll probably still remember something.

To use yet another personal example, I produced relatively little art in 2011. When I finally decided to practice every day in 2012, my art looked fairly similar to my art from 2011. I hadn’t exactly got better, but I didn’t really get any worse either.

Of course, this probably all depends on how long you have spent away from a particular skill – and your reasons for not practicing it. One thing that probably helps with skill retention is to keep practicing related skills whenever possible.

For example, although I’m not as good at black & white drawing as I was last year – my practice at painting and other types of drawing have meant that my actual drawing skills haven’t stagnated or degraded, even though I’m not as good at the techical aspects of creating striking black & white images as I used to be.

Likewise, although I seem to be less eager to write fiction than I was five or six years ago, I was still able to write an interactive story last Halloween within the space of about five days. Although my writing style hadn’t really improved much, the fact that I practice non-fiction writing (eg: these articles) every day, meant that writing large amounts of fiction in a relatively short time didn’t seem like the large task that it might have done if I’d given up writing altogether for the past few years.

Even with other skills, I haven’t lost everything. Whenever I’ve picked up a guitar after years of not practicing, I’ve found that I can still actually remember and play a few of the many things I learnt when I was a teenager (eg: the intro to both Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” and Iron Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark” seem to be permanantly imprinted onto my brain).

So, if you’re going to be abandoning a particular skill for a while – then it can be a good idea to practice related skills wherever possible. But, even if you don’t, you probably won’t forget everything.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂