February 15, 2021

Feelings After I Finished

Michael J. Farlow

When this topic was posed to me, I had mixed thoughts, given I write in both fiction and non-fiction. My first book was a non-fiction book about leadership, Leaders are Made Not Born: 40 Simple Skills to Make You the Leader You Want to Be. That book was eight years in development, mostly because too many other things in life slowed writing down. I had a forty-one-page outline and a PhD in Organizational Leadership when I finally devoted myself to finishing it. At that point, it was relatively easy to do, and when it was published, I was grateful that it was, at long last, finished. So, my feeling was relief. Then, I said to myself, what next?

By that time, I had started reading science fiction at a prodigious rate. I also had degrees in science and engineering and said, why not write one of those? So, I started writing a science fiction series. Little did I know how different and difficult that would be. My first attempt was at the 30, 000 word point when I went to my first writing workshop— sponsored by NYT Best Selling author, Bob Mayer. I learned that I didn’t know much about writing fiction. So, I went home and dumped the 30,000 words, and started over.

After that, I wrote the first three books in less than a year, unedited. Then I found a great development editor who promptly tore them apart one by one. I felt stupid. I thought I had learned enough going to several workshops. But no. I thought my education and my extensive reading would get me though with relative ease. But no. I even thought at that point I could write to a schedule and be quick. But again, no.

When I was done (in my opinion), I released all three at the same time. That was really dumb, especially since Bob said that after he had written his first book, he decided not to publish and, instead, take on the next one using what he learned from the first. That’s why he told our writing class to put your first book in a drawer, leave it there and start another. But I was impatient and went ahead anyway. So, when I essentially finished my first fiction effort, I can say I was relieved. Partly because I had finally finished them, but more so because I was glad the torment was over. It was hard work for me. When the books came out, I regretted not taking Bob’s advice. I didn’t like the way I told the stories. In essence, I felt like a failure and could do better. I tried to do too much too soon.

I was happier with the next two books in the series because I was finally getting the hang of things. I was even seeing good reviews! When I look inward now, I realize how much I learned and how much I still must learn. I realized, for example, how important characters are to the enjoyment and success of a fiction book. Within those characters, I was struck by how important emotions are for each character individually and as an integrated group — even in a technology-heavy genre such as science fiction. Several years removed from those first efforts I am glad for what I have learned and how much more I have to offer. This includes my books and my appreciation of people in general.

The fun and challenging part of fiction writing, after you learn the basics, is finding out what your limits are and then how far you can push them. Several years away from my first fiction book, I now see my work as a success. Certainly, a success for me and, I hope, a success and a work of enjoyment to readers as each book unfolds. The stories get better as I get better at life.

I think my next book, Crucible: Records of the Argos, which comes out on February 16, even shows my willingness to step away from some traditional writing norms as I gain more confidence in what I write and how I write it. In this book, for example, I am playing with different ways to use first person, which some purists may not like. The contents of the book come from interesting elements of other books I have read, as well as my desire to use fewer but more diverse and interesting characters while taking a few steps away from my first series, The Host Saga. It is still hard work, but it is also starting to be fun—a long way from when I started.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, Mike was a career naval officer, decorated combat pilot, and served in senior positions on staff in Washington, D.C. Following his military service, he embarked on a career as an aerospace systems engineer and executive with several Fortune 500 companies.

Mike’s passion for writing, developed throughout his career and in his doctoral studies, resulted in his writing an award-winning non-fiction book, Leaders Are Made Not Born. That writing and publishing experience fueled Mike’s desire to try his hand at writing fiction. Multiple award-winning books later, he still finds fiction writing a constant challenge.

When he’s not writing, Mike spends as much time as possible saltwater fishing in Texas and Panama with his wife, Lynne.


  1. Thank you Mike for sharing with us today about your writing and your newest book, Crucible. I especially enjoyed your comment about, "The fun and challenging part of fiction writing, after you learn the basics, is finding out what your limits are and then how far you can push them."

    One of the fun things in our writing as we grow is pushing the limits.

  2. It's funny how we don't even know what we don't know when we first start writing. It takes year of writing to realize that. :-)