A decade is a long time to be picking away at something. A decade and a half show serious commitment, or maybe it sprouts from something foul. Perhaps you’ve clung onto the years because of the dark whispers you hear in the back of your mind. I know I have. The Doubt Demon. His grasp can be firm and the struggle begins. He’d win some, and I’d win others.
I didn’t quite spend 15 years when it came to writing Mental Damnation. I completed a year before – take that Doubt Demon! Fourteen years later, the fourth and final novel in the Mental Damnation series is here. The journey has been one hell of a process. I’ll share with you how it all started and how I got into writing. The process involved the all-too-familiar Doubt Demon that all artists endure. In the case of writing, the old saying of “just keep writing,” said by many great writers, is too true.
The tale of Damnation’s creation that I will share with you is about persistence and just plain old stubbornness – for better or worse. It should help you avoid some of the mistakes that I made and encourage you to not fall victim to your Doubt Demon’s words. The Mental Damnation tetralogy is a long, non-linear process that I hope will be reassuring with your writing. I also don’t wish for you to take 14 years – or more – to complete the story. If you do, know that you’re not alone. We all fall victim to the Doubt Demon. So, to get to the origins of all of this, we need to go back many years.
Let’s jump into the Time Machine and Go Way… Way… Back to 1998
Mental Damnation is the story that made me want to pursue a writing career, starting professionally in 2012 with the first release, Reality. Eight years later, here we are with the fourth and final book. However, like most writers, my interest in writing did not start with the first book release. I’ve been writing for most of my life and the essence of Mental Damnation has been there. The story has encased my thoughts, ideas, and ultimately dictating what I did with my writing. The pros? It made me persistent. The cons? It caused me to act hastily and fueled the Doubt Demon’s power.
The Evil Seed
Since I was a kid, I have been writing stories and created a fantasy world in 1998, when I was eight years old. It started as a board game that I called The New Island of War, which had backstories to the game and characters. Eventually, the manual mutated into a full novel that I wrote at the age of 12. The book is precisely the type of terrible writing you’d expect from a 12-year-old. Because of that, it will never see the light of day. That novel did teach me about writing and world-building, and ultimately The New Island of War was the mother of Mental Damnation. Vazeleads, paladins, the Kingdom of Zingalg, and many other details originate from the story. For some reason, I held onto these concepts throughout my childhood. It was the initial flame for my writing. The same fire (or muse) that we all have when it comes to our craft. The power that makes the Doubt Demon quiver.
The New Island of War world began to evolve and change as I entered my teens. In these years, I wrote another horrendous manuscript– even worse than the first – and started to develop the character of Malpherities. Krista and Darkwing were established in The New Island of War world. The primary actors in the Mental Damnation storyline were born, fueling the flame.
The Doubt Demon hadn’t cast his net yet. During my childhood, I did the wise thing unknowingly and kept writing, no matter what. Being young and not published, I had the freedom to explore new ideas. Good concepts and terrible ones were all sprouting from my fingers. I didn’t look at it with a critical eye – a double-edged sword that polishes your work and feeds the Doubt Demon. If you haven’t published a book, embrace this time to write wild and write free.
Hopping back into the Time Machine and Going Forward
In 2006 the first manuscript of Mental Damnation was made. I’d written it during high school after sketching out a pencil illustration of Krista split between the real world and hell. She was part of this massive multi-story world I was forging, and I thought it would be interesting to create an origin story for her. The name Mental Damnation sketched above her, and it stuck.
While in math class, I continued to sketch out illustrations and plot the story. During evenings and weekends, I worked on the manuscript. The original story had about 193,000 words and took the characters on a completely different trajectory from where the story is today. The ever-burning flame kept the story and characters alive.
The Original Damnation
The first draft of Mental Damnation was going to be called A Plagued Heart and would be part of a trilogy. A Plagued Heart only had two copies printed at home and hand bound. They still exist today.
The second book, Sovereign Lust, was fully outlined chapter by chapter. Complimentary illustrations were ready to go. Thankfully, I never did complete that plot. The essence of the original three-part story did make it into the tetralogy of Mental Damnation seen in the conclusion and the subplots. I believed I had a golden story. A publisher would surely take this masterpiece. I’d start my writing career after graduating high school and be set for life. The world couldn’t touch me. Like all teenagers, I was invincible.
Thrown from the Throne
The dream-like fantasy was short-lived. I had shelved the concept of being a writer for years. The classic “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never make it, why bother?” began to fill my mind. There was an ever-present whispering skepticism in my actions. The Doubt Demon made himself known. He cast two spells:
- I was a teenage boy and began to concern myself about being cool, thinking about what other kids thought, so I didn’t take it seriously.
- I had submitted the original manuscript to some publishers. I heard back from one and it was rightfully so rejected. As an emotional teen, I took this way more to heart that I should have.
The Doubt Demon made his first attack. I decided the work wasn’t worth it, and I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. Near the end of high school, I wondered what the hell I was going to do with my life. I didn’t want to keep working retail, and I certainly wasn’t going to be a writer. After all, I got rejected, which was the end of everything. The Doubt Demon was victorious.
Resurrecting the Damned: Fast Forwarding to 2011
A year after I graduated from college, I was brought into the faculty and was teaching full-time at the school. Self-publishing was beginning to become a legitimate way of getting your work out there without dishing out thousands of dollars. The school was also a positive environment. A co-worker and good friend, and I were chatting about hobbies during a break. Naturally, writing came up. She was curious about what I wrote. I hadn’t touched writing since 2006. For some reason, I decided to share the book. Maybe it was that flame still going, even though I thought I had smothered it with the help of doubt. My friend happened to be the first person outside of my immediate family to read any of my writing. Slap that with the destructive thoughts of teenage me being rejected resulted in a poten potion of nervousness. Despite the Doubt Demon whispering those same old words, I sent the original A Plagued Heart manuscript to my friend. What did I have to lose? I was now a graphic designer. Writing was a silly thing in my past.
The next day, she said she found the book quite terrifying and was unable to finish reading it. She put her laptop in the freezer. I didn’t believe her. For context, Mental Damnation is heavily supernatural and demonic. My friend has a background in Wiccan. She told me she thought I had a story worth pursuing. These were encouraging words. Who knew talking about and sharing your work would be useful? Damn right it is. Share your work and talk about it. No one else is going to.
First Editions: 2012 to 2014
In the more recent history, Reality was the first book I ever released. The self-published manuscript had substantial revisions from the A Plagued Heart storyline. My editor was quite patient with me. I was so eager to get the book out there. I didn’t understand the number of errors it had, and I don’t think I wanted to.
Still, Reality came out in 2012. It happened to be one-third of the A Plagued Heart manuscript. The book was justifiably criticized for falling into narrative clichés and clearly showed the immaturity in my abilities to tell a story. The design and formatting screamed self-published (in the wrong way that gives self-publishing the stipulation it still has today).
I marched on and applied what readers told me with the release of Dream in early 2014. The new book was intended to be read without having prior knowledge of that first book Reality. The second installment of Mental Damnation was well received and reached the bestsellers list in Edmonton.
The third book, Fusion, followed in the fall if 2014. These three books made up only two-thirds of the original A Plagued Heart manuscript. The inner flame was burning for the story of Mental Damnation which was incomplete. With three years on my belt, I knew that the last third of A Plagued Heart was not right for the storyline anymore. I had grown wiser as a writer, writing and revising the manuscript every day. The persistent grind of the craft had proven justified.
The Break: 2015 to 2016
After the release of Fusion, I took a break from Mental Damnation. Three years of revising that old A Plagued Heart manuscript burnt me out. I needed to step away from the story. I was growing as a writer and began to conjure new stories I wanted to explore. Mental Damnation was shelved… again. Unlike last time, I continued to write. For NaNoWriMo of 2015, I wrote the horror novel Seed Me and, in 2016, the thriller YEGman.
After the release of Seed Me in the summer of 2016, I still felt that flame burning. Seed Me was my most successful launch to date. It won an award. The Doubt Demon’s power was dwindling. With my newfound writing knowledge, I decided to revisit Mental Damnation and finish the series once and for all. Boy, was I wrong.
I was sitting in a café with all three books of Mental Damnation with me, ready to work on the next novel in the series. I skimmed through the pages of each book, thinking I’d brush up on the storyline and the world. Instantly I started to identify the cliché narrative mistakes, plot holes, and a lot of redundant sentences. How did I not see these before? There is no way I could continue the series as is. At the café, I decided if I ever wanted to finish Mental Damnation, I had to go back and revise the story AGAIN.
Second Editions and the Finale: 2017 to 2020
Here I was, revising Mental Damnation again. I couldn’t help but think it was a waste of my time. I wasn’t sure if existing fans would be supportive. I was beginning to think I was just recycling old work. Maybe I was destined to re-release Mental Damnation forever, like some literary mutant offspring of the never-ending new Star Wars release editions. The Doubt Demon’s strength had risen.
I was wrong on all accounts. Fans were supportive and excited. My editors thought this was something new and fresh. During the revisions of Reality in 2016, the story came to life. I could clearly see the ending, and the narrator’s voice was bright. The years of constant writing were paying off. The loose ends, unclear subplots, and the central arch were all coming together. The conclusion was near. The Doubt Demon cried.
The second edition of Reality came out in the spring of 2017, followed by Dream in the fall. Fans loved the new story. The new branding also attracted new readers because the design of the books looked professional. Purity (renamed from Fusion) came out in the fall of 2018. Mental Damnation was on its way to being complete.
Yet, I took another detour in the spring of 2018. An opportunity came up that I couldn’t pass down. I met the creators of the Rutherford Manor universe at the Calgary Horror Con. Our conversation evolved into having me contribute to their world with a new novel. Wow. There was no way I could turn that down. I took a detour, and Mental Damnation sat shelved for the third time.
Unlike the previous two setbacks, this came from a place of positivity. There was no Doubt Demon. I wasn’t moping around, nor was I burnt out. I was driven. In 2018 NaNoWriMo, I wrote my contribution to the Rutherford Manor universe with the summer of 2019 release, The White Hand. The sequel Fire, Pain, & Ruin followed a year later.
During the two years of writing the Rutherford Manor books, I did not forget about Mental Damnation. The fire was there. The Doubt Demon was panicking to find new ways of attacking. I had grown as a writer, and fans wanted to know how the fantasy series ended. The incomplete plot burned in the back of my soul and was too much for the Doubt Demon. Mental Damnation was the story that got me started into writing as a kid, and it never had a conclusion. The story needed justice. The Doubt Demon was unsuccessful.
The Holy Words of Damnation
In January of 2019, once again, I took all three books of the Mental Damnation series and read them to make sure I understood every detail of this 13-year-old story. While reading the three books, I was outlining for book four. Then, I spotted a stylistic mistake. Passable, but it could be better. Then a room for improvement, and another. I thought, “imagine if I added some more foreshadowing in book 1”. I wanted to make revisions. The thought about third editions entered my mind. The second editions weren’t good enough. The Doubt Demon had found a new spell to cast.
I entered a new battle with the wicked Doubt Demon. His powers were multiplying. I felt helpless, forever trapped in this dance going back and forth. This manuscript would continue to mutate and evolve as I grew as a writer. I would forever see mistakes and room for improvement. Until the wise words of my college instructor returned. He said, “a project is never done. It is just due.”. Echos of similar quotes followed from Shawn Coyne in his book The Story Grid. He said you can either continue to work on the next great literary fiction, treating it like a lottery ticket, or you can keep writing and move on.
Yes. Of course. They were right. Mental Damnation was never going to end if I kept coming back to it. Self-publishing gave me the power to do so. The Doubt Demon was using that against me. That couldn’t happen. Mental Damnation needed to be finished so I could move on with my life and give readers the ending they deserve.
I locked the second editions in place, concluding that the first three books were written in stone as the holy words of Damnation. I needed to work with what these books had to offer and find a way to bring the story to a satisfying end. That was my job as a writer. It was time to put this old boy to rest. The Doubt Demon wailed in the agony of his defeat. He had no more tricks.
14 Years Later: Mortal
In the summer of 2019, I completed the first draft of Mortal while juggling Fire, Pain, & Ruin. I worked longer hours than I ever have. The flame was bright, casting out all shadows that the Doubt Demon would cower in, leaving him exposed in the light.
Now in 2020, the Mental Damnation storyline ends. I am beyond excited to get the story out into the world and share it with everyone who supported me over the 14-year journey. I hope that my tale of success, failure, and the many years of battling the Doubt Demon, will offer encouragement to you. Be persistent. Be stubborn.
As writers, our job is to keep writing stories. We all experience our form of a Doubt Demon. All artists do. They never go away. We come out victorious, and they will return with new whispering words and new spells. We must defeat them after every new trial they put us through, as is the natural life of a creative.
There’s no point in fixating on a single manuscript for years on end, listening to the Doubt Demon to the point where you’re unsatisfied with it and, even worse, quit writing entirely. Writers write. Everyone in the industry will tell you this, and I am here to tell you again. Don’t give up. Keep the flame alive and finish that story. If you need a break or need to take a detour, go for it. Just keep writing.