Essay on Fiction Writing & Writers
Fox Trot 9
If you write it, they will come.
—bandgeek13 (Wattpad user)
Write what you care about and understand. Writers should never try to outguess the marketplace in search of a salable idea; the simple truth is that all good books will eventually find a publisher if the writer tries hard enough, and a central secret to writing a good book is to write one that people like you will enjoy.
—Richard North Patterson
For any of you out there who has ever dared to post anything onto this site, you will definitely want to read this. I first wrote this essay for the FanFiction site and posted it onto my profile there. It caught on a little over there; I got a few messages saying that my essay was so damn true. But then I wondered about another site, FictionPress, thinking if that essay was equally applicable to writers of original fiction. As it turns out, it is. And by extension, it applies to Wattpad, as well.
But before I go on, let's take a look at the difference between writers of fanfiction and original fiction. The most important is that fanfiction writers write according to the constraints of a licensed work, while original fiction writers write according to their imaginations. Therefore, each requires a different standard to follow.
In fanfiction, you are given that standard in the work you base your story off of. And it even has a different vocabulary of terms from original fiction: OOC (out-of-character), IC (in-character) and AU (alternate universe) are terms you'll won't see too often in FictionPress, though Wattpad does have a section devoted to fanfiction. In original fiction, you have much more leeway. Your story can be whatever the hell you want it to be. This makes writing original fiction that much harder than fanfiction, because you have to do all the work with nothing to guide you except what you know. That's why I come to this site with the utmost respect for you guys. If it takes courage to write fanfiction, it takes twice that to write your own stories.
Also, I think fanfiction writers have it easier than you guys, because everyone in the FanFiction site knows what the hell everyone's talking about. Everyone who writes in the Naruto section (even the novice writer) knows who Naruto is. In original fiction, especially when you're a novice like me, nobody knows what you'll bring to the table, sometimes not even yourself. That makes it that much harder on you to provide the goods. It's kind of like traveling the straight and narrow path. In fanfiction, you write by the seat of your pants with two eyes open to the path. But in original fiction, you write blindfolded, groping along that path inch by excruciating inch. That's why I come here with high hopes but low expectations.
But in fanfiction and original fiction, there's one common denominator that drives us to post stories at all. Everyone dreams of writing a story that would be well-recognized—to have his or her story or author's profile faved left and right by the adoring masses of readers, to get a thousand or at least a hundred reviews for that story, even have that story featured in a community. Yes, we all aspire to get that type of recognition, and I'm not afraid to admit that it's a popularity game: I have ideas, I have stories, I have hopes. But the reality is this: few of us ever achieve such recognition. In fact, most of us fiction writers are underachievers. I think I'll have to forgo my pride and shamelessly market my stories to get a foothold here.
Now we get to the meat of this essay. This may seem like a crazy theory, but there is an invisible class system among the writers of fanfiction and original fiction. And it's not based on how many faves or story alerts you got. Oh no! In the moneyless world of FanFiction, FictionPress and Wattpad, the only "profit" to be made is in reviews. Now I'll be sane here; reviews are not everything. You got your family, you got your friends, you got your life to live. The world won't come to an end, because you didn't get a review on your story. But when you're in that seat jamming away at the keyboard and editing your story or chapter before it gets posted onto this site, reviews are the only thing you can hope for. The "money" is in the feedback.
And that leads to that invisible but ubiquitous class system of fiction writing. Now this class system is like any other class system you might see in the real world. You got the wealthy upper class (the ones who have hundreds, even thousands, of reviews/votes), you got the well-to-do middle class (the ones who have a hundred or more reviews/votes), you got the poor lower class (the ones who have less than a hundred), and then you got the "untouchable" failures (ones who have no reviews/votes for their stories).
In the world of "non-profit" fiction writing, writers are the "employees," and readers are the "employers" who pay the writer in reviews/votes. But there is a big review/vote gap here. In all three sites. Some writers are "best sellers," while most of us can hardly keep our heads above the water. Now why is that? I'll tell you. Readers are picky as hell; readers only read what they want to read. No matter how good it is, if the reader doesn't want to read it, chances are it's not gonna get reviewed or voted on. Now is that fair? Of course it is; many fiction readers are also fiction writers. But what does that mean for the aspiring fiction writer, especially for the novice? Now that is not so simple; but I'll try my best to explain.
When you post your first story onto this site, you have so many hopes for it to succeed. But so very few succeed on the first try; very few strike gold on the first try. But I know a few have; mytruthaboutlife from FanFiction struck gold on the first try, which is a glimmer of hope for most of us. Alas, for a lot of us it's just a hope that never blossoms into something more. But you keep trying; we all keep trying; I've been keeping at it for a few months now. But for a lot of us, the fiction writing world just isn't fair; I've found out that no matter how good I write, no matter how much work I put into it, I only get a few reviews per update. In fact on the FanFiction site, the most I got on any update is 8 reviews on the 8th installment of The Whitechapel Case, but that's only because I threatened to discontinue it after getting less than 4 reviews on any of the prior chapters. I wondered at this for a few months, but it wasn't until I posted the 15th installment of that story, that I finally knew why.
On that post, I introduced the leading lady of Ghost Hunt (Mai) in the mix, and I got more visitors (over 300 of them) and more hits (over 1000 of those) to that story in one day than I've ever got in all the stories I have combined. At first I was excited, but it wore off when I saw how many reviews I got from that update. Six reviews, can you believe that? As in six visitors who spared me their time to tell me what they thought of it. That's when I knew. Over 300 readers thought it was unworthy of their time to review and went on to read and review better ones. That's when I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I have failed to reach them; I have failed to move my readers. In other words, I have failed as a writer.
Now we come to the heart of this essay. But before I do, let me acknowledge those who may say, "Cheer up, Fox-Trot-9. At least you have a few reviewers; you've reached a few readers." I know that. The Whitechapel Case is not a failure. But I wouldn't call it a success either. In fact, for all the work I've put into that story (God, over 100,000 words now), it feels like a long drawn out torture that is failing ever so slowly. And I base this assessment solely on reviews (or lack thereof). But I have written failures, and I know they are failures—two of them, in fact. One was a sonnet for the Naruto section, which I deleted; the other is a crossover (not The Whitechapel Case; I'm still writing it, though it's getting pretty slow), which I discontinued. These failures have one thing in common; they got NO reviews! Zip, zero, nada!
Now I can't tell you the pain of deleting or discontinuing a story, because you're essentially admitting defeat, admitting failure. It decreases morale. I know every writer has this fear in varying degrees, even successful ones. And it usually comes in a question: "What if I fail?" or "What if I am failing?" or "What if I have failed?" or "What if I've lost the magic?" or "What if all I've been pumping out are just worthless pieces of crap, and I was just too stupid or too stubborn to realize that?" It's a horrible thought, something only a writer knows. It's a thought that creeps into my head whenever I write The Whitechapel Case on FanFiction. And it's even worse when I write this essay for FictionPress and Wattpad. I find myself blocked or second-guessing myself; I find myself thinking of what readers may say or think. Especially when it comes to writing in the faces of so many great stories glaring back at me. Believe it or not, I'm scared of writing this essay, let alone posting it. How much more for a story or a novel? Essentially, I find myself thinking of everything except the story itself.
That's when I realized I've been failing myself as a writer. I find myself thinking: "Who should I write for?" And it's been staring me in the face the whole time. I should be writing for myself, because I love writing stories. That's the only reason why I started posting on this site in the first place; and it's the only reason for me to continue posting, no matter how few reviews/votes I get. Fiction writers should write for themselves, because they love to write stories, not for reviews or votes. It's the story that carries you through the fits of jealousy and discouragement. I hope you guys will understand that.
A/N: Have a heart and review; I want to know what you guys think. And be freaking honest, please!