I have some questions I'd like to put to the forum members (or anyone else stopping by) on how any of you deal with writer-ly doubt in your projects and any sources of doubt that have occurred for you thus far.
Since about January of this year, I've been seriously thinking about dropping my current serial and/or walking away from the whole Web Fiction writing gig. I don't want to do so, as I feel that over the last two-to-three years I've learned a lot, grown a bit, and continue to try and get better at this whole thing. Writing has been in my blood since I was a kid and I sincerely want to continue this whole thing with the hopes of continuing to get better. Its always been my desire to meet new people, learn from those who are willing to share, and contribute in some meager or meaningful way to a group of fellow readers/writers.
Have any of you here had any of your own doubts about your work, about the medium (Web Fiction), about achieving any kind of success (self-publishing or what-have-you)? Have you hit any stumbling blocks in your work that made you spend long hours of the night wondering if you should give up? Did you listen to those voices, or if you continued to fight against it all, what made you want to keep going?
I started the serial I'm working on about five years ago. It started when I saw a magazine was taking submissions and I thought I might as well give it a shot. The catch was that the genre for the submissions was an obscure kind of fantasy (at least obscure to me) that I was never really a fan of; Swords & Sorcery. I had written my fair share of horror stories, some literary stories, and some science-fiction before. I dabbled a bit with high fantasy stories but I always felt that a lot of works in the genre borrowed too much from Tolkien. I had to dilute my fantasy with other genres (like Herbert's Dune series, as an example).
I definitely wasn't a fan of the Conan, the Barbarian, kind of stuff. The idea of muscled protagonists in loincloths or red-haired women in chain-mail bikinis always threw me off. Yet, this was precisely what the magazine catered to. Instead of tossing out the submission offer like I had done with so many others that fell outside my comfort zone, I decided to take it all as a challenge. I would force myself to write in a genre I had neglected or didn't really like. I would go back and read the classics, make copious notes about tropes, then do my best to write something new that tried to hearken back to the old pulp stories while turning all of those tropes on their head.
Oddly enough, as I started to get into the whole thing, I started to realize that maybe all these stories about barbarians fighting evil sorcerers wasn't that bad after all. I still preferred my protagonists fully-clothed, but the gonzo post-apocalyptic feel of the stories had a lot of fun to it. It reminded me of being a kid and playing Dungeons & Dragons once more (I still play D&D, but I'm more of a Planescape-type and Ravenloft-type than a Dark Suns-type). I ended up getting really attached to an idea mentioned in the Elric of Melnibone stories by Michael Moorcock; the idea of a world that was destined to be doomed, where segments of the populace knew the world would end, and there was absolutely nothing they could do to stop it.
Anyway, I'll jump past all the boring stuff and get to the point with this section: I wrote up five mini stories and sent them in. Nothing happened; the magazine folded up shortly after my submission. I was disheartened, and threw the printed-out manuscripts in a bin, deleted all my old work, and forgot about the thing for a few years. At work, during down-time or breaks, I started to find myself drawing maps and jotting down notes about the setting of the stories I had written, previously. Something was bubbling out of me and making me want to go back to those stories. I tried to ignore the whole thing for some time until I kept having dreams about the setting.
It wasn't long until I spent my light hours at work and most of my free time writing out new ideas in the stories I had already written. I decided to turn each of the flash fictions into short stories. I submitted the first of the short stories to a contest to see if there was any validity to the idea. It didn't win the contest, but it did get an honorable mention. I got some strong feedback from well-known published authors that said the idea was strong and the reason it didn't win was because it was best served as a ongoing saga rather than a series of short stories.
I'd never written a saga before, and the most I'd ever written for a full-fiction project was novella-sized, so this was going to be a harsh learning experience. I managed to extrapolate the five stories into five books, but there were voices in my head (characters, not a schizoid episode, at least that I'm aware) that demanded to build it further. That's when I became aware of Web Fiction and Web Serials, specifically by checking out this very site. I read the works of Wildbow (Worm, Pact, and early portions of Twig) and realized that maybe I could adapt this idea to a serial format.
No, I didn't ever expect to be the next Wildbow or anything like that. I just wanted to get the ideas out of my head and see if I could actually learn enough discipline to keep going on such a large project. I didn't think of this thing as a magnum opus or anything like that (I still don't). I just wanted to get it done as an experiment, learn new things, get to know new people, and see if this whole thing was viable. I could bring any skills I learned back to writing in my comfort zone of novellas, short stories, game sourcebooks, and the occasional neglected novel manuscript. I wanted to write a story that I hadn't seen before as a reader. I wanted to write a story that I as a reader would enjoy. I wanted to see if anyone else out there wanted the same things, or if I had to learn the hard way that I will always have to write for others sensibilities, no-matter-what. I also had the anarchistic punk desire to go nuts with the project and make it as over-the-top in world-building as I could, to fight against all the restraints I usually had to deal with concerning short story, game sourcebook, and larger work submissions. No one was here telling me to keep things to a set word-count, no one was here telling me to cut whole swaths of a manuscript down, no one was telling me what voice I had to keep things to for a specific audience. This was my play-ground, and I wanted to see if anyone else felt the same.
What was it like when you first started your web fiction or web serial project? What motivated you to start what you're currently working on? Did you anticipate success or were you just happy to get the ideas out into the world? Were you one of those people who got immediate success with your work or did you have to weather a long period of quiet before the readers started flooding in? Are you one of those authors who still struggles to get an audience, and if you are, what keeps you going?
Learning the Hard Way
When I first started translating my project to a Web Serial, I was pretty naive and still trying to figure out how everything worked. Posting work live was overwhelming as I was used to writing behind the scenes and only submitting full, complete, and edited works. I spent a lot of time reading up on the forums here to learn how other people did their stuff. I had talked with some people about what kind of pitfalls might happen concerning audiences. I was also somewhat aware of the drama that can be caused between other writers or strong reader personalities given the social atmosphere of everything.
I had dealt with my fair share of arrogant, drama-hungry, and overbearing personalities online before from having to deal writing submissions, with other forums, and simply existing on social media like Facebook for so long. I had my deal of twitter and FB wars with other writers, especially on anthology projects. It would always start with one arrogant person who thought they were the best, crapping all over the newer writers or those what were unsure of their abilities. I hoped beyond hope that I wouldn't face the same kind of thing with a Web Serial, but I was paranoid just in case something like that happened. Despite my attempts at awareness, I ended up strapping on a red hood, slathered myself in barbecue sauce, and walked right into the open maw of the beast.
I don't want to get into any particulars or dredge up demons I'd rather remain exorcised (they aren't, but I can try and fool myself into thinking they are), but a lot of intense events happened in the first few months of getting my serial published online and then listed. The trolls I could deal with; the directed attacks were a bit more than I could handle at that time. I ended up getting really defensive and seeing everyone as a possible attacker. I didn't trust a single nice thing anyone said about my work because for each decent review, comment, or PM, there were tonnes more that were outright attacks.
All I wanted at this time was to learn from other authors and get a handle on the ropes. I tried reaching out to some people and what I received was either polite dismissal, or outright hostility. I tried to remain as open as I could to constructive criticism from those who were willing to give it, but I soon learned the hard way that even comments that seemed like criticism could be veiled attacks or trolls. I found this out by checking some forums to find that people I thought were posting legitimate criticism were talking with others and enjoying the idea of, "Driving this noob from the community."
There was some good amongst the bad, however. There were some heartfelt comments in the early days from some genuine readers and other writers. People did send me warnings about who was malicious and who wasn't, but a lot weren't willing to commit to help me because they saw me as a 'marked figure' who would be taken out soon. I remember actually having to walk away from my computer crying when I received a comment from a reader telling me that my serial helped him get through a serious depression. He was at his wit's end dealing with a severe illness and was planning to end his life, the simple act of having a story there that he was into, that was updated regularly, gave him to the hope to keep going and eventually start his own serial. It meant a lot, but I often wonder if he would have been better served reading someone else like Wildbow rather than my slop.
Negative events and concerted attacks continued on for an entire year. People were spreading rumors about me here and elsewhere. I knew of only one strong personality I dealt with that was hostile to me, but pretty soon it felt like everyone else was out to get me. The enjoyment of writing stopped. My scheduled releases ended. I soon learned to hate the project I worked on and felt completely alienated from everyone else here or elsewhere online. In that, the jerks I had to deal with had won their own petty victories.
I didn't realize until several months after I got listed here, just how concerted the efforts of a small group of people were and how far their reach was. Some of the events were pretty serious and no one told me about them until way after the fact. I ended up having to hear from third parties on other sites about stuff that was happening here at WFG and on TWF. To this day I'm treated as a pariah on here and my votes for my story on TWF are totally screwed up because of the concerted effort of two malicious individuals who tried to game the system to get me gone. I wasn't even contacted to find out what was going on. I had to learn about all of this months after the fact from someone who was willing to inform me of who they were and how they were getting away with what they were getting away with. When someone tells you point-blank in a PM that they will use their connections and community clout to, "Do everything they can to destroy you. Make everyone hate your online name and your work." Things get pretty serious.
I don't want to get into the whole thing, but it has definitely made me untrusting of other writers on here and elsewhere. It's led me to seeing only the worst in people and watching for constant threats now. It led me to having a row with another writer recently because I thought they were acting in the same way. I was mistaken, and I sincerely wish to put everything behind me, but I still feel like I'm being held to account for things I didn't do. (I'm fine with being held to account for what I did do, and I do seek reparations if I can for those mistakes I make.) I'm still living in the shadow that others have cast for me and no one seems willing to actually talk to me about anything or get to know me for who I actually am.
What do you do when obstacles affect your writing? Are you one who gets bouts of writers block, and if you do how do you get out of them? How open are you to outside criticism from readers or fellow authors? Have any of you had to do full revisions of your work? Did you post any revisions on here in the forums and what kind of advice did you get? What are the benefits and drawbacks of revision or rewrites that you've seen so far?
Trying to Start Over
I did several re-writes and revisions on my project after the first year of writing online. I realized that I don't have control over whatever people might concoct about me or how they react to me in any way. The only thing I have control over is my work and who I am. I decided to use whatever criticism I was given to make the project stronger. I tried to reach out to those few who were willing to give me the time of day, to get input and assistance.
What started as a way to try and turn things around for the better, ended up turning into half a year of being stuck in Revision Hell as I tore through my project and eviscerated it all. The anger and frustration I had at my situation bled into the writing and I ended up destroying whole reams of the story. I got lost, became overly critical, and wasn't content with what I put up. I would post and then pull whole sections of whole stories. Nothing was decent enough to exist online. The worst part of it all was that I was blinded in my own rage towards myself and my work that I didn't pay attention to those who did come by to leave comments, reviews, support, and help.
I was still in the mindset that those who attacked me earlier still were doing so, or if they were gone they would return at any moment. I didn't realize they had already banked on their maliciousness and moved forward with their projects. I was still stuck living in the refuse and rubble they contributed to, but now I was the one causing my own destruction, all the more. Heartfelt comments from readers got removed when I torched whole sections of my story. Reviews were rendered meaningless when I pulled work just as fast as it was posted. Eventually, I did the thing that no writer should ever do, and that was alienate their own readership. The comments and reviews dried up because people thought that they shouldn't even bother. My release schedule became erratic and people gave up. The damage was done.
A lot of fellow writers on here make threads for 'post-mortems' for their serials -- these being a thread to showcase benchmarks in readership, struggles they went through, successes they achieved, and lessons they learned -- do these threads help others or have you posted your own here? What keeps you going at the end of the day with your own projects? Is it your own stubborn drive toward creativity, or is it the readership you have? Do you feel you need support of any kind in your work to keep going and where do you get that kind of support?
The Only Way Out is Through
I remember Neil Gaiman mentioning the title to this section when he was asked a question about hardship in writing or life in general. That's where I'm at so far. For the last ten months I've pulled myself out of Revision Hell and decided to force my way through another iteration of my project.
I can honestly say that I don't get as much enjoyment out of writing as I used to. I still get enjoyment from writing in the more traditional way (non-Web Fiction) as I did so many years ago, but the thought of working on Web Fiction makes me snarl and want to walk away most days. The earlier rush of posting something up and waiting to see what readers think of it is gone. I've become cynical and pessimistic towards any idea of joining a group of fellow writers to get support, input, and to learn new things. I don't have any attachments to my project, to any given website I might contribute to, or to any ideal of success that I might ever achieve.
Honestly, I've given up on any kind of success or accomplishment from this entire endeavor. I see myself more working out of habit and stubbornness than anything else. I do my best to keep my resentments in check as much as I'm able, but I don't hope for anything. I anticipate the worst case scenarios, prepare for maliciousness from others, and am genuinely surprised those rare times people aren't jerks for the sake of being jerks.
Those few that can offer some kind of kindness, I am genuinely humbled and overwhelmed by, now. A supportive review, a single comment, or someone clicking on a button to subscribe to the work (on whatever outlet its on) means the world to me. I honestly try to strive forward with the project just for those rare few who might actually read the damn thing. I feel obligated to them to continue, and some days that's enough to get me to sit down at the computer and hammer out another 10K words. Just as often though, I find the act of writing online to be completely awful. The ideas I have will never stop, and I can say for the last two years I haven't had a single bout of writer's block at all, but the act of sitting at the computer to write for a Web Serial is like grinding gears.
It's a weekly occurrence that I find myself hovering the mouse over the ability to delete all my work and desperately wanting to click that button. I can only see the desire to continue writing as one of obligation to whatever readers I might have rather than of genuine passion to create something meaningful. I feel like the last few years have been wasted and for that I have just as much anger and seething resentment for myself as I do for those less-than-pleasant individuals I've come across in that time. I still get to live in the slander they created for me, without the ability to even apologize or seek reparations for those real mistakes I actually did make.
I know when criticism is real and when it isn't now, at least I've learned that the hard way. I take every bit of criticism I can and try to slowly integrate it into the project I'm working on to -- hopefully -- make it better. Those critical reviews I get, I appreciate. Those supportive reviews I get, I treasure. Some days, that's enough to get through, and others it simply isn't.
I don't see a light at the end of this tunnel. Every hard-won step forward I seem to push toward, all it takes is one face-less person somewhere else to wipe it all way and set me back at the start-line. No one I try to reach out to seems interested in either a new acquaintance, a new friend, or someone to talk the shit with. I send messages asking for guidance and they manage to find their way into the delete bin despite their neglect.
The journey on this project now feels like walking through an open field that is filled with invisible brick walls every few inches. I'm tired of smacking my head on brick walls. I don't even know if I've covered any distance or if I'm still stuck in the same place as I started.
Would it be better just to give up? Would you in my position? Have you given up on projects before and what did it take for you to do so?
I'm interested in knowing what kind of hardships everyone else faces here and what you all do to get through them. If you have any advice for myself or anyone else here, please share it if you have the time or in the desire to do so. We all have our hardships, our doubts, and our own problems.
At the same time, please feel free to share your successes as well and if you're able to show how you came by them. What kinds of changes you did with your project and how it benefited your work or your own frame of mind.
All that I ask is that you don't mention names of specific people, groups, or sites. It would be best that we can all learn from each other constructively and not bring any kind of drama to this thread.
Thank you for giving this a read if you did, and for participating below if you have the inclination to do so.