Thoughts: A Reflection on growth over two years.
This chapter is also a milestone on a metafictional level. […] Wildbow, you mention that the average length of a chapter is around 1800-2800 words. Compare that to Interlude 24, which is many times the length. It’s also, I think, better quality. You also talk a lot less about your writing process now than you did here. It seems like putting out content is less of an ordeal now, or at least more mundane.
I don’t know how often you reflect on how far you’ve progressed as a writer, but, if I may be so bold, now might be a good time to take a moment.
The length of a Worm chapter, as of the time of this writing, ranges from 6k to 10k words. For comparison, a shortish (240 page) novel is about 60,000 words. At 2.6 chapters a week, I’m just about writing a book every month. A monthly NaNoWriMo, for those familiar with the event.
When I started, I was looking at the other web serials out there, I checked the average word count and then tried to fit myself to it. I was probably doing myself more harm than good. To fit those wordcounts, I had to force the cliffhangers, I had to twist my own arm to make the chapter end at the ‘appropriate’ times.
Having longer chapters takes time, but it also gives me elbow room for plot twists, characterization, themes and atmosphere. It’s less confining. Some of that stuff comes much more naturally to me now than it did. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to get chapters done now, but I’m a hell of a lot happier with what I’m producing, and a hell of a lot happier with where I’m at as a whole.
The key thing at the heart of that? The underlying paradigm has changed.
Here’s the thing – in December 2011, I was in school. Still in school, I should say. I was pretty miserable, to put it lightly. I had zero idea where I wanted to go in life, I hadn’t found the passion that my dad (founder of a small business), mom (speech and listening therapist) and brother (human rights advocate, now aspiring lawyer and a father/homeowner) have found. It’s a hard thing, to be surrounded by people who want me to have what they have, and I’d been looking fruitlessly for years, trying different courses for years in hopes of finding that one vocation that spoke to me. I’d found what interested me (Applied Language and Discourse Studies), but I couldn’t even conceive myself working a nine-to-five at any particular job, whether it was in that field or otherwise.
My writing, at that point, was little more than an experiment. Worm was a way to break a bad habit in my writing, where I’d keep going back to revise something until I burned out on it. The idea was for the serial/blog format to keep me moving forward, my expectation was for a small audience, 15-20 comments on a chapter was a good day. At the time, I was only getting about 200 daily views on average, a far cry from where I am now:
My goal, then, was a simple one. I thought maybe I’d work a dead-end job I was miserable at, and maybe I’d have the time to do the things I enjoyed on the side. It meant I’d work full time at being a filing clerk or janitor or stockboy or housepainter, and then go home to play video games and write. Except I wasn’t even there, because finding a job was proving fruitless.
But I had a talk with my dad on New Years. A great talk. He’s often raised the idea of finding the kind of career in something you’d be doing for free anyways. That night, we talked about it from a different angle. What would I get paid for, if I could get paid to do something I enjoy?
“Writing,” I eventually answered.
My follow-up protest, then, was about the fact that the bar was set so high. Only 1% of people who write books really ‘make it’. It’s very similar for artists, for actors, for musicians.
He asked me, if I’m recalling correctly, “So?”
It was a good talk, covering that and a lot of other points, including school. It wasn’t the easiest talk, probably not for either of us, but it meant the world to me. Still does.
And the end result was that I threw myself into the writing. Once I got my feet under me, I steadily raised my expectations for myself, started paying more attention to the core of the story, reading about writing, and more.
I started to write as though I already had that full-time job as a writer.
A few months after that discussion with my dad, I set a minimum of 4k words for my chapters. I also set up the donation meter, which has been my primary source of income.
My fundamental beliefs haven’t changed, as far as writing. I still like being surprised by the work. To have that moment in the midst of writing a sentence where you get an idea you’d never have had if your fingers weren’t at the keyboard, pen on the page. A character concept, a turn of phrase, a brilliant maneuver. Approaching the end, I know what happens, but I don’t know how the protagonist will get out of it.
If anything’s changed, really, it’s my focus as a writer, my expectations of myself.
I note, in the comments of Hive 5.10, that I was considering a vanity publisher like Lulu.com. I realized vanity publishers were something of a rip-off. A little while after that, I thought about a small publisher like 1889 labs instead. Good guys, they did Jim Zoeteway’s Legion of Nothing book(s).
Except now I’m thinking more about going a harder road, with higher expectations. I’m aware that Captive Prince, another popular and well reviewed serial, was approached and acquired by Penguin Books, and have wondered if there are publishers lurking in the wings and waiting for Worm to conclude before they decide if they want to do the same. A reader (who has sponsored a short story anthology before) has talked about donating the money needed for a print run of the series.
Will I stake my hopes and dreams on those possibilities? No. Would I snap up those deals in a heartbeat? Even then, probably not. I’d have to give it some thought, and be very careful.
It’d be nice, though.
The thing is, I’m confident enough that I think I could manage on my own, that I might get something off the ground with the money I’ve earned from donations (even if it means postponing moving to a quieter, more comfortable spot), even try a kickstarter (or, more likely, a series of kickstarters) to make the print run happen. It’s expensive, even mind boggling, but the confidence is there.
That’s the big stuff. Spooky stuff in terms of scope and all that.
Setting expectations lower, maybe I just end up releasing an ebook and it barely sells, but I can continue writing and hopefully drawing in enough donations to keep writing.
On a simpler level, I’m clearing my schedule two or three times a week, sitting down for 12-14 hour days and plugging away at a keyboard to produce a series of chapters that are 6-10k words long. There’s ups and downs, I have good days and bad, some chapters need revising, but I’m slowly inching towards that end goal – to make a (very) modest living off the writing alone.
I think I’m already at a point above the average self-published author. The average earning for an author on a 60-130k word book is about $500. Yes. I’m writing about 50k words every month, and I’m making more than that. My readers make that possible, and I’m insanely, incredibly grateful. I hope I never lose that gratitude, lose sight of the fact that my readers make it possible. Just the other day, someone who’d posted in a forum to recommend Worm to people (drawing in 20+ people to check out the story) was thanking me for poking my head in to comment and answer questions.
It’s like, are you crazy? I owe you guys.
That confidence, as anyone who chats with me in the minutes before a chapter goes live knows, isn’t universal. I’ve lost objectivity, over time. It’s harder to gauge the quality of my own work or the audience expectation, now. The work is bigger, the range of opinions broader, the material is rooted in more previous stuff. Every arc, it seems, I get a small handful of readers who decide that that chapter with dialogue is the straw that broke the camel’s back in a story they view as having too much dialogue. That chapter is just too much action when the story should be moving forward. Most often, that chapter is the breaking point in terms of the story and the setting getting too dark. They announce their dissatisfaction and walk away.
Maybe the story got just a little too long for its own good. A smaller work, it ends before people reach their limit in any department. I like that Worm sprawls. But long works have their issues, like a protagonist that looks like she has plot armor, because the fact that she’s alive when she’s faced so many difficulties strains belief, just a little.
Logically? I know I’ve built something, and it would take something more dramatic to destroy it. But I spent a long, long time with very little confidence in myself, and I can’t help but feel that I’m sitting on a soap bubble. Is this chapter the one that has my audience realize I’m nothing special? Is this where my audience disappears on me?
So I sort of bite my nails, in a way, any time a chapter goes live. Every word of praise, every review and donation and mention on another site rebuilds that confidence I’ve so masterfully reduced to shreds in the 45 minutes between the point I finish proofreading and the point the readers first comment.
A running theme in Worm is that the sheer power that superpowers bring to the world has made the brights brighter and the darks darker. I kind of feel like that, now. Big scale or small, and it’s only going to get more dramatic: I’m on the precipice of entering the story’s conclusion, with chapters I’ve been nervous about releasing since 2011. There’s a billion loose ends to tie up, and it’s daunting, as I’m on the precipice of finishing Worm and seeing if the story passes muster. That’s without even touching on the subject of starting the next series and facing all of the doubts and concerns and more that come with releasing a new chapter, magnified a thousand times over.
The peaks are higher, the valleys lower, the lights are brighter, the shadows deeper. I’m terrified and excited and hopeful and pessimistic all at once. But I feel alive, and this little experiment/troubleshooting exercise has become something I’m definitely passionate about.