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  • Writer's pictureRose C. Gregory

The Transition - "Casual" Writer to "Serious" Writer

I used to be a writer; at least, that's how I liked to think of myself. When I was younger, I used to write a lot more -- I would write in my diaries daily; sometimes, I would open my diary several times a day just to write this or that. I attempted to write novels, but I never actually finished anything. I managed to write a short story that was published in a local newspaper once; that was the highlight of my writing career. But then life happened. I stopped.

I suppose we all have our excuses. I got married; I had kids; I worked a very demanding job. One of the luxuries in life is a clear mind -- one that was not cluttered with deadlines, worries, bills, appointments, and inanities. When you have a clear mind, you can imagine and create.

Even though becoming a writer had always been a dream of mine, I thought it was beyond me now. I was too busy. I was too tired.

But then one day, I fell into a YouTube video. It was an edit of TV show I had followed a couple of years before. I had stopped watching it at some point, but I remembered enjoying it. There was a couple in that show that I had always wanted to get together, then one day, they did. And I didn't know! Not until I saw that YouTube video.

It was a well edited video. It really triggered "the feels." I went back to watching the TV show and caught up on all those episodes I had missed. Like many primetime network shows, there were long gaps between each episode. The fandom, the "shippers", were so obsessed that they would spend the time between episodes reading fan fiction. I was no exception. I scoured, Wattpad, and Archive of Our Own for fanfics that would meet this obsession.

Anyone who reads fanfics would know that you have to dig deep for gems. Some fanfics were bordering on ridiculous -- just some fantasy the writer wanted to reveal to the world. The character voices weren't consistent with the show; the character decisions bordered on ridiculousness. Some fanfics had the right ideas, but the grammar, spelling, and punctuation made it so unreadable, that it was easier to give up. There were some that were well written, but they did not meet my own vision of the characters or the show. I knew what I wanted -- I wanted a fanfic that would delve into the lives of the characters between episodes. I wanted to see the internal monologues; I wanted to see the hidden domestic moments.

When I could not find it, I thought, "Why don't I write it myself?"

I used to be a writer. Why not? There was no commitment. All I had to do was write the story and maybe even post it -- after all, what is the point of writing fan fiction if there was no one else to appreciate the story with me? I started my own fanfic accounts and I posted the first chapter. It was short and it had some mistakes, but I liked it. Then I wrote a second chapter. Then a third chapter.

There is nothing more encouraging that having an audience that constantly demanded the author write "more." Fanfic readers can be rabid in their demand for new content! And I liked it! I discovered I was externally motivated when it came to writing. Even though I was content to write in my personal diaries purely for myself, it was different when it came to fiction. I enjoyed writing when I knew other people were reading and appreciating them. When you're part of a large fandom and the feedback from the readers are almost instantaneous, it was almost intoxicating. The ego was stroked. The motivation flourished. When the readers liked and commented, I was motivated to write more. When they lagged with their compliments, I wrote less and focused on other things in my life -- my work, my kids, my books, and my movies/TV shows.

I started my fanfic on March 2023. By April, I had written more than 100,000 words. One was a multichapter fanfic; one was a three-chapter fanfic; one was a two-chapter fanfic.

It made me realize -- if I can write 100,000 words of a fanfic, maybe I can write 100,000 words of my very own story. My very own idea.

And so began my "serious" writing. I started writing my own story idea. I had done this many times before -- started and stopped so many ideas before eventually giving up and losing interest. But now I knew. I needed to be accountable to others to keep going. I may have a story to tell, but what I needed was the discipline and the motivation to put the story to paper (figuratively).

There were a few failed starts. First, I started writing my chapters and posting them on the fanfic site. I received many kudos and comments, which made me think... "Maybe I can publish this one day?" So I joined some writers' groups on Facebook to find out the process. I was then advised that I should never post anything online that I mean to have published one day. Publishers like original stories, and having something that was previously published online removes that descriptor "never published."

Ah well. Lesson learned. It was too late now! Looking at my options, if I am fortunate enough to attract the interest of a traditional publisher, then they will just have to accept a manuscript that may have had a version (heavily edited since) of the first four chapters online. If not, I was going to take the route that many before me had taken -- self-publishing. It looked like a good option. You retain the rights to your story. You have full control over what you put out there into the world. Regardless of whichever path I end up taking, it was lesson to learn.

If I can't publish it online, how can I find readers to keep me motivated? After all, it was that external push, that accountability to somebody else, that motivates me to finish my work. I wish I was more intrinsically motivated -- I've read how some writers really just want their story out there in the world. Maybe I can be the same way, some day, but for now, I needed something else to push me as the rigours of daily life compete for my attention.

That is when I learned about beta readers. Technically speaking, they're supposed to come after an alpha reader, who is typically a writer-reader. The alpha reader will receive the chapters first and give their perspective, then the beta reader, ideally someone who is not a professional and has never read the work before, will then give the manuscript a read-through and provide their overall feedback. I went about it a different way, however. Perhaps it was the wrong way, but I have no regrets.

After finishing six chapters and having a lot of doubts about the direction of my tone and story, I elicited the help of both alpha readers and beta readers at the same time. It was overwhelming having so many people read and critique my story at the same time! It helped me build a thicker skin and look at feedback objectively. It made me appreciate the help that both readers can provide. It helped me fix my character issues and tone early in the process...

But I don't think I'll recruit alpha readers and beta readers again until after I have completed my first and second drafts. It was too chaotic. There was a bigger risk of someone else's vision leaking into my work. Everyone had their own opinion of where they wanted the story to go.

So what now? No more alpha reader; no more beta reader.

Sort of. Now, all I have is my mother. She read the first few chapters and was impressed; she said it read like "a real novel." I thought that was the highest compliment she could pay me. She wanted to read more. I've sent her more chapters, even though I'm not sure she'd be able to read them (for a senior citizen, she seems to lead a busy life), just knowing that she might...

Then there's the wonderful women in this writers' Facebook group! They all encountered similar struggles; some had been working on the first draft of their manuscript for years. Why should I give up when they haven't? I look forward to telling them, hopefully one day soon, that I had finished my first draft.

And so this writer's journey continues...

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