The Internet. It’s great, isn’t it? If you have a burning question or an opinion about something all you need to do is write it down and it takes but moments to share it with the whole world. Even better, thanks to the comments sections of websites you can share things and other people will tell you what THEY think about your valuable contributions.
In fan fiction those comments are reviews and they’re dangerously addictive. If you’re like me, your motivation for writing can be split fairly evenly down the middle. Half being the pure motivation of wanting to tell a story with the characters you’ve grown to love… and the other half being that you want people to tell you how awesome you are for writing such an amazing story.
So I’m an egotist. Your point?
Anyways, with these dual motivations kicking me in the pants every time I sit down to write ANYTHING you can imagine how difficult it is to finish something and not IMMEDIATELY turn around and post it so people can continue feeding my scary ego RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT! And why not? It’s just fan fiction, right? People aren’t going to care if there’s a few typos here and there or if you’ve used the wrong ‘its’ or if there’s a few unresolved plot lines, or if you’ve rushed a scene or—
You get my point. It’s fan fiction. There’s no gatekeepers so you can simply publish your amazing story and people can appreciate it typos, plot holes and all.
But are you doing yourself justice? Are you doing your writing and the story justice?
Fast, Cheap and Good. In business there’s a belief that you can only get two of these things from a product. Your product may be fast to produce and it may be of good quality, but it certainly won’t be cheap. Or it could be cheap to produce and good quality but it won’t be fast. It’s a trade-off.
Fan fiction gives us similar choices with trade-offs albeit not with such a catchy little phrase (more’s the pity). We can write it quickly and post it quickly and it may show a lot of promise or take your characters in a new and interesting direction. It might even be good. But it won’t be great fan fiction. It’ll be on the way to being great but it’s not there yet. Great fan fiction take time, love and (ready for it?) effort.
You don’t see professional authors dashing off stories before giving them a cursory glance and shoving them out the door for their audience to admire. Something happens between that first stage of writing that story and posting it for the masses to enjoy.
That something is called editing.
Though I talked about typos up there, that’s not really what I’m talking about here. Simply reading through your story a few times before posting it should fix any typos and grammatical errors right up. What I’m talking about is that important process whereby, once you finish writing you set it aside for a day or so and come back to it with one question in mind: ‘How can I make this better?’
It may be that what you’ve written is absolutely perfect in every way possible. But that’s extremely rare. If you’re like the rest of us mere mortals you’ll always find something. A line of dialogue that sounds awkward, a sub plot that never got resolved, a character saying or doing something they’d never say, a paragraph that’s sitting in the middle of nowhere. Or perhaps you’ll see where you can enhance a scene by writing a bit more character development or a chance to incorporate something you just didn’t have time for while you were in your writing frenzy the first time. Maybe on your second pass you’ll see the need to rearrange some parts of your story- move that part there, move this part here and the like.
This editing process allows you to do some incredible things with your story that you just wouldn’t be able to do otherwise (unless you’re a superhero— if you are can you tell me your secrets?). It gives you a chance to go beyond a superficial story and create something with themes and subtext and meaning. Something that will stay in your reader’s minds for much longer than a shallow, one-dimensional story. Think about the books and fan fiction that you’ve read that you’ve truly enjoyed and have thought about afterwards. What do they all have in common?
I’m betting that they gave your mind something to chew on for the next day or so. They asked a difficult question or had an underlying theme or had characters do something that delved into the grey area between right and wrong. Stories like that don’t just happen. They take time and craft and careful consideration. They take editing.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve done exactly what I’m counselling you not to do. I’ve written something- given it a cursory glance to fix up any spelling and grammar errors and posted with a feeling of glee.
I’ve then gone back and read what I’ve written a year or so later… and cringed. Or lamented. Because hindsight is 20/20 and I can see places where I’ve rushed things that shouldn’t have been rushed. Or I’ve missed a chance to hammer home the theme of the story because I was too busy pushing the plot forward. Or something happens that really has no place happening in the story (I tend to write my way into things so where my stories begin is normally radically different from where they end). These are the small things that turn your story from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Those little things that give your story depth are the difference between a story that makes you smile or one that makes you laugh. One that makes you feel sorry for a character or one that makes you cry along with them.
So take a day or two. Save that story you’ve just written and bask in the afterglow of inspiration (You know the one I’m talking about. The one that tells you that what you’ve just written is without a doubt the best thing ever written in the history of the world ever).
After you’ve come back down to reality and are ready to look at your story with an objective eye, open up the document again and make it better. Turn it from something that your readers will enjoy to something that they will love. Give it depth and meaning. Delay that gratification and improve yourself. Improve your story and improve your writing.
I know that the lure of simply posting straight away is strong but I’m begging you, as an avid reader, please set it aside. I’ve read so many stories that were good but could have been great if only they hadn’t been thrown into the world prematurely. Love your stories. Make them the best they can be before sharing them.
In Summary (The TL;DR version)
Look Instant Gratification in the eye, then kick it in the balls. Write and then edit a few days later. Your writing will be better, your reviews will be better and you will look back on your writing with pride instead of that slightly embarrassed feeling that accompanies the knowledge that you didn’t do your best.