Hi. I'm starting to approach my own long fic. And every fic I started in the past I ran out of steam. I want to finish some of them but cringe at my old writing style. How have you kept going with freight for three years?
Hi! First off, I want to say awesome! Long stories are some of the hardest to write, in my opinion, and I’m really proud of you for taking the plunge. Woo!
As for how I’ve kept going with Freight for the last three years, well–that’s kind of a tricky question to answer. I’ve grown so much as both a writer and a person since the original idea came popped into my head, and by extension my writing process has changed, too. There’s no quick fix or easy method to follow, I think, and tackling on a big project like Freight has definitely had it’s ups and downs. Everyone is different, so what I’ve found works for me might not work for you. But! That being said, I’ll try to outline some of the things I do/have done!
- I’ve started dozens of big writing projects, only to drop them halfway through. My old FF.net account is proof of that–about half of the unfinished stories I haven’t deleted over the years are still sitting dormant in various fandom archives. It’s a natural thing, I think–something every writer goes through. We jump into a story and hit the ground running, and then lose steam before we can get very far at all. When I first got the idea for Freight, I decided that I was really going to stick with the story, something I hadn’t been able to do with more than a few projects before. So, naturally, I did the exact opposite of what I thought I was supposed to do: I didn’t write.
- Yep, you read that right. Freight actually “started” in February-ish of 2013, but I didn’t put the first chapter down on paper (or the computer, really) until August. So what did I do in the meantime? I planned. I outlined the whole thing, scrapped that draft, and then outlined it all again. I think there are three separate versions floating around my apartment right now, actually. I started with a basic idea (zombie apocalypse), then built the frame for my characters (What are their family relationships? What are their skill sets? Which aspects of their personalities am I going to highlight?), and then crafted my setting. A lot of that initial work is handwritten, because I have an easier time visualizing things with charts and lists. Only after I’d finished the worldbuilding did I sit down and hammer out the plot, which I organized into arcs and built around a timeline.
- The arc frame and timeline are, for me, the most important parts of this whole process. They’re your skeleton, especially the arcs. I think one of the most daunting things about a big writing project is the sheer size of it. You can plan everything out, but as soon as you sit down to write the first few chapters you can get overwhelmed. With arcs, you have a very clear idea of what you need to do, and a very clear “end” in sight. You don’t have to think of your story as one big hulking mess, and instead can look at it in pieces. The timeline plays into that, too. You only have so many fictional days to fill with content, so you’re limiting the amount of pressure you put on yourself.
- Sitting down to write the first chapter was, I think, the hardest thing for me. You do all this planning and get everything finalized, and now you have to go through it from the beginning and actually, you know, make real words happen. I wrote three or four drafts of the first chapter and wasn’t happy with any of it, so I took a step back and reevaluated my process again. The way I decided to approach each chapter after that little setback was similar to how I approached the story as a whole: outline, break each chapter up into scenes or “mini-arcs”, and focus my attention on each so I wouldn’t try to move too fast or do too much. Focusing on smaller pieces of a whole also helps me keep the pacing of the entire story in check, because I’m forced to finish a complete sequence of events before moving on to another, and so on. You can’t jump around or skip large chunks of events, because you’re locked into that one scene.
- Research! Half the fun of building a world or writing dialogue or creating characters is getting into it all. If you’re invested in learning, you’ll be invested in writing. I once spent a week learning basic French grammar just to do four lines of dialogue for a character, and holy crap that was fun! Knowledge is empowering, and it can give you the push you need to move forward though uncertainty. (And you’ll never be without a conversation starter if your head is filled with random facts about post-harvest vegetable storage on organic farms.)
- Another thing that really helps me is music. This might sound kind of corny, but I love AMVs and movie trailers, so what I’ll do is find a few songs and listen to them while I’m driving or chilling. I’ll picture scenes based on how the music flows, or the lyrics, or the feel of the song itself. Hard dubstep like, say, “Into the Labrynth” by Kraddy? That’s going to be a battle scene. Each pounding bass drop is a swinging weapon, each lull in the melody is a pause in the action for dialogue, the big drop in the middle (around 3:00 I think) signals the rise of a new threat on top of the chaos. Soft acoustic like, maybe, “All I Want” by Stonefox? That’s a quiet morning, sun streaming through large windows; coffee steam and subtle glances and self-doubt. Watching someone else from a distance; exhaustion; resignation in the face of longing. You feel the change in the music, so you feel the movement of each scene. I spend almost as much time listening to music and planning things as I do writing stuff down, I think.
- I write every day. This might just be something I do because I want to write professionally–like, writing is pretty much my whole life right now. But I start with a quick writing exercise to warm up my creative juices and then set to work on whatever project I’m going to do for the day. Even if I don’t make it to the “real” writing because I get distracted or something happens, I’ve at least done something to stay in practice, and to stay in my mental “writing place” if that makes any sense. I’ve trained myself to expect that part of my daily routine, so actually sitting down to type the story out isn’t such a burden anymore. Writing exercises are also good if you’re not sure how to write a scene, a series of actions, a feeling, dialogue, or describe a character/setting. Isolate that thing, whatever it may be, and practice it. A few of my shorter stories are actually just writing exercises that I liked enough to put up on Ao3.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you get stuck. Writer’s block happens to everyone. What’s important is that you don’t dwell on it, and don’t let it suck you in. I deal with writer’s block by powering through and writing, writing, writing until stuff starts flowing the way I want it to, but don’t be afraid to take a break. Do something else for a week, write a one-shot or two (emphasis on one-shot; don’t start another big project if you’re stumped with something you’re seriously determined to finish–that will shift your focus, and that’s the opposite of what you want), or write a different part of the same story. Getting burned out sucks, but it happens. What’s important is that you don’t dwell on it.
- Settle into a “writing routine”. This will help you mentally. I already mentioned that I do warmups every time I write, but I also have a few other things that help me get in the zone. I drink two cups of coffee while I’m doing my warmup, and I have a pitcher of water that I’m constantly refilling a glass from while I work. I make the same sandwich every time I’m really pushing through (toast, pepper jack cheese, sliced avocado, lime juice, chili powder) if I need a short break. I sit in the same spot every time I write, I block tumblr on both Firefox and Chrome, etc, etc. This will help you fall into the groove faster, and make the process less painful.
- Don’t worry about what people are going to think of your story. I know sometimes getting no comments or only a few kudos on the first chapter can be discouraging, but remember to write for you and not anyone else. It’s easier said than done, definitely, but sometimes stuff like that takes time. Push through the self-doubt if you have to, and look at what you’re doing as means to improve your skills if you’re not getting the attention you want right now. The readers will come. Heck, if you send me your story, I’ll read it! It’s not always immediate, but it will happen.
- Have fun, homie. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. Write what you want. Write things that make you laugh, write things that make you cry. Put yourself into your story, and it will shine through. Your triumphs, your failures, your flaws, your achievements, your sense of humor–the whole nine yards. And if you do that, you won’t have to worry about losing motivation, because you’re doing what you love.
I hope this answers your question, or at least helps a little. I tried my best to cover most of the basis and include things I’ve learned over the years, and I might reblog this at some point if I think of anything else. Don’t hesitate to ask if you ever need help with anything.
I send all of my love and encouragement your way, and I’m really proud of you for taking on a big writing project! Good luck!! <3