First Reactions to My First Chapter

Oh man – there’s nothing more awfully exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than waiting for reactions on something you’ve created, right?

Maybe it’s a speech you give in front of an audience or a painting you’ve done, or it can be the first chapter of the manuscript you’re writing for real. Whatever it is, it’s crazy scary to let people see it, hear it, feel it – and comment on it.

But I did just that.

The Secret Word Society

When I came back to Finland from our trip, I was asked to join a writing club called The Secret Word Society. It was a writing friend from the writing forum who, together with six others, had put together the club just a month earlier.

I said yes, of course I want to join! We managed to meet with the group face-to-face once before the pandemic broke out, all the proper meeting places were closed and social distancing was recommended. That one time was so great, the people were so nice and friendly and we had a great time talking about writing, reading and creating. I was really looking forward to meeting these people again.

Luckily, even the pandemic can’t stop us and we’ve continued our meetings twice a month through Zoom since the end of March, and it’s been awesome.

Every month we have a different writing theme one can choose to use if one wants to, everything from a specific genre to everyone writing a story with the same title or getting inspired by a certain number or a word.

It’s been great fun to challenge myself as a writer and lately, I’ve been writing more original stories than fan fiction.

Our theme last time was the big one: the first chapter of a manuscript.

So, I posted the first 1,700 words of Yellow Tails on our Google Drive and tried to relax, waiting for Saturday. I did everything but relax: I was terrified, excited, nervous and somehow exhilarated, everything at the same time.

Finally, Saturday came.

Feedback from Five Readers

In The Secret Word Society meetings, every feedback round starts with the author’s note on the story, how the writing process was and if there’s something specific she’d like to get feedback on. Everyone gets approximately three minutes to give general comments, feelings and notes on the story. After that, we discuss the story as a group for about 15-20 minutes.

With my story, the first chapter of Yellow Tails where the main character wakes up in a random house without any memories of how she got there and then finds a huge, yellow cat in the living room, I was looking forward to hearing how the first pages felt to the readers. Were they eager to read more, how did they feel about the two out of three characters presented in this chapter?

It’s said that the first five pages are some of the most important pages in a book because they hook the reader’s interest. It was this hook I was wondering about, if it existed in the story.

And I think I’ve got it. At least a little. Maybe not a huge fork lifting kind of hook, but more like a little hook that gets caught in your little finger, creating a little jerking movement that pulls you back to the story.

Because: I was happy to see glad, slightly amused reactions to my story when we started talking about it. The five members who were joining the meeting last Saturday liked the characters, their quirky behavior and personality. They were curious about the mystery that was presented and interested to read the second chapter. YAY!

In addition to that, I got some good, more practical feedback on how to develop the chapter a bit further: adding a few questions the protagonist can ask to make her confusion more realistic and giving a tiny hint about the mystery that will get the big story moving in the coming chapters. As a result of the discussion, I also decided to change one of the character’s names that goes better with the Finnish language.

The most exciting thing was to hear how the readers perceived the story: how many of those five got the secret idea of what actually happens in the story, or what the story is about. And get this: two out of five was on the right track, just on the basis of the first chapter! I was so happy to hear this because if 40 percent of the readers get the idea behind the story, it’s a huge win.

So, What’s Next?

The great thing with The Secret Word Society is that it boosts my writing confidence and helps me stay motivated about writing. With and because of them, I write at least one story every month even though everything else would end up in the bin. Their feedback make my stories better and me a better writer.

Last Saturday’s meeting came at the best of moments, because I was having a great deal of doubt regarding Yellow Tails. I was getting closer to my first 10,000 word mark and wondering if the story was worth writing at all. Luckily, the feedback helped me feel better about it and ever since Saturday I’ve felt more motivated to develop and continue the story.

I don’t think I’ll be showing other chapters to the group unless they specifically ask to or something unexpected happens, because I’m already in chapter seven and going back to discuss chapter two few months after writing it feels like stalling the story.

Instead, I’ll keep on writing so that I’ll finish the story and will then reach out to a few test readers so I can send them half or the whole story later this year for reading and commenting.

However, I’m so very happy I decided to show my writing friends the first chapter, despite how terrifying it was. Instead, it was the perfect decision in my state of doubt and The Secret Word Society cheered me on in the best possible way.

So, to sum it up: if you have a chance to join a writing club, with face-to-face meetings or online, join. You won’t regret it, writer.

Is Fan Fiction Only A Distraction From Writing Real Stories?

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While I was thinking about and trying to become a plotter, I also started to question if writing fan fiction was getting too much of my attention. After all, during the year of 2019 I haven’t actually been writing anything original apart from my thesis and these blog posts. The second edition of Yellow Tails has 8,000 words in it, written during the summer, but that’s about it. Instead, I’ve written more than 30,000 words of fan fiction, resulting in 12 different short-stories.

So – was it any wonder I began questioning my writing habits?

(You might see that those few weeks were the Huge Weeks Of Doubt for me – it seems like I was questioning my current writing habits from almost every angle.)

In May, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of writing fan fiction. While writing this post, it was fun to go back in time and see what thoughts I had more than six months ago and review it, to see if I still agreed with myself about the benefits. And I do!

I still think writing fan fiction helps you develop as a writer because it allows you to focus on creating an intriguing plot, do a proper character and world study and try to re-create that in your stories when you don’t have to come up everything by yourself.

But has it actually been worth all that time and effort to write fan fiction rather than original stories?

As I’ve gained more experience on the writing forum and have been writing fan fiction actively for the past eight months, I think it’s time to think about fan fiction writing again – this time from a different perspective.

Support, Encouragement, Development

Let’s start with the good things.

First of all, the writing community on the forum I’ve been active on, is just wonderful. 

Although it’s not nearly as active as it was ten years ago, there’s still some great conversations going on about writing, reading and everything else. These conversations are a good reminder of the struggles and challenges all writers face and you might learn something new from reading about the experiences of others. 

The community is supportive, too: advice, tips and consultation is given when needed. Once, for instance, I was feeling overwhelmed with my story and unsure if it was coherent. I reached out to a certain topic, asking for help, and quickly got two volunteers to read through my story and give feedback on it.

It also feels relatively easy to make writing friends there – you just have to be active and not only a silent viewer.

These are some of the absolute benefits of getting into the fan fiction sphere. And the forum isn’t only about fan fiction – the original stories are almost if not as popular! This means the same support and helping applies to writing original stories as well.

The third aspect I’ve noticed is how encouraging and incredibly nice it is to get comments and feedback on the stories I’ve written. It doesn’t only motivate me but it also helps me figure out what scenes or events the readers focus on, what details they react to, what they think works well and what does not.

In the same way, I believe commenting on other’s stories does the same: it makes me more reflective on what I’m reading.

The Cozy Comfort Zone

So many good things – but there is a downside to writing fan fiction. However, it’s only a downside if – note, if – you don’t pay attention to it and hop off the wagon before it’s too late (if ‘too late’ even exists, but it will, nevertheless, slow you down).

The challenge with fan fiction is that it’s almost too comfortable. It’s so easy to just keep on writing about the characters and the world you already know, take inspiration from the original plot and give it a new twist or see it from a different perspective. And there are always new challenges that help you come up with the next idea, keeping you in the fan fiction challenge loop for as long as possible. 

Also, it’s extremely comfortable to just keep on publishing on a forum where the community is nice, friendly and accepting. 

However, in the long run, becoming too comfortable on the fan fiction side of writing creates a fear for creating something original. That’s what has been happening to me, at least. I’ve been doing great in the world of fan fiction – but what if that’s all I’m good for? What if my original characters are too weak when they in my fan fiction are so strong, what if the original world is flat and boring when in the other it’s magical?

What my doubt a few weeks back showed me was that I was and am clearly getting too comfortable in the world of fan fiction. I won’t say it has become easy to write a successful, entertaining and thought-provoking fanfic, but it feels like I’ve gotten the idea.

It makes me think that it’s time to try something else.

It’s time to push myself back to my discomfort zone – to the world of original stories. I’ve been putting down thoughts, hopes and ideas for the writing year of 2020 and that mind map doesn’t have too many fan fiction stories in it.

In a way, it’s a pity because I love being active on the forum – but it feels like this is better in the long run.

Lessons To Be Learned

I would like to point out that this year of writing has not been wasted in any way – I’ve developed my writing skills, learned a little bit more about my style as a writer and much more. I have also gained more confidence on certain aspects of my writing and definitely feel more aware of my own writing.

And the best thing is that I do feel somewhat more confident about publishing my original stories on the forum as well – I already know some of my readers and they know me, so maybe I will be able to get some feedback on the original content as well?

So, to sum it up: yes, fan fiction can be a distraction from original writing if you let it happen. I could go on writing fan fiction for years and years and always use them as an excuse to not write any of my own stories. But in the same way I could distract myself from writing by doing sudokus or puzzles, as well.

Therefore, if you learn to pick the best parts of writing fan fiction to benefit from them in your original writing, I don’t see any reason to quit. I, at least, will not.

 

Writing In Good Company

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I’ve been quite cautious about my book project. For the past year, when someone has asked me how I am or what I’ve been up to, I’ve just told them about my thesis or, well, not told them much more than ”I’m fine, how have you been?”

There’s only a handful of people out there who know about Yellow Tails (if you don’t count Instagram and this blog, of course). You might wonder why I’ve kept quiet about it, and the answer is this: I believe in the idea of silent success.

Many people announce their 30-day detox from social media or from candy or from alcohol to their friends and family in order to keep them to their word. The silent success, however, is about starting, executing and finishing a project in silence, and telling about it first when you’re done.

There are at least two good things about keeping your success to yourself: 1) the pressure and expectations comes from you, and you only, and 2) you do not have to deal with the people who have difficulties being happy for other people’s happiness and development (something I have first hand experience on, unfortunately).

But silent success wasn’t precisely what I wanted to talk about today. Rather, I’d like to write about the opposite. Being successful – and telling about it.

(But only to a few)

The Happiness of Telling

Last Tuesday, a friend of mine called me. The last time we talked was a few years ago but in a few weeks we’ll actually be working together which why she called to ask a few questions about the up-coming work week. But those questions took only a few minutes. After that she asked how I was doing, what I had been up to for the past months. I told her about the thesis – and I told her I had written a book I was now editing.

And she was so excited for me!

The best part was that she told me she’s also a writer, that she’s been writing for years, but that it’s been only a thing, not a career or anything. For me, it didn’t matter. I was simply filled with some sort of calm happiness for knowing that I had a writing friend in the same city. We had a fun conversation comparing our writing routines and how we plot or not our stories.

It really is true that writing is a lonely job and that friends who write are golden. But I don’t think one realizes it before finding a true writing friend. For me, it happened last Tuesday, and I noticed how much I’ve desired for one.

Searching for Community

After I decided to take a longer break from Instagram, which was a few months ago, it’s been quiet on the writing community side of my life. On Instagram, there were so many writers, aspiring authors and writing coaches who were there every day to cheer you on and share the happiness and pain of being a writer. But as I’m not there anymore, I haven’t really been cheered on by so many.

However, as I’m not very excited about going back to Instagram and everything it entails, I’ve been thinking about what other options I have. A writing group? A writing forum? A writing course or an entire education?

I write this blog in English and write my Master’s thesis in Swedish. However, Finnish, which is my mother tongue, is the language I write my journal in and also, my fiction. Therefore, as I’m thinking about my options, I’m restricted by my language.

Finland is a small country with only 5.5 million people. This means, at least when compared to many other countries, that there are even less writing people and that the likelihood of me finding them is, well, small. Plus, that I have no idea where to start looking if I wish to hold on to my principle of silent success.

At the moment, attending a writing course or enrolling in University for another degree, this time in creative writing, isn’t an option. I’m busy with finishing my current degree and after that I have other plans.

That leaves me with writing forums. But I’ve been reluctant to return.

Considering a Comeback

There’s nothing wrong with writing forums – it’s just that I haven’t been on one since 2011 and hadn’t thought about going back. At the time, I wrote mostly fan fiction and was all about writing love stories between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, Susan Bones and Terry Boot, and Lily and James Potter. Today, however, I’m not returning too eagerly to fan fiction because it feels like I’ve outgrown it. Therefore, I didn’t even think I’d have any business on those forums again.

But the call from my friend had a curious timing. Her excitement, encouragement and support for my book project gave me a boost of energy and motivation, something I didn’t experience getting from Instagram. This made me think that maybe I could return to those good old forums – but publish something original instead.

As I’ve noticed a longing for a Finnish-speaking writing group, this thought seemed to get wings the moment I decided to give it some actual thought. Ten years ago, when I was publishing at least one story per week on these forums, I got a good deal of feedback and cheers from fellow Finnish writers. But today, as I’ve been writing Yellow Tails by myself without publishing it anywhere or having anyone read it (yet), I don’t know how other people see and feel about my writing. It could do me good to write something shorter, try out different styles and in that way, develop my writing skills.

I haven’t done a comeback yet. But I did go and check if my old username still worked – it did. So maybe I’ll start drafting something in the coming weeks. Nothing too big, no full-length novels, but maybe a short one, something like the Still Life Sundays I’ve been publishing here, and see where it takes me.

After all, I’d guess a writer never turns down some feedback and writerly support from other writers?

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Where do you publish your writing?