Specifically: “a standalone with series potential”. That, I learned, is what you should say on query letters when you have something bigger in mind but need to get a foot in the door with publishing.
The title is the TL;DR of this entire post, so if you decide to not read the rest then I won’t be offended. You can even skip to the end if you like.
I’d almost recommend it because this right here is a rambling post, one written to help me clear my thoughts as much as it is to set out an agenda. It went through a lot of edits as I angsted over how to make it snappier and easier to read, only to realise along the way that exploring my thought process and giving a bit of history along the way is part of the grand plan. Cutting it down lost too much.
In the end I settled on minor edits where essential to make myself sound less incoherent.
For example: There was this whole section in the intro taking the piss out of recipe blogs, but I took it out after realising it was too cliché. Then I wrote a whole new section talking about why I’d taken it out and why I felt the need to mention something that no one would ever read and why that was funny and… and…
Fuck it. Look, the last section of this post is a recipe name and I’m keeping it that way. You don’t need to know why and it doesn’t matter.
So, with that out of the way, let’s start on a vague trajectory towards the point.
‘Dinosaur’ isn’t a valid career choice
I won’t spout guff about how I’ve always wanted to be an author because that’s not true. Not exactly. While I have written on and off for most of my life, it never spoke to me as a career. Not because I didn’t love the idea, so much as being an author seemed far too vague. It seemed as realistic as my passion to become a dinosaur after watching The Land Before Time.
As an overachieving little shit of a child, I wanted to be a srs grown up with a srs career, and everyone knows that srs careers only come from srs studies with grades and certificates attached. For a long time I wanted to be a Business Woman.
“What sort of business, little Skele?”
“I don’t know. Businessy business.”
‘Writing’ didn’t fit the bill. I convinced myself that it was a stupid idea to entertain and I left it behind, just like I abandoned my dinosaur dreams. Which would’ve been fine if I’d had the first fucking clue of what career I actually wanted, or even the field it would be in. At least when I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a triceratops, the objectively best dinosaur.
Instead I trusted the educational system to steer me right and for process of elimination to provide the answers for me. I was precocious and intelligent: Surely I had the capacity to find something I was good at and could see through? Surely there was a pre-made mould just right for someone as special and great as me?
One by one, routes shut off while those available became less and less appealing. I went along the academic bread crumb trail in the hopes of stumbling into a clearing with a clue. Maybe given to me by a magical woodland creature, or something.
As is, nothing leapt out. Post-University and post-mental breakdowns, I bumble-fucked my way through a series of jobs finding nothing that stuck. The few branches that opened for me either lost my interest, burned me out, or I got scared by the level of commitment required and ran away. That could be a symptom of undiagnosed ADHD, it could be chronic depression and anxiety, it could be that I’m crap and not as smart as I thought I was, or it could be a result of the meat-grinder capitalist society we live in and the broken systems that support it. Maybe all of the above.
It’s a 🎀 𝓂𝓎𝓈𝓉𝑒𝓇𝓎 🎀.
The sad fact is that my lack of focus and commitment is also true of life outside of work. Writing has been a consistent hobby that I’ve fallen back to, had a blast doing, only to wake up after a period and find I felt nothing or was scared by the possibilities it opened. People who’ve been on this blog for long enough might remember that for a short time I had a Patreon to support my original writing endeavours while I was between jobs. It was good while it lasted, but when I finally got a job I sighed with relief. Not because I had financial security per se, but because it gave me an excuse to bow out of the writing thing with my honour in tact at a time when I had already started running away from it.
People who’ve followed me from Tumblr might remember that once upon a time I was a prolific writer. Then one day I stopped, set fire to the whole thing, and jumped ship.
For more evidence of this cycle, see my last post where I talk about streaming.
It sucks. It really fucking sucks, and I want to be open about facing my phobia of sincerely caring about something, and about how exhausting and self-defeating the fight to retain enthusiasm and energy can be.
Humble pie tastes gross, thanks
On the first draft of this post I gave specifics on my history with writing and the absolute brain freeze that occurred when I went to Uni and studied Creative Writing for my first year, but none of that is relevant. Not really. All you need to know is that I’ve written a few fanfics for this next part to make sense.
So: Start of this year I decided to stick my head into the Final Fantasy VII fandom on Ao3. Not the Remake, mind you, but the 1997 release. I don’t know what prompted me to do this given as the last fandom I’d been a part of was Undertale between 2015 – 2016 and I hadn’t touched FFVII since 2002.
I was blown away by the steady volume of fanfiction being produced. And the quality of the work. Like, holy shit. After some fishing around, the reason became clear: Many of these writers were like me. They had been there in the late 90s/early 00s and FFVII had had the same impact on their lives as it’d had on mine. Sure there were writers who were younger, or writers who’d discovered it long after its release, but it was very far removed from the sort of screaming flash-in-the-pan relevance-chasing of newer fandoms. It felt old and mature. Output was slow and thoughtful (and chock full of porn because, hey, fandoms).
Inspired by that (the quality of writing, not the porn. Okay… not just the porn), I decided to crack open some plot ideas I’d had fermenting in my head since 1997 to see if the me approaching 40 years old could do something the me approaching 15 years old would be proud of. I wasn’t expecting big numbers or much engagement on account of the fandom being much smaller and less hyped than others, but that wasn’t the point. This was something I wanted to do for myself.
A couple of months in I lost steam, but this wasn’t an open and shut case of me disconnecting yet again.
There were a few reasons. Coming down with COVID was one of them. Not fully gelling with the fan community who’d taken me in was another. They were all sweet and lovely people but I couldn’t keep up with the speed of conversations, the memes, and the timezone difference so I felt pretty isolated.
Another thing was how inadequate I felt. I swam into that established community feeling like King Shit having made waves in the Undertale fandom 6/7 years back, and I promptly drowned. I was a cocky fish in an ocean surrounded by whales: Immensely talented people with huge bodies of work, long-running participation in ‘zines, and actual honest-to-goodness legacies due to time spent within the fandom.
And because I lack a personality of my own and because I’m a spineless chameleon, I ended up writing and rewriting so much of what I did in an effort to better emulate the creatives in that community I admired.
I started to hate my style and I lost my voice without fully claiming anyone else’s. I ended up with patchwork monstrosities of chapters. Half would be written like author A, a third like author B, and the remaining like some bastardised blend of everyone else. Editing was awful. I hated what I was doing because it was completely inconsistent and lacking anything I could recognise myself in.
The final thing that did me in was something unexpected. While giving someone an overview of the story I was writing, I realised that this new fic had the exact same beats as every other fic I’ve written.
So not only was I not confident at writing fanfiction any more, but I didn’t even have any original ideas. Not only was I surrounded by phenomenal writers, but their rate of output and ease of taking in new ideas and juggling multiple sagas was utterly humbling. They could take a random wacky Discord prompt and produce art from it. And there I was: locked into the same cycles as I have been for decades, telling the same story I’ve always told. They wrote for the joy of writing. I wrote because I wanted to regurgitate the same shit I’d always regurgitated with a different setting and cast.
With that final gut punch, I stepped back.
Fanfic writing is underrated
Curious to understand what I was doing wrong while also looking for ways to overcome my shortcomings, I turned to online resources to better understand. This period was important for reasons I’ll get into in another post.
I learned a lot, chief of which was something I hadn’t really thought about before: That what makes a good fanfic isn’t necessarily the same as what makes a good book.
That might sound obvious, but it completely changed my perspective. The lazy assumption is that “fanfics are just self-indulgent what if-ery”, but stopping there does a massive disservice to the talent involved in fic writing. Having the technical elements spelled out is what helped me get a better perspective. There’s a lot I could get into around what those differences are – use of superlatives, adverbs, verbing nouns and nouning verbs, how exposition and dialogue is handled or how it isn’t handled and so much more – but I don’t have the talent to make that shit interesting.
Structural and technical differences also don’t cover the grind of good fic writing: The constant output, the importance of pre-planning a structure and sticking to it, the need to keep on top of updates in order to retain an audience and the pressure you put on yourself to deliver. On top of that you have the issue of handling feedback/constant engagement.
Or, even worse, dealing with the confidence-shattering blow of getting no feedback at all.
It’s a whole fucking thing and it never stops no matter how many hundreds and thousands of words you put out there.
The conclusion I reached was that I was comparing myself to people who were using the same raw materials as me, but were doing so in a very different way and were better at weathering all the other facets of fic writing.
Yes, I’ve dipped into a couple of fandoms over the years, and sure I’ve written fics here and there, but my voice and my strengths have mostly developed outside of that world. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words in narrative character sheets for horror LARP player backgrounds. I’ve made a living out of writing process manuals and project management documents. The majority of reading I’ve done has been books off my shelves, not within fandoms.
I came around to the idea that maybe me as a person and my writing voice and style aren’t inherently, irreparably shit, so much that me, my confidence, my voice and style have become shit for writing fanfics. The talents I was trying to mimic aren’t what I’ve developed which is why it felt so wrong this time around.
Am I saying therefore that my voice and style are perfect and of publishable quality? Fuck no. But the fact that I can’t write a decent fic doesn’t mean that I need to delete Word and turn in my credentials.
I need to confront my lack of confidence and my constant need to compare myself to others. I need to get better at recognising my strengths and developing those – to work on my own skills and not constantly compare or try to imitate someone else’s.
“Everyone has a book in them”
(the rest of the quote is “but in most cases that’s where it should stay” but I’m ignoring that otherwise this would be a very unsatisfying end)
On the recycling ideas thing…
I mentioned this to my partner one night when I was feeling especially low and crappy about everything. “I can’t write fics and I don’t have any good ideas” I whined. He, in turn, pointed out that the ideas I had were still very much my own even if they had been sparked some 25 years ago when a young Skeleheron had first picked up her PS1 controller and started playing FFVII. That put things into a new light.
And then, not a week later, someone I follow on Twitter mentioned that they were starting talks to use their work in an original project. I’ve followed them for a while so I knew where their works originated from: as fandom creations.
Over time they’d gone so far down the rabbit hole that their takes on a character and world they’d loved had become a wholly unique thing. And now they were taking steps to turn that into something new and beautiful that would doubtless go on to inspire others. They’re certainly not the first person I’d seen do this, but the timing was just right for what I needed.
All these things clicked together and I realised:
Or, even better: I should write a story. The story – the one that uses all these ideas I keep returning to and that are so interesting to me.
Because what does it matter that I’ve kept returning to the same plot beats and twists? They’re my plot beats and twists, regardless of the thing that inspired them. The fact I’ve kept them through so many other works doesn’t mean they’re spent. They’re still alive, still vibrant and still there for me to get excited about. They’re tropes that I love and that I find exciting regardless of what world they play out in or the characters involved.
I’ve spent two decades consuming and creating original works on my own and with other people. They’ve changed me and I’ve changed them. I’ve collaborated to create a Universe for running horror LARPs in and the characters within that Universe. I’ve devoured hundreds of television shows – good and terrible – read hundreds of books, played so many games, watched countless movies, read graphic novels, inhaled media criticism and all the rest. I’ve scratched out original pieces here and there, experimenting with different perspectives and character voices. My tastes and interests have evolved. Who I am is different to who I was, and so – by necessity – are the ideas within me.
Which is why I’m going to write Final Fantasy VII.2.
The point is that I’m allowed to feel excited and unashamed about my ideas regardless of where they’ve come from, and I need to acknowledge that the stories I want to tell are my own.
Apple crumble with cardamom custard
I’ll talk more in another post about what I’m working on, but for now I need to wrap this all up.
Which brings me back to the title and subtitle of this post:
I want to write a book. A standalone with series potential.
The specifics are something I’ll explore in other posts. For now, it’s scary enough for me to say that. Although I’ve written before, I’ve never taken the time to approach this not from the perspective of “I’m going to write and see what happens”, but “I’m going to see if I can produce something that could be published” with all the complexity that entails.
That’s… a significant shift in framing.
What I want to use this blog for is to record my progress and my not-progress. I don’t mean sharing world maps, developing languages and cultures, magic systems and all that junk. Although some of that might creep in, what I really want is to offload about the process itself. I want to enthuse about the things I learn; to be open about the obstacles I face, about threats to my confidence. About frustrations with my own stupid brain and how difficult it is to sit down and do the one thing necessary to create a book: write the fucking thing.
I want to talk about walks with my partner as we bounce ideas back and forth and the joys of spit-balling with other people – about research and note taking, ideas scribbled down and struck through as new ones take priority. The excitement of coming up with something entirely new and the disappointment of realising I’ve accidentally lifted it wholesale from somewhere else.
If – when– the time comes, I want to be honest about querying and inevitable rejections. And maybe I’ll end up talking about self-publishing if all that falls through.
And if that falls through then maybe I’ll share my journey to becoming a dinosaur.
Either which way, if it’s a journey you’re interested in joining me on or if you’re about to undertake your own journey, I wish you all the best and hope you have fun.
I’m done writing now. Byeeeeee.
One Comment Add yours
Late as always, but I found this such a good read. Perspective-widening! Excited to follow along on the journey. (And this is making me think about the things I keep coming back to in my fanworks and dabbling with original works… Although, the original works I’ve tried to work on seem to be completely different from what I like to write about in fic. Fascinating.)