Take it for what it's worth: my (worthless) advice to other writers



- Worm was a great serial

- Wildbow was a fucking fantastic writer


As a writer, you will be deluged with competing desires. You'll want it to be good. You'll want the audience to love it. You'll want your peers to be impressed. You'll want lots of reviews. You'll want people commenting enthusiastically on each update. You'll want people talking not just to you, but to other people about every post you make, speculating on what will happen next, maybe even being inspired themselves. You won't want all these things at the same level, and you won't want them to the same degree as everyone else, but I'm pretty sure you'll want them.

And there will be other people who want specific things out of your work. And if they don't get those things, they'll either try to convince you to provide them, or they'll ignore you as someone who isn't giving them what they want, or they'll actively campaign against you because this is the Internet and that's what people on the Internet do.

And all of those things will come together to attack you. You will struggle with each one:

And the worst thing to do is to get to the point where you decide the best course of action is to not write at all. Part of getting good is forcing yourself to risk being bad in public.

So as a writer, the most important thing you have to do is push all those competing desires aside and focus on one question, and one question only. And that question is as follows:

See, there's tension there. Over time, at least in a best-case scenario for writers, you as writer get to choose the story you want to tell, choose the way you want to tell it, and convince the audience you were right, and the tension goes down. Over time is the important part there. But it doesn't happen if you allow yourself to be intimidated out of telling the story you want to tell, because when that happens you start down the path of trying to meet expectations first, and the danger of doing that is that it's a pretty short jump from that to pandering, at which point you will find yourself less and less able to actually take a risk when you tell a story.


It's a risk. It can be minimized if you're willing to put in the work, be self-aware, think through the things you go through, but it will always be a risk, and will probably wind up being a bigger risk the better and more successful you get. But it's also the thing that will make you better.

So: always tell the story you want to tell, even if you're the only one. And the only time you should ever stop telling the story is if you decide you don't want to tell it any more.

(While we're at it, don't confuse the momentary emotions of discouragement and frustration with the belief that you don't want to tell the story any more. Right this very minute, I do not want to finish Issue 24 because I'm very frustrated and it's pissing me off. But the truth is, I actually really DO want to finish Issue 24, I just don't want to feel this frustration, and part of my brain is trying to convince me that if I gave up the story I wouldn't have to feel the frustration any more. You can be your own worst enemy sometimes. Tell yourself to do something rude, either metaphorically or metaphysically, keep calm, and write on.)

OK, sorry for the interruption. Hopefully this helps me write on. If it helps anyone else write on, that's absolutely fantastic.

Wonderful. You have just hit nearly all of my insecurities.

Not the one about Bow, he is just too lovable. But I can forgive that because, well, I'm nice.

The constant reminder that I do want to tell this story is what keeps me going when the doubts come for me, but its hard. And it is nice to know that we are not unique special snowflakes. Our problems are shared problems, among many of us it seems.

So thank you, for putting this out there.

Like I recently told Temp in chat - if you're doubting yourself, think of poor little me who is doing all of this IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. You guys have it so easy. :)

If "The Preamble" comes after "The Ramble", shouldn't it be "POST-Amble?" haha, just kidding.

Dude, you got some serious soul searching going on... and it's really cool.

I appreciate you giving words of solid advice and encouragement, which very well may offset any discouraged authors thinking about giving up after reading my post... (which is totally not what I was going for, but in hindsight realized might have happened). You're saving me from myself. You're Batman, and I'm Two-Face...

I myself will carefully consider your advice for writers, (no doubt I will find myself in that place soon.)

Good luck finishing issue 24!

In the spirit of your advice to keep writing "despite the emotions", I leave you with this brief scene from Runaway Bride; the part when Gill finds out that Maggie never had a rose tattoo...

IKE - "...I think the man is heartbroken."

MAGGIE - "He is not!"

GILL - "I think I am."

Gill grabs his guitar and sits.

GILL - "Hey, Ike, what would Jerry do?"

IKE - "Jerry. He'd play. He'd play... Jerry

would play his heart out."

It's good to see these thoughts because they do highlight the shared creative experience. The key I always hear is tell the story you want to read, so, yeah, you're spot on in that, that's what I think you have to boil into your drive. Otherwise you get hung up on whether or not you're original, whether or not you compare to writer so-and-so, or whether or not you're liked.

What's kind of neat (terrifying) to me is how these insecurities spread across all creative fields. Because, in addition to writing, I used to draw and play with music stuff a lot. For artists of all types, style seems to draw a more immediate crowd. I think considering something like Wildbow's work is a natural draw toward what's been proven, so the instinct is to compare yourself to another's ideas and quirks. But that person's style got started with them because they made something new that worked. So I try to focus on the content, on the characters and the plot. Somewhen someone told me that style is what happens when we make mistakes that we embrace. Maybe the readers will like it, but if they don't then maybe find new ones. Like you said you need a certain arrogance, otherwise you die changing out your core.

And I think that's why it's important to just follow the mantra of write often-write well. Get experience, get confidence, but the other key is in what you said: Risk being bad in public so that you get feedback as well. You say a writer isn't in a vacuum, but it can be easy to create one for yourself. But if you use critique to develop and improve I think you'll pass some plane of self-contained assurance.

So by all means, keep going, but maybe fiddle with side projects too. Heck, some writers leave their favored works for years because they need the distance. Consistency is key, but quality suffers if you don't like what you're doing.

@ubersoft -- this is very WORTHWHILE advice to any writer. It is one of the best topics anyone has ever contributed to WFG, in my opinion, and the shortage of comments almost fits because what else needs to be said? Write because you want to write -- the rest will take care of itself.

Thank you for saying it.

I had a think about this and wanted to add a little something of my own. It's a bit personal so forgive me if I ramble.

If you're anything like me, this never goes away, no matter how much success you achieve. You have to be prepared to carry it. It's all part of something I refer to as 'the fear.' The anxiety of never being good enough to fill that hole, the hole of not only wanting to be heard but wanting to have your words mean something to others, even if it's just a few hours of entertainment.

No matter how many nice reviews I get on stuff I create, it's never enough. It'll make me feel good and put the fear away for a bit, but then it comes back, triggering an addictive need for more to make it go away again. But no writer gets a constant stream of good reviews 24 hours a day. Even if I did, I'd spend more time reading those than I would writing. I might never write again. Because writing is terrifying. It's a constant weight of judgment -- I've reached the point where I believe in myself enough, where I'm convinced I can make things that are consistently good, but... What if? What if I spend all that time and effort overcoming these demons, only for my worst fears to come true? What if a fickle audience will judge me harshly despite what I think is good, or worse, won't care? It's so much easier to run away and just bury your head in the sand. Sometimes the urge to run and hide gets overwhelming and you have to step away.

And then, if you're anything like me, you come back to it every time. You can't stay away. You have to tell stories, and you're not satisfied with leaving a string of abandoned, unfinished dreams behind you. It may take years, but somehow, you knuckle down and hammer out every last word you've got inside you. Then comes the most terrifying part, but you've come this far, and you're sure as hell not going to let all that blood, sweat and tears rot away in a desk drawer or a dusty corner of your hard drive. So you put it out there one way or another and hope that this one will make the fear go away.

It doesn't, not for good, but that's okay. You've let the fear pass over and through you. Where it has gone there will be nothing. Only you will remain.

The reviews are intoxicating, but it's a fleeting high. It won't be there all the time. You can chase it, but you'll ruin yourself in the process. All you can do is hold fast and know that if it mattered to no one else, it mattered to you.

I relate a ton to that experience Ryan.

I'm confident enough in my writing that hitting the Publish button is a hurdle, rather than an impossible obstacle, and I don't think that'll change. But I'm pretty much always anxiously awaiting some revelation that I'm no good and should not be doing this at all. I have this latent, irrational fear that someone will just hit me so critically that I won't be able to go on. I have an anxiety disorder (among other things) so that only makes this worse. But every time I manage to hit Publish because despite everything, I want to keep doing this so bad. I can't imagine a life without some writing going on.

I've got a lot of inertia built up lately, it's not like when I began and had to climb that mountain without tools every time. I've gotten some validation since, and that helps. But what's helped more is that I have a huge personal desire to do this.

I don't think it's totally wrong to do things for external validation. But it's a lot harder, and probably a lot more painful unless you become hot stuff overnight. I've been at this for close to two years now and I'm still not even lukewarm stuff.

Dennis: It's not wrong, no. Hell, it's something I still do, even well past that self-destructive point (because anxiety disorders ahoy). But I've gotten better at pulling back from it, and if I have a message, that's what it is. You can't fight it, so accept it, and try to roll with yourself.

The string of projects I've got behind me has helped me feel more confident and more credible in people's eyes. Occasionally, when I send my writing CV over to a prospective new job, they'll sound impressed, and my query letters almost never get ignored anymore. Those are the kinds of thoughts and achievements that actually feel strengthening, rather than just propping up the anxieties. That's why it's important to keep seeing your stuff through to the end, because that's what will ultimately help the most.

Thank you for the advice. I will definitely keep all of this in mind. It also reminded me why I don't read the more popular stuff. I don't want to compare my writing to them and get upset that their not as popular. Just focus on me, my story, and my readers.

Wildbow's discussed having these very same thoughts. Its often refferred to as "imposters syndrome" where you feel like an imposter in your field. The fear that someone is going to discover that you're just faking it, and someones going to figure it out. Its VERY common with artists of any stripe (and lets not have the, are authors artists fight again, please). Personally, there was a time frame that if someone DIDN'T exhibit signs of that kind of fear, was always positive upbeat and proactively unhumble about their art, i auotomatically distrusted it and them. To worry that your art isn't good enough means, not that you feel like a failure (though you often do) but that you feel like YOU CAN DO BETTER! and you can. AFTER PRACTICING more. which is what your current art is, practice for the next art. which is practice for the next.

So keep plugging away. And chris, yes... worm is better written than curveball. I'll say it, the pig has some chops, is better with the written word than you or I (for now). BUT.... when I see curveball pop up in my rss feed, I dance for fucking joy in my seat in a way that no worm update ever made me feel. I like Curveball more than I like Worm. Its more enjoyable to me to read, and when people who are unaware of the existence of serial hero fiction express interest, i link them to, in order, Curveball, Legion, SuperPowered, Worm.

I keep sitting down to write something, only to be intimidated and walk away. Let's see if things stick this time.

(Just realized the irony of that, since your post is at least in part about authorial inspiration.)

Ubersoft, this is all good, well-expressed advice. I think it's very important that authors write what they want to write, not just because it leads to better serials, but because it leads to a greater diversity of serials.

As fun as it is to use Wildbow as a punching bag ("It really isn't!" Wildbow yelled, while getting punched (We're not even really using him as a punchbag I just desperately wanted to make that joke)), his serials merely represent merely one way of looking at the world -- one way of depicting it in fictional form. It's a well-told view of the world, sure. But it shouldn't be the only one people pay attention to. It's not one that's going to resonate with everyone, and even the people who like it aren't going to have every bit of their being satisfied by a single serial(ist).

What I'm getting at is genre diversity. Genre diversity is honestly one of the most important things a medium can have. It's what allows for greater authorial freedom, sure. But it's also what allows a medium to reach the widest readership. Comics, for instance, are doing better than they have been in a long, long time. One of the reasons for that is companies like Image, who are putting out a kaleidoscopic selection of comics. As with everything, there's a type of serial out there for everyone -- if a writer doesn't write that type of serial, we end up with a potential group of readers, lost.

Web serials are so primed for genre diversity. They don't have to deal with corporations who are afraid of stories with an offbeat, individualized point of view. That's kind of what I'm trying to get at when I talk about "quintessential web serials." The authors of quintessential web serials utilize one of the medium's greatest advantages -- freedom -- and use it to tell stories that ONLY they can tell. Stone Burners, Nowhere Island University, The Other Kind of Roommate, Tales of MU. These stories are f***ing weird, man. They HAD to come from the Internet. These authors told the story they wanted to tell, and they did it in a way that only a niche-y internet could hope to support.

(There's a long discussion to be had about why I'm not sure about putting Wildbow's stuff on that list. In short: his stories are one-off, obviously, but their success -- along with the way they've been imitated -- makes them feel less weird.)

There are some ways in which web serials aren't very diverse at all (a lot of superhero stuff, very little non-genre stuff, etc), but I think that'll change as the medium gets older. The best we can do to help things out is tell our own stories -- ones which will grab the interest of pockets of readers. More and more stories get out there for more and more types of people. The medium as a whole sees more fans, and by extension more authors. Things grow and grow, until web serials become the next big thing.

And it all starts by writers following your advice. It all starts by writing what you want to write, ignoring the voice inside your head that tells you you're not good enough. It all starts by writing the damn serial.

Just wanted to jump in to say I've appreciated the comments in here and found the follow-ups extreme thought provoking. I haven't been replying because I'm still trying to get Issue 24 out, because it is currently an albatross hung around my neck and I'm busy wandering the earth and all that other Coleridgey stuff.

Words, words, everywhere,

and not a key to type