As of writing this post, I’ve published eight chapters (and a preface!) of my in-progress novel Dark Lord in Training to Wattpad, a social media platform for readers and writers, in addition to posting snippets of scenes to Google+ for the #SaturdayScenes hashtag (about twenty scenes so far, if I’m not miscounting).
It’s a new experience for me, sharing a first draft publicly.
Before Dark Lord in Training, I wrote my first drafts in complete isolation. I might share my daily word count or a general update on my progress with a scene, but I never (or hardly ever) shared any of the actual writing.
Part of that might have been because I feared that my first drafts weren’t that great, so I wouldn’t post snippets of scenes until the second or third draft lest anyone think I was a crappy writer. Another part of it was that I didn’t want to spoil the story for anyone who might want to read the book when it was published. And then, of course, there was the whole issue with readers not understanding the scenes out of context of the rest of the story, and the fact that when I see others post snippets of the works-in-progress, I tend not to read them, and…
I had a lot of reasons.
Most of which revolved around not thinking my writing was worth public consumption yet.
Obviously, that changed.
And for a few different reasons.
When I first started writing Dark Lord in Training, it was nothing more than a break from The Wizard’s Heart, both from the darker, more serious tone of that story and the fact that I’d been editing the novel for months and was exhausted of it. I started working on Dark Lord in Training back in April, with no plans to do anything serious with it; it was my fun project, my playtime.
Fast-forward to May, when the ambitious John Ward (creator of the biggest writing community on Google+) came up with the idea for #SaturdayScenes—basically, several writers all post scenes from their books on Saturdays to drum up interest in our fiction and maybe get some feedback too. Wanting to participate but not wanting to share the editorial mess that was The Wizard’s Heart, I decided to throw Dark Lord in Training into the fray because 1) I’d never shared my fiction publicly, 2) I thought it would be fun to join a fiction movement that focused more on the actual stories than on promotion promotion promotion, and 3) it would give me a reason to write a little bit each week, if only enough to post a scene on Saturday.
Nearly every Saturday since it started, I have posted a short snippet of the first draft of Dark Lord in Training . Sometimes, it continues directly from the previous week’s scene; sometimes, it jumps ahead a bit, leaving a gap of material that no one has read yet. But because of the nature of the book, being a silly, hopefully humorous, fantasy romp, I don’t feel intimidated sharing a few hundred words, even out of context, because for the readers who have been following along, it should make enough sense to get by, and for anyone who hasn’t read any of the story so far, it’s a sample of my writing—particularly, a sample of the style for this book—and hopefully, if nothing else, it gives them a laugh.
But you know what?
People love the story. I get several comments and +1s every single time I post, and it is by far the biggest boost of confidence to my writing self-worth. When writing a first draft, it’s so difficult to know if what you’re writing is any good, and, especially so when writing humor, it’s hard to get far enough out of your head to recognize whether or not something is coming across as you intended. But when I post a snippet to Google+ and several people comment on how funny they thought a particular line was or how much they enjoyed this or that part, it’s the best validation. Their comments are kind of like mini-reviews, giving me the same elation as a four- or five-star review on a published book.
With every positive reception of my posted scenes, I am even more excited to work on the book than before, and it was that positive feedback that initially gave me the confidence to post the story up on Wattpad.
So, in August, four months after first starting Dark Lord in Training, I started to post complete chapters to Wattpad. The feedback was slow at first. Most of my initial reads were probably people from my social media networks, people who had read my #SaturdayScenes and wanted to read more, but as the weeks went by and I posted more chapters, something incredible happened: I started to find new readers. People were—and are—reading and enjoying my book, leaving comments, voting on their favorite chapters, sharing the story on Twitter and Google+. These are readers I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t dared to publicly post an in-progress novel.
As of writing this blog post, I have nearly 950 total reads of my book, over fifty votes, and nearly thirty comments, and that’s with only eight chapters (and a preface!) posted. I fully expect the book to end up with thirty or more chapters before it’s finished, and I’m excited to see just how well the book does over the next year or so, as I work to complete it.
What started out at a fun story has turned into a serious project, an experiment in sharing writing publicly. While still immensely fun to write, I have started taking it more seriously, thinking of what I might end up doing with it—whether that’s self-publishing or querying or what—and adjusting my writing accordingly. Before I started sharing the story, I didn’t edit. I just wrote and had fun because I didn’t think anything would come of it. It was just a distraction.
But now that I am posting it to the public, I’m more editorially aware while I’m writing—making sure that my voice is consistent, thinking ahead so that I don’t stall out and fail to write anything for a week or more, trimming scenes and comic asides that don’t move the story or the characters forward, and so on. I’m aware that people—real, live people, with eyeballs and opinions—will soon read it, so I want to make sure that what I’m sharing is engaging, that it’s well-written enough that readers will keep coming back for more, that they’ll keep looking forward to the next installment. Which means that I have to consistently produce scenes worth reading.
And sometimes that’s daunting.
It’s forcing me to work harder, to write better, and while that has, in a way, turned my ‘fun project’ into work, I’m okay with that. I would much rather share this story with people who want it, pushing myself to produce a new chapter every week so that I can bask in the immediate feedback, instead of just pecking at it from time to time, when I’m bored of working on The Wizard’s Heart.
I think it will be a better book for it, and I’m grateful to John Ward for creating the excuse to start sharing it. Otherwise, it would likely only be a few thousand disjointed, rambling words by now, eventually abandoned when I lost interest and decided to work on other things. But, thankfully, that’s not the case.
Now that I’ve started sharing the story, I can’t stop, not until I’m done. I have readers to satisfy, readers I don’t want to disappoint. So, I’ll keep writing, and I’ll keep posting. I’m already 18,000 words in (just over 13,000 words posted), and bit by bit, week by week, eventually, I’ll have a complete novel.
I can only hope that my readers will stick with me that long.