Dear Story Nurse,
I’ve been working hard the last year on putting my work out there: shopping a fully edited novel round to agents, pitching and submitting short fiction/game writing and putting some stuff up for free. While I’ve had a good response when I have a direct audience (i.e. with my alpha readers, free work and blogging), I’m hitting a huge wall of rejection with anything that requires investment from professionals. I’m very aware that this is exactly the problem plenty of writers have (and there are so many examples of famous writers getting rejected a lot) but it feels like such a roll of the dice every time, without any way of improving the odds. I’m never going to stop writing, but I’m losing confidence in my ability to be more than an amateur.
Right now I’m at a crossroads where I have to choose where to put my energy and time: do I keep hacking away at the cliff-face of novel revisions, knowing it’ll take me at least another year before something else is ready for submission? Do I try and cultivate other outlets I enjoy such as RPG writing or short fiction, which are much more limited in their scope for professional gigs but have a more direct audience reach? Do I focus more on my blogging, which I keep as a background thing right now, but is probably my most successful outlet?
I’m not asking you to decide for me (I’m aware it has to be my decision), but I am frozen with indecision right now. Any one path takes time from the others, and while I enjoy moving between them, taking a dilettante attitude towards writing or editing a novel will mean it takes even more time. None of my choices are wrong exactly, but any of them could be frustrating and fruitless very easily.
Unfortunately I can’t even consider which of these I might find most fun right now – not because it’s a bad idea, but because I can’t relax until I find some measure of professional success. My mental health becomes worse when I’m not making progress towards becoming published, which means I have to keep moving forward. Any tips on facing these kinds of big decisions in the face of rejection and loss of confidence?
Thank you for being such a force of positivity in the world.
Thank you for the kind words! I will be glad to be a force of positivity for you.
First of all, I encourage you to chat with a mental health professional if you don’t already have one on Team You. It’s not great for you to have your mental health so closely linked to something that’s out of your control. I hope you have access to mental health care and can get some help untangling your sense of self-worth from the trajectory of your writing career.
Second, let’s talk about progress and success.
Dear Story Nurse,
I write both fanfiction and original stories. One of the fanfictions that I’ve written, and am about to re-write, is one that I’m very proud of. I love the premise and I’ve worked really hard on the lore and world. While I intend to continue writing it, I am also considering taking this world and premise that I’m proud of and making an original story out of it, too. Let me preface the rest of my question by saying that I don’t intend for the original characters to be based off of the fanfiction ones, because they weren’t even mine to begin with. And while there will be elements from it, and the basic premise, I don’t plan to make my original follow the exact same story of my fanfic.
I plan to self-publish, maybe even make a webcomic, so I wouldn’t have to worry about the publishers. However, is it a bad idea to take something I’ve written for fanfic and make it original? I would at least say something on my fanfiction so that people wouldn’t assume that the original is a copycat, but I feel like maybe there’s something wrong with making it original at all. Is this tacky or ridiculous? Should I not do it because I’ve already written something for those ideas? Something about it makes me feel ashamed but I don’t know what. Is this feeling justified? Please help.
—Don’t Know What to Do (she/her)
Dear Don’t Know,
I completely understand where you’re coming from, but please allow me to put your conscience at ease. It’s absolutely fine to develop fanfic and other derivative ideas into original fiction. Many, many, many people have done it. (I cite a few in my post on how to create original work.)
Hi, Story Nurse!
I’ve created a great cast of characters that I have fleshed out and given a great amount of detail and attention to. While I haven’t fleshed it out completely, I’ve also come up with a world and different species and cultures in it.
The problem is, I don’t have a plot. I know how these characters meet each other and their backstories, but I can’t figure out a plot. I know that conflict is what makes a story. My characters all have different internal conflicts, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what external conflict there should be. I originally started with the idea of a war, but I don’t know where to go with that or if it fully fits, and I can’t figure out what role my cast would even play in that.
For reference, my story is a fantasy and many of the characters start out as children, but they age as the story progresses. Any help would be appreciated! I’m desperate to give my characters a story they deserve, but I’m thoroughly stumped. Thank you!
Thank you so much for writing in and allowing me to correct a very common misconception! “Plot revolves around conflict” gets tossed around a lot, and it does at least as much harm as good; you’re not the first writer who’s been discouraged by it. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do plot—and lots of things that can be meant by conflict.
This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!
Dear Story Nurse,
I’m doing the pre-work/planning/worldbuilding for a novel I’m super excited about. I’ve already written one of the scenes that first showed up in my head and gave me the idea for this story, because I was having a rough time getting into my writing groove the other day and my excitement for that scene helped get me past it.
The problem is the POV. I wrote that scene in 1st person, and there are a bunch of scenes that also beg to be written in 1st person.
But near the end of the novel, there’s going to be a section where my protagonist is out of the action for a little bit (captured by the antagonist), and I know I want to include the scenes of discord and chaos among her followers in her absence, and the planning that leads up to her love interest wrangling the secondary characters into infiltrating the base to break her out. It’s a pivotal moment for the LI, in fact, so I can’t just leave it out.
Which leads to my difficulty, because of course that’s the weakness of 1st person—you’re tied to only what your POV character can see and hear.
Is there a way to reconcile these? Or am I trying to have my cake and eat it too?
I really, really want the sense of immediacy/intimacy afforded by 1st person narration, plus 3rd person would mean playing the pronoun game since the protagonist and her LI are both women and both use she/her pronouns. I hate the pronoun game at the best of times, and the idea of an entire novel full of it is giving me preemptive headaches. But the bit while the protagonist is out of commission is so necessary to the LI’s arc that dropping it entirely leaves me floundering, and the idea of including it via the LI telling the protagonist about it after the fact strips it of a lot of the emotional impact and urgency.
So I’m really stuck trying to find a way to navigate the contradiction here. I’m hoping that with your help I might be able to get everything I want here instead of having to sacrifice some part of it.
If the love interest’s arc is so important, then it sounds like you have two protagonists. One might be a primary protagonist and the other secondary, but approaching it that way from the start will help you ensure you give both characters the development they deserve.