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In which I hand-wring over my fanfic.

Stone & Sky
So here's the thing. I absolutely got into writing fanfic as practice for writing "real" fic, by which I mean something original and novel-length that I would attempt to get published. I've talked about this before, but even though writing has been one of my major hobbies my entire life, I've spent most of that time deliberately avoiding putting any sort of pressure on myself over it. I wrote in spare moments: in free periods at school, on my lunch break, when I just had an afternoon with nothing to do and ideas in my head. The goal was always to someday write a novel, but that day was vaguely in the future, and I never attempted any sort of disciplined pursuit of that goal because I was afraid that being disciplined about my writing would suck the joy from it. I hated everything I ever wrote for school on a deadline.

I also resisted anyone ever calling me a "writer," partly out of that fear but mostly because growing up pretty much every single time I told someone I wanted to be a mathematician or astrophysicist, they responded with "Are you sure? But you love to read/write so much! Wouldn't the humanities be a better fit?" And I (rightly, I think) judged that that was sexism, that that was the world pushing me into a more suitably feminine career, so I held even tighter to my science dreams. Science was supposed to be what I did for a career, and writing was supposed to be my beloved hobby that was stress relief from that career.

Then of course I had to give up on the science career, and over the past several years of unemployment I've started feeling hopeless about ever having any sort of "career" at all -- I just want a job that pays much fucking bills and provides me some financial security, and even that's feeling out of reach.

I was raised with a fair amount of classism and intellectual snobbery, so the prospect of blue-collar/service work for the rest of my life kind of terrifies me. I feel like that would be a failure, a disappointment to my family. But I always had the prospect of my writing to cling to -- service work while writing novels that don't sell (but are traditionally published) and which are "smart" and progressive and actually reflect my inner life *would be* the sort of life I could be proud of. So I've been trying to take writing more seriously, approach it more like a skill I need to develop rather than just a thing I do while I'm bored or inspired.

So: fanfic. Because I know I can do characters but I always get so bogged down in world-building that I never get to the point where I learn how to do plot, and because of that I never actually *finish* anything. And the first step in getting something published is to finish it, yes?

I picked a fandom I felt confident I could write in (MCU/Avengers), then deliberately designed a project that I thought would help build my confidence: lots of small stories which I could write in any order but which would build to one big story. That's my Just As They Wished It To Be 'verse. And in terms of learning to finish things, my decision to write fanfic has been a wild success. I've posted 30 complete fics to my AO3 account since January of last year; prior to that I had completed exactly one short story that was not some sort of assignment, and I doubt it was much more than 1,000 words.

But I really only envisioned myself writing fanfic for a year or two, at least as my primary writing focus. And yet I'm within sight of the end of year two of this experiment and I've barely made any progress on the JATWITB 'verse. I've posted ten fics to it, but only one of them actually advances the "plot" such as it is; only one of them is long enough to have any plot of its own at all. And I'm feeling simultaneously like writing anything at all is getting harder for me, and like nothing I write is actually making me better at any of the things I really needed to get better at (plot again, primarily).

So I've been examining my plans for the 'verse, trying to figure out if there's any way to accelerate my progress on it. These are the "big" fics that the 'verse really needs for me to feel like it's something approaching complete, complete with word counts pulled out of my ass:

  • Finish Slow Ripening Fruit (~10,000 more words)

  • Rhodey/Tony get-together fic, set during Tony's sophomore year with flashbacks to the summer (~10,000 words)

  • Rhodey/Tony BDSM negotiation fic, theoretically spanning at least the first decade of their relationship (~20,000 words)

  • Rhodey/Tony post-college relationship negotiation fic, probably also including the death of Tony's parents (~10,000 words)

  • Pepper/Tony pre-Iron Man fic with a focus on a renegotiation of the Rhodey/Tony relationship (~5,000 words)

  • Pepper/Tony post-Iron Man 2 fic that actually focuses on Pepper/Tony (>5,000 words)

  • Rhodey/Tony post-Iron Man 2 road trip fic that gets their relationship really solid for the first time since college (~10,000 words)

  • Clint & Tony post-Avengers friendship and hurt/comfort fic that parallels the Natasha & Tony fic More Blood Than Water (~1,000 words)

  • Clint/Natasha/Tony soulbond fic with background Pepper/Tony (~20,000 words)

  • Rhodey/Steve fic that is also a sequel to the soulbond fic (I have no clue how long this would have to be, but probably even longer than the soulbond fic because it also has to do some Clint/Tony stuff and reconcile Rhodey to the Clint/Natasha/Tony relationship)

That's like 100,000 words. For context, I've posted just over 30,000 words in the 'verse over the past almost-two years, only 14,000 of which are plot-advancing like all of these words would have to be. And this prospective total doesn't include the several other PWPs that I had initially planned, which aren't necessary per-se, but which I had intended to use to fill out details that would probably otherwise be lost. (Like a two-chapter corset fic that was going to make the set-up for the Pepper/Tony fic easier, and a Christine/Tony fic that was going to make Tony's characterization make more sense overall.) It's also not counting the fact that when I'm in certain moods, all I want to write is fluff, and I had planned on leaving space for random one-off fluff pieces in the 'verse just to satisfy those moods. And my initial ideas also included a really awesome Bruce/Tony kinkmeme prompt and a whole separate kinky watersports subplot. At my current pace, I'd be writing this 'verse for the next decade to get through all of that.

That's. . . really intimidating, and I've spent all of this year feeling more and more like I will never be able to do it. I don't want to be writing this 'verse for that long; hell, I don't know that I want to be writing it for even *one* more year. So I've been turning over the idea, this past few weeks, of significantly reducing the scope of the 'verse. The Rhodey/Tony roadtrip fic would actually make a reasonable stopping point, and I could chuck the entire post-Avengers section. I've only written one fic (the Natasha & Tony one) set in that section, and it stands alone well enough that I could remove it from the series if I wanted. There's a really good arc to the 'verse if I stop after the roadtrip fic -- it would really become a 'verse focused just on Rhodey/Tony then, which both pleases me (because it's neater) and disappoints me (because part of my initial impetus in writing this particular story was to do some messy polyamory, with relationships going all sorts of directions at varying levels of commitment, the sort of polyamory I pretty much never see in fic).

But the thing is. . . last year I tried writing the soulbond fic for polybigbang. I got stuck and didn't finish, but I wrote over 5,000 words on it and I *like* those words, and I like the outline I actually got far enough along to plan out. I do not want to give up on them. And that fic is also the only one in all my plans that has *real* plot, with things like action and mystery instead of just relationship development. (There's a chance there would be real plot in the post-college relationship negotiation fic too, but pretty much nowhere else.) I *need* to learn how to do plot before I can attempt an original novel. And polybigbang is starting up again right now, and I want to take part, but I don't have any other fic that I'm ready to write that would suit it (I haven't done any planning on the whole Pepper section of the timeline).

A big part of the reason this is stressing me out so much is that I feel like I *can't* spend that much more time writing just fanfic. I know writing is theoretically one of those fields you can get into at any age, but most new writers are still fairly young, and I'm already thirty. I feel like even though I've been writing all my life I'm way behind everyone else, because I spent so long resisting discipline and focus and just forcing myself to finish anything. Like I should have done all of this "practice" as a teenager, or at least in my twenties, so that by now I would have gone through all these growing pains, learned how to write longer-form stories, learned how to write plot, developed some speed at just getting words on the page. I feel like at this point I ought to be learning things like editing, how to leave a story alone long enough to come back at it with fresh eyes and throw things out that aren't working. How to work with someone else's input. I should be starting to look at the market, the whole business side of things.

So I just. . . I don't know what to do. There probably isn't a way to speed up my development as a writer. But I don't want to waste any more time -- I know no words are really wasted, as every single one is one more towards my eventual skill set, but there are still more or less efficient ways of building skill, and I feel like pretty much this entire year has been horribly inefficient. And I hate leaving things undone. So I know that next year I need to not sign up for as many (or any, really) fic exchanges; I know that I need to avoid writing ficlets unless I am completely blocked on everything that's a priority; I know I probably need to set a minimum-days-per-week of writing (I really don't think I can do every day, but at least four days a week might work).

But I do not know whether I need to chuck the back half of my 'verse in order to focus on actually finishing *some* sort of long-form arc, or if I should risk not finishing the 'verse overall but write the fics that I think seem most useful (the soulbond fic and its sequel) to my overall skill set. And, of course, there's the issue that one of the major draws of fanfic is immediate feedback and building a friendly audience. But the audience I've built thus far is mostly there for the Rhodey/Tony, and I would feel like I failed them if by focusing on the soulbond fic I never got around to the important beats in all the earlier Rhodey/Tony stuff. And I need to make this decision now, because now would be the time to work on the soulbond fic, so that it could be part of the big bang, which would potentially attract a new audience and give me the added reward of custom artwork for something I wrote.

Anybody have any thoughts?

ETA: Hell, anybody even want to read one of the stories I mentioned more than the others? I don't *only* write for feedback, but knowing that someone out there really wants to read something I'm planning definitely gives me more incentive to prioritize it.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
lanalucy
Aug. 21st, 2014 07:36 am (UTC)
I didn't write fiction of any kind once I was out of high school until late fall of 2012. I was 47 at the time, and had just fallen hardcore for Battlestar Galactica and Kara Thrace.

I'm not saying you should wait until you are in your late forties to start writing, but gods, you've got time.

I can't give you any advice really, but I write what I want - what I want to read, what the characters are saying in my head, what makes me happy. I don't have some long-term goal of making money at this; I write because I like to and it makes me happy when little else does (except babies of almost any variety). If someday I make money with my fiction, yay.

And I don't write when the characters aren't talking. As much as I'm a visual person in almost every other area of my life, I'm auditory with writing - I write what I hear.

I do have original fiction completed, partially written, jotted down in messy notes, and other stages of done. Like my fanfiction, I write when they start talking to me. Maybe that means some of it will never get done. I don't know.

Not sure any of that helps in any way, but it's my answer.

phoenixfalls
Aug. 21st, 2014 07:45 am (UTC)
Thanks -- it does help to hear that other people haven't been writing all along!

It isn't so much monetizing my writing that matters -- it's never quite been about that, which is why I resisted calling myself a "writer" for so long -- but it is really important to me to finish something novel-length and original. That's basically my entire bucket list -- I don't have any other life goals beyond that one. But I'd still like to do it sooner rather than later in the hopes that I *could* monetize it, or at least could garner enough other forms of rewards (publication, critical praise, hell, even just a moving fan letter or two) that I could write several novels. I have all these worlds and characters in my head, and I'd like to be able to capture some of them in the real world before I die.

It's just that the past almost-two years of writing fanfic have made me feel farther from that goal than I did before I started! I know I'm actually not -- I have been getting better as a writer all this time -- but now that I've made some serious attempts I see exactly how far away I am from that goal, and it's freaking me out a bit!
lanalucy
Aug. 21st, 2014 08:02 am (UTC)
Hmm. I think I can understand that. I had this idea for a fic, mostly PWP, thought I could write it in under 5k words, and went to town on it. A good bit into it, WAY more than 5k words, I realized to really write what I wanted to write, to give the character the growth I wanted, I was going to have to rewrite entire seasons of the show, and I completely lost it. *I can't write that. I'm not that imaginative. How am I supposed to write interesting things that are as good as the show was? What the frak was I thinking? I'll never get this done!*

Several months ago, I saw a piece of writing advice that made me realize I didn't have to write everything - I could just write the "beginning" of the story, and stop there. And if sometime down the road, I wanted to write more stories in the same verse, I could do that. The important thing was that I had that beginning. I had that first "season" written, and I could tie up some loose ends, flesh a few things out, cut some other things, and I was basically already done and just didn't know it.

So freak the fuck out and keep writing anyway. Maybe down the road a bit, you'll hit a point and realize you have always been closer than you thought you were.
phoenixfalls
Aug. 21st, 2014 08:39 am (UTC)
It's figuring out what I want to write that's giving me trouble. Because. . . I want to write all of it, and I want to write none of it. The story I want to write most is the roadtrip fic, but I *can't* write it yet because I haven't laid the groundwork. (I'm a very linear writer, if not chronologically at least emotionally.) After that it's probably a tie between the soulbond fic and Slow Ripening Fruit, because I've already written 5,000 words on each of them, but the next chapter of SRF is delicate in terms of consent issues so I'm scared of it, and I haven't touched the soulbond fic in a year so that part of my brain's a little rusty.

My entire goal in designing the 'verse the way I did was to give myself the freedom to just write what I felt like when I felt like it-- it's why it's supposed to be pretty much entirely stand-along fics -- but somehow that freedom has left me pretty much not writing any of it for all these months. *headdesk* And of course the longer I stay away from it, the more the anxiety grows. . .

I'll try to keep that "You don't have to write everything" advice in mind, but it's somehow not reassuring me tonight. I want to write everything! Or at least, the *important* bits. There's this great Criminal Minds 'verse I read that clearly had beginning pieces and end pieces but didn't have the important middle piece, and it's so frustrating to me as a reader that it appears to be abandoned. I don't want to be that writer! And given that the major stumbling block in my original writing has been never getting to the end of anything, it feels like a bad sign if I can't get to the end of this 'verse either, y'know?
lanalucy
Aug. 21st, 2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
Several friends of mine do an exercise to get them writing, which is to open up a book, any book, and start transcribing it. At some point, each of them says they stop typing what it says in the book and start typing whatever their brains are processing at the moment. Maybe it would help you to take the pressure off and just write unimportant things, or meta on how the relationships are going to work, or make an outline of what's NOT going to happen, or just write a journal entry (even if you keep it private) of a favorite childhood memory. Make up childhood memories for your characters.

I know the not finishing feeling, though. It's been months since I wrote more than a few sentences in my longfic, even after my epiphany a few months ago. I still need to finish that, but the muse/my characters aren't talking to me. So....

Good luck.
phoenixfalls
Aug. 22nd, 2014 08:10 am (UTC)
Thanks!

(I've never encountered that particular exercise before. . . odd, but worth a shot.)
bauble
Aug. 22nd, 2014 03:17 am (UTC)
I've written a couple of novel length stories, many novella length stories, and am looking to finish another 2 novels in the next year. All are fanfic, have been written in the last decade, and all have been valuable preparation for me to write my first original novel, which I anticipate will take several years.

I tell you this because I think it's important to understand that novels get written through discipline, focus, and habit. If you get into the habit of writing daily or almost daily, the wordcount adds up. There are challenges that can help you with that--I do MiniNanoWrimo every November and GetYourWordsOut every year.

There's also a lot of work that goes into novel writing that isn't about pounding a keyboard to produce sheer numbers of words. There's planning, character development, plotting, and immense amounts of editing. If you're getting stuck in longer writing projects, it may be that you need to take a step back and do more of the mental work (planning, etc) before sitting down to a keyboard.

It may be helpful for you to do Nanowrimo just to force yourself to produce and know you can commit and complete something within a limited amount of time. You can always trash it later if it's terrible, or edit it into something readable after.
phoenixfalls
Aug. 22nd, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
I've attempted NaNo several times, but the closest I've ever gotten to the completing it is just over 11,000 words. And I get too seduced by the planning stages -- that used to be pretty much the only thing I'd get done on writing projects, along with a page or two of actual text, because I love that aspect of things. It's why I turned to fanfic -- working in an already established world with already established characters (even if they're not terribly fleshed out) meant I had much less planning to do, so I couldn't distract myself with it instead of just putting words on the screen.

The thing that I just haven't found a way to get past is how fucking slowly I write. I just have some sort of mental block -- I'll know exactly what has to happen next, but I'll sit staring at the cursor unable to figure out how to say what happens next. It's like the story is somehow pre-verbal in my head, and I haven't figured out how to consistently bring it into the verbal part of my brain at a pace faster than like 100-200 words per hour. And that just isn't a reasonable pace for anything longer than a short story.

Sometimes I know it's a matter of focus -- I'm definitely guilty of distracting myself with the internet. But I've tried turning everything but the word processor and my music off, and occasionally that works but a lot of the time it just ramps up my anxiety and frustration and I end up needing to go do chores or something.

But yeah, discipline, focus, and habit are all things I know I could be doing better at. It's just a question of figuring out where, exactly, I can best aim those efforts for maximum effect. Like, is continuing to write short fics all over the place more helpful because it's more words overall, or do I need to buckle down and force myself to push through on a longer project, even if the total word count goes down as a result? Is it better to keep spreading my efforts out over a bunch of fandoms and characters to get more experience with different types/dynamics, or to focus more narrowly to get deeper into a few characters and one world?
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