Being a Better Writer: Commitment

Hello readers! Welcome back to another Monday installment of Being a Better Writer! A late one, I know. Sorry about that. Late morning.

So, really quick, before we get down to the business of today’s post, the news! And I can sum it up very simply.

I am never going to edit two 300K+ monsters at the same time again. It’s doable, but it’s an absolute pain, and overtaxes everyone involved.

Unfortunately, now I’m committed. Hunter/Hunted‘s beta is about 2/3rds done, and Jungle is about 1/3 of the way through the Alpha (and this week I’ll be opening up a second set of Alpha calls for those of you that are interested). But sands and storms, editing two books at once, especially of this size, is too much.

Never again. I’m going to get these done, but then it’s one project at a time for editing. It’s just too much. However, if I keep working hard, I should be able to keep to my original planned schedule of getting Jungle out end of summer/early fall.

Only one other bit of news. Patreon Supporters, there will be a new chapter up for you this Saturday. I hit snag in the story I’ve been dropping there that backed my brain up for a while, but I think I’ve got a way around it. So look for that if you’ve been waiting!

Okay, all said and done? Then on with the post! So, let’s talk about commitment.

Now, I realize this might be a bit of an odd topic. And title. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of you saw it, metaphorically scratched your heads, and said “huh?”

Which only makes this post all the more vital, because the idea of commitment in the modern writing sphere is one that … Well, let’s just say I’ll bet that once we get going, a number of you will have a sudden epiphany and nod with recognition. Especially if you’re part of the generation that finds your entertainment online.

So, let’s start with what prompted this post hitting today of all days. The idea has been bubbling around in my head for a while, more as an observation than a “I should do a post on this topic” sort of thing. But this morning, that shifted.

What happened this morning, you might ask? Well, I was browsing a comic feed (I do love my webcomics) when I came across a link to a “new” one. The blurb for it promised an Epic Fantasy Adventure with a cast of characters across a vast fantasy kingdom, some hijinx … The usual fare for a Fantasy webcomic. I didn’t get my hopes up, as I read a lot of webcomics, but I was curious enough to click.

Yup. Sure enough, clicking over to the comic’s page showed that this “Epic Fantasy Adventure” had lasted a grand total of … six pages. One of which at least was a title page. Last updated in 2016.

Absolutely normal for the world of webcomics. As I said, I didn’t get my hopes up. The creator of that webcomic, however, had gotten their own up with that blurb.

But there’s more to it than that. This sort of occurrence is fairly normal in the webcomic world. After all, there are plenty of hosting sites that will gladly host your comic in exchange for the ad revenue. It’s really easy to hop online, make a profile, upload some images, and make a comic.

Don’t worry. This comes back to writing.

As I was saying however, it’s easy for someone to start a comic. And so they do. Again … and again … and again.

They’re everywhere. These creators don’t just start one comic like the one I was tempted to click on this morning. They start somewhere between five or six. Some people start dozens.

And each one of them is abandoned, set aside, and moved on from almost as quickly as they go up. It’s not uncommon to find entire graveyards of webcomics in this manner, with a story started, taken a few pages in, and then given up on in favor of the next new story.

Yup, I used the word “story.” Is the picture taking shape now?

I’d hope so, because in truth, while I’ve used webcomics to make my point here, those of us telling tales with paragraphs instead of panels face the same challenge. And, quite often, fail. Fiction sites online bear the same “graveyard” of half, quarter, or even tenth-completed stories, scads of them, where a young author (or even an older one) has hopped online, found a place to host their work, and proceeded to upload story after story, each running for a few pages or chapters before stopping cold, replaced by the next newest story in line.

Now, side note: This is not unique to the internet. The modern era didn’t create this problem. It just made it very public. People did this before the internet just as much as they do it now. It’s just now, it’s easy to share what you’ve created with other people. A good hour’s effort—or less—can get you an account, a blog, a site … and you can share your creations with everyone!

Again, the only change now is that it’s very easy for people to share these starts. But people have been making them for decades upon decades. Only now, they can have an audience.

And many of these people do. I’ve known of and even followed the work of several such people, creators who just can’t stop letting projects die on the vine in favor of new ones. Sands, I know of one specifically who would probably be making a decent buck at their craft if they’d just buckle down and finish something, anything at all. But instead, they get halfway through something, a quarter of the way through something, whatever … and then just fizzle out. The updates come slower and slower. And then all of the sudden it’s ‘Hey fans, come support this new project of mine! Don’t forget that Patreon account now! Or the donation button!’

And they’re always plugging that donation button, or the Patreon, or whatever they’ve currently got cooking, because they don’t have much finished to actually profit from. Whether that profit is word-of-mouth, new readers, cash, whatever … They don’t have a finished item to show for it. Just a lot of partially complete projects.

Now, in all fairness, they do make a decent penny doing this, largely because their fans are willing to pay for the hope of a project being complete. And so the cycle goes: New project, new reminders to donate to Patreon or the donation button so that this project can be seen through … And a few months later work begins to slow, and then a new project comes out …

Okay, I suppose that is one thing that the internet has changed, aside from the ease of sharing. Now you can also get rewarded for those early attempts. You can be paid for that idea you just had today tomorrow. And that’s really enticing to a lot of people. Hence the commonality of it I spoke of earlier.

Now, stepping back slightly, I’m not saying that never finishing a project is bad. False starts and stops are part of the learning experience of writing. I remember the first “book” I set out to write in like … seventh grade? Eighth? I wrote a few chapters, burned it out, and then the next year I was already working on another idea. I had a number of these, over and over again. Even when I was in college.

These weren’t bad things. There’s nothing wrong with starting your first steps, stumbling a little, then getting back up and improving.

But this last bit is key. All those false starts I had? All the bad shorts, and drafts that ended in “everyone died” or myself finishing it but saying “This isn’t fit for publication?” All that? It’s part of the learning experience.

Look, let me put this another way. If your car or bike breaks down, and you take it to a shop, you expect that the mechanically inclined individual on the other side of the counter to have tried and failed hundreds of times before they even started selling their services right? As opposed to your car or bike being one of those first few they learn on.

In other words, while all those false starts and experiments with writing are a good thing … they’re not the product you should be selling someone on. What you should be selling your audience on isn’t that you might be able to fix their car or motorcycle, AKA might be able to sell them a complete story someday … but that you are.

Again, those false starts and early bits of experimentation aren’t bad. But they are not the product that you should be peddling.

Okay, I think I’ve made this point clear enough. Now for the really tough part of today’s topic. The how.

Look, here’s a depressing fact for you. According to a 2002 survey (before the Indie publishing scene exploded, which means this number is probably low), 81% of residents of the USA expressed that they wanted to write a book.

That’s a staggering number. However, of that number, it is estimated that 90% of those people (the 81%) will never get started. So, if we do the math, while 81% of people in the US aspire to write a book, only 8% of the US will ever actually try.

And of that small number? It’s estimated that only around 1-10% will actually finish a project. A single project.

From there, fewer still have something that they can polish up and sell. That usually takes a couple of drafts, and with the number so minute at hitting even one draft, well …

Now, while I’m sure this number has, as I mentioned above, changed due to the indie boom, it still holds some serious weight. Suddenly, all these abrupt started and stopped projects you can find page after page of online start to make a little sense. Statistically, the majority of story or webcomic startup is likely to peter out.

Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first is that writing a good story is fantastically hard. Sands, I’ve known people in my own life that have expressed “Well, writing is easy and you do it, so I’m going to write a book!” Cut to a month later, when I ask how it’s going, they mutter something about “Oh you know, it’s going” and then quickly change the topic. Because they found for themselves how brutal it really can be.

Now, again, having false starts and bad steps is part of the learning experience. But at some point, you as a creator have to decide that there have been enough wrong steps, and rather than starting a new story, have to follow through, fix what’s there, and finish the walk.

Finally we come full circle back to commitment. See, writing is always going to be hard. That never changes. No matter your experience. Some parts of it may come more naturally, but a weightlifter growing stronger doesn’t make the weights weigh less, they just have more talent and strength built up to handle it. Writing is a tough thing to do.

But like weight-lifting or really anything in life, if you want results from it, you have to commit to it. Commit to the story, commit to the ideas. Commit to the characters. And don’t be swayed away by the allure of a “new story.”

See, the reason there are so many new stories out there, so many abandoned plots and webcomics, is because even if these creators meant to commit to them, they hit the point where things started to become difficult, and suddenly that other idea they had looks like the best thing in the world. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s exciting. And they think “Well, this project has bogged, but this next one won’t.”

Spoiler alert: This is a bit like changing gyms to get into shape because you didn’t have enough motivation to go to the last one. The new gym is so nice and shiny … just like the old one was at first. And as you climb off your couch, setting down the controller to grab another mouthful of chips, you think “This will be different.”

Well, it won’t. Not unless you really commit to it.

How can you commit to a project? Especially when the going gets tough? There are a multitude of ways, and really anything that gets you to do it is good enough. But you could try setting goals. Milestones with rewards. Something you can measure. Getting bogged down by a part of the story? Don’t give up just yet! Try plotting things out on a piece of paper. Back up a bit and come at it from another angle! Another character!

But push through it. Sure, by the end there may be cracks and problems, but you’ll have finished it.

Sure, it might not be the best. And it might even not be worth selling or sharing. Even I’ve got a few like that. But let me put it this way: Even if the mountain you’ve climbed isn’t a very impressive one, the peaks of the mountains nextdoor are now all open to you … especially the ones of the same height. While those who never make it past the foothills will never have a chance at getting to any peak.

Now, not all peaks are worth getting to. I’ve spoken before on here about the dangers of being stuck in the Death Spiral. But not having any commitment to our projects is, in a way, a spiral that’s just as bad. It’s continually starting up the mountain and turning back, never pressing ourselves past those opening moments of the trail.

Again, all writers have aborted projects early on. But if you’re not progressing, if you can’t find a project to commit to … Well, how will you ever reach the summit?

Commit to your projects. Push through the tough spots. Make goals. Set rewards. Do it! Make it to the top!

Now, one last bit of warning. As I said when I opened this, a lot of people now put all these projects out in front of the public, even the ones that they won’t finish (and most know they won’t).

Consider this carefully. Not too long ago, such half-completed projects would never be what your audience saw. Now? You can show it to them.

And in time, it’s what they’ll expect of you. Or you of yourself. Like that one creator I referenced earlier who’s managed to make a small flow of cash out of never finishing their projects. And they lament that their cashflow is low frequently, but in all honesty, if they actually finished something they’d probably find a pretty nice audience. But because they’re rewarded for half-projects, well … A death spiral of another kind, as I said.

Consider what sort of image you build for yourself when considering putting your incomplete projects out there as the first thing a potential audience will see. It’s best to give that audience something that you’ve committed to, because that it turn gives them an alert that it’s okay to commit time to you and what you’ve made.

So, don’t be distracted by the allure of the new. Commit to your work. Complete your work. Set goals, rewards, whatever it takes.

Good luck. Now get writing!

Also, now that you’ve committed so much time to reading this article, consider throwing a bone the author’s way by buying a book or supporting the site on Patreon! It helps keep the site ad-free and delivering weekly content!

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