As I may have mentioned several (hundred) times, I have many plates I’m juggling, with a fair amount on each of them. Today, we’re going to talk about one plate in particular: Fan Fiction.
With two days of my week devoted to writing fan fiction, and regular weekly updates on multiple stories, I’ve had several people ask how on earth I manage to update so regularly on certain stories (while others take shudderingly long times, I’ll confess). Apart from my unnaturally quick writing, my highly-organized notes and outlines, I have one other secret.
This is not your teacher’s definition of pre-writing. In English classes, pre-writing is the outlining, brainstorming, organizational process that precedes the drafting process. Prewriting in this context is more akin to the drafting process. In order to understand what my definition of prewriting can mean, let’s first take a look at what it doesn’t mean.
The Write-and-Post: NOT Prewriting
This is the method I employed for YEARS, exclusively. Write a chapter, and when it’s finished, you post it right away. Don’t edit. Don’t read over again. Just stick it up and start the next one.
This worked pretty well for me at first for a number of reasons. For one, I only had a few stories for a long time, and did more reading than writing. I didn’t have to be as organized about my update structure. Also, because I write quickly and with minimal noticeable errors, I didn’t feel the need to schedule or edit. While I’ve acted as a beta, I’ve never used one.
This is a good system if you can count on yourself to write quickly, to avoid massive errors, and to have only a few stories. When you’ve got ten or more stories in progress, DON’T use this method. If it takes you more than a week to write a chapter – whatever your chapter length – DON’T use this method. And if you’re writing in your second language or you know you make LOTS of spelling/grammar/organizational errors, DON’T use this method. For the sake of your readers.
The Write-and-Edit: NOT Prewriting
This is a method many people employ. You write a chapter, you edit a chapter (or have a beta edit it), and you post the chapter as soon as changes have been made. Some eager beavers have two betas, so it goes through three sets of eyes before it’s posted.
This is a method I’ve never employed, but it works well for a lot of people, particularly those with limited stories, quick writing, but either poor English/conventions or a desire for perfectionism. If you work quickly, have fewer than ten stories in circulation, and you want a polished product posted the first time around, this could be the method for you.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of things cooking, DON’T use this method. Especially if you use a different beta for each story. That would get messy and time-consuming. If you write slowly, DON’T use this method, as you’re adding a step and may lose your beta partway through a project. And if you already have very good grammar/English/usage/spelling, you probably should go beta-free, stick to your own once-over before posting. It’ll be a lot quicker than waiting on someone else’s schedule.
The Write-and-Schedule: NOT Prewriting
This is the method a lot of people employ, and the method I use for most stories, these days. This is a good thing to do if you have multiple – even many – stories to juggle, and if you can write quickly. I prefer weekly, but a lot of people do weekly, biweekly, or even monthly updates on their stories. Have two stories? Write a chapter of each through the week. Edit if you have time. Maybe even use a beta. Update both on your scheduled day of the week (often weekends, but it depends on your schedule). Have twenty stories? Update at least a story a week, but maybe have them on monthly rotations, so that each week you update five stories. Get six or seven chapters done in a week? Schedule five for this week, and put two forward for next week.
This method is great for flexibility. You can make this work around any number of stories, and is better if you write quickly. Remember, this is around YOUR writing, not writing to a schedule. So if you have those twenty stories and you only get three done in one week, you only post three that week. Maybe you’ll be able to write eight chapters the next week, but maybe you’ll have to be flexible on actually hitting your targets. Life might keep you from updating the ideal, and I find some weeks I only update two stories, while other weeks I can update four or five. That means some months, Craving Comfort has weekly updates, and some months I don’t update it at all.
This works more smoothly if you either write quickly, have a lot of free time on your hands, don’t have a lot of stories, or don’t rely on a beta, but you can use this method for pretty much any circumstances, if you’re not too bothered by not having frequent updates.
The Schedule-and-Write: NOT Prewriting
Let’s say you have three stories, and you post weekly, on Saturdays. You know you have to finish a chapter for each story before Saturday. In a crunch from a busy week? You don’t go to bed until all three are up on Saturday – or you let readers down and skip that week. Lots of time on your hands from a open week or quick writing? Use the time to edit the pieces so they’re ready to roll first thing Saturday and you can start writing the next set of chapters.
Monthly updates with eight stories? Same deal, except you can say that you MUST post X and Y stories on the first Saturday of each month, Z and A stories on the second, etc. You get the picture. Don’t get both X and Y done that first week? You can either hold Y until the next month, or you can squeeze Y, Z, and A into that second week. Your choice. Readers prefer option two, but if that’s something that’s not practical for you, stick with what works for you.
You could also have twenty stories and say, “I will post five chapters this weekend. Any five chapters I have, whichever stories I’ve worked on.” That means some might get put off, say if you’re struggling to write a certain story at the moment, but if you keep a calendar, jot down what you’ve posted and when, so you can try to even it out when you’re ready to work on the shelved story later. This version of the method works best if you’re not worried about highly-regular updates for all stories.
This is a good method if you need deadlines. It’s also good if you can set realistic deadlines for yourself. If you write quickly, for example, maybe a daily posting schedule isn’t a big deal. If you’re juggling thirty stories, though, sticking even one of those on a daily schedule can throw monkey wrenches in all of them, so measure your writing speed, your editing needs, and your story load before you draw up your schedule.
The Write-Store-Splurge: Prewriting
Finally, we’re on to the prewriting methods! This is one I used in the early days of my Amy & Sirius stories, notably all through Cat & Mouse. The way this works is you write out a story entirely, you post the first chapter once you’ve written every chapter, and as you get reviews, you post another chapter. With this story, I posted for EVERY review I got. It encourages reviews and keeps the story flowing, but it makes the story go quickly.
There’s another important lesson I learned during this project. I had all of the second part, Deceptions & White Lies, and a large chunk of the third part prewritten, and then someone BROKE my USB flash drive. And I hadn’t backed it up.
Long story short, that particular project is semi-shelved, and I poke at updating it once in a while as I work on other projects, but I never feel like what I’ve got is good enough compared with what I had.
Here’s my number one piece of advice with prewriting: ALWAYS BACK IT UP. Frequently. In multiple places. I do monthly backup of all my files to Google Drive and OneDrive. Use whatever methods work for you, whatever schedule makes sense for your writing, but do it at least once a month and in at least one location. I do two, because I’ve been burned so badly. I also invested in a larger, sturdier USB Flash. Don’t get a cheap or cute one if you store your life on something. Its a minimum of 200 dollars to repair a snapped one. Paying twenty extra bucks now could save you hundreds and headaches later.
The Write-and-Store-and-Valve: Prewriting
This can be done in two ways. One is prewriting a whole story, like I did for my Amy & Sirius, or prewriting a large chunk and continuing to prewrite as you go, as I’ve done on other works. Both work, and it depends on what you want from the experience. But instead of giving it for every review, set a benchmark. Say, every five if you’ve got a story in its infancy of reviews, or every ten or twenty if you’ve got a popular piece.
You can also do this where you post when you hit five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred, etc. This means you don’t have to do it quite as frequently as you get to higher marks, and can encourage new readers to do every-chapter reviews instead of just reviewing at the end. I’ve even had people sign out and leave guest reviews on chapters they’ve already reviewed just to earn more content.
Downside? Sometimes you think a story will be more popular than it is. Sometimes, stories with lots of readers don’t get many reviews. You could end up having really slow updates for the amount of prewriting you’ve done. This is okay if you’re patient and have other irons in the fire, but if you’re impatient (like me) or you only have a story or two going, you might spend a lot of time pulling your hair and twiddling your thumbs, waiting.
The Write-and-Store-and-Schedule: Prewriting
Here we have a method where you write as much as you desire – either in chunks or all at once – and you release on a schedule. This is a very common method, where people may only write two or three chapters ahead, or have an entire prewritten story sitting in their files that they release weekly, monthly, daily… whatever they decide. I’m a fan of the weekly approach, and it’s a common method.
The great benefit of this is that you don’t have to wait for reader input, and you don’t have to explain when the next chapter is coming. Unless you are incapable of posting a certain week (and you can then double up as an apology the next week), they know exactly when to check their computers for an update. It’s great for those who don’t have a consistent reviewing base, and for those who have a lot of stories. You can stack up bunches of chapters for every story, and you can still be certain of regular updates on a particular schedule. The more stories you juggle, the more of a cushion of prewritten chapters you want to give yourself, just in case you lack motivation or time to write a certain story any given week.
The Write-and-Store-and-Mix: Prewriting
This is a blend of the last two methods, and what I use on my Unknowns and Against the Odds series’. Unknowns was a story designed for this from the get-go. The first part I wrote a large chunk of chapters for, posted on a Saturday, and said that I’d post weekly. HOWEVER, for every ten chapters I got in a week, I would post a bonus. Some weeks, no bonus is earned. Other weeks, I’ve given out as many as six bonus chapters. I’ve now posted not even halfway through Part Two, and I’m a couple of chapters into Part 3’s prewriting, with about 100 prewritten chapters.
When I completed prewriting Part Two, waiting on the verdict of whether I would write Part 3, I committed to this method on a story I’d already posted six chapters of, which was Against the Odds. I selected this because I already had a thorough outline of both parts, and because it had generated some interest lately. I posted Chapter 7 with the promise of this new method, and I’ve now posted up to Chapter 9 and am prewriting Chapter 13. It has yet to earn any bonus chapters, but as the story grows and becomes more interesting, I’m sure it will earn a bonus at some point. And once readers earn that first bonus, they learn ways to take advantage of the system when they get to areas where they desperately want to see what happens next.
The end of Unknowns Part 1, for example, when all the major plots came to a head over the span of a few hours, across several chapters, I got a huge influx of reviews in attempts to earn bonuses. The last few weeks in Part 2, with the story in the fourth Harry Potter book, I had several bonuses a week as readers try to get to the plot points they know are coming and are desperate to see.
This is a great method if you want to give the fans rewards for interaction, but you don’t want to sacrifice the benefits of regularly scheduled chapters for moving along a story to the most interesting plot points. This is especially useful in the early part of a story, where things can sometimes take a while to build up reader interest. The downside to this is that you want to have a sizable backlog of chapters to draw on, because I’ve had to post as often as daily, or even multiple times in a day to grant rewards. This works well for me, because I can prewrite anywhere from three to five chapters on a good day, and when I’m on a roll sometimes I prewrite as much as thirty chapters in a week, but this kind of uncertainty might not be for you, especially if you choose to prewrite in chunks instead of writing a whole story first.
A Few Further Notes
- You may want to switch over to prewriting slowly, one story at a time, especially if you’ve got a lot of stories on your plate. Trying to start the prewriting process (whichever one you choose) with a couple dozen stories at once might be enough to make you give up before you’ve begun. As with anything new, baby steps.
- How am I prewriting two stories at once? Simple. For every segment of this post I’ve written, I’ve alternated between a task on Unknowns (usually a POV section, of various lengths) and a task on Against the Odds (about 100 words at a time). I’m about 2/3 through one chapter, 1/3 through the other. I had about 700 words on each when I began this morning.
- I work in editing to my prewriting process, which I don’t do in my other posting. Before I put up either a scheduled or bonus chapter, I read it over once, word for word, and make any necessary changes before adding Author Notes. Sometimes it’s a missed comma or a spelling error, sometimes it’s adjusting a mistake I made early on that will cause inconsistencies in later chapters if not changed now. If you want to use a beta, you can send off chapters as you’ve written them so they’re ready to post as soon as you schedule/earn them.
- I’m taking the last methods to extremes with another story – which I won’t name yet – where I’ve outlined it, and I’m hand-writing the whole story. Then I’ll type the whole story. Then I’ll do the mixed-system posting. You can add as many layers of writing, rewriting, and editing to your prewriting as you want, but the more layers, the more prewritten chapters you want in your pocket before you start posting.