I occasionally get asked how I’m able to write so much.  With a total word count goal of 2,000,000 by the end of the year, and several big bang fics going at once, that’s a fair question.  Although admittedly, that goal wound up being more attainable than I’d realised when I found a bunch of unpublished fic again this week.  With my total goal being about 220k away, that’s still a lot of fic to write by the end of December.

I’ll have hit this goal by October 8th.

I know this, because both my big bang fics are shaping up to be about 100k each, and that’s when they’re due.  That extra 20k is a couple of oneshots I’ll do in between, to clear the cobwebs out of my brain.  And that’s assuming I don’t find anything else that never got published either, which is kind of cheating, but oh well.  I do happen to know there is at least one big fic somewhere, but I don’t have a digital copy of it, and can’t get to the physical copy, so that one will never see the light of day, alas.

But how do I know I’ll be able to write 200,000+ words by October?

It’s like, 90% planning, and 10% knowing how to type.  All the planning in the world won’t get something that big finished and posted to AO3 on time if you’re a slow typist.  I’m old and learned on Mario Teaches Typing and IRC.  But there are many other resources out there today that can help improve your speed and accuracy.

But the planning is so much more important, because you can type as fast as you can and get nowhere if you don’t know what to write.  A lot of people will go “ew planning” when they hear it, as if knowing where you are going will take the fun out of it.  And for some people, pre-writing can feel like you’ve already written the story, causing you to lose the drive to “write it again.”  But drafts are so important.  Drafts are what allow you the freedom to write poorly.

Writer’s block is often the fear of bad writing.  From a very young age, many of us have perfectionism drilled into us.  “Do it right the first time, or don’t do it at all.”  Man, fuck that.  Do it poorly the first time, or it won’t get done at all.

Writing in Drafts

Depending on how one counts, everything I post goes through at least three drafts.  Some things go through many more.  But before I even make myself a draft for anything, I start a soundboard.  This is like a wishlist of all the things I want to happen, while knowing that most will never make it in.  Plot points, dialogue, emotions, locations.  Nothing is coherent.  Some things that go onto my soundboard do make it into the background as subtle worldbuilding or character moments.  Others might come back as motifs.

Winter dangers aren’t heat stroke. He has a decent amount of cold weather gear, but somehow the weather is still a surprise. Every scorpion and spider in the valley has found its way into his apartment
Loki gets stung. He is 100% convinced he is going to die.

He actually manages to slip on ice coming out of the casino. Darcy is right. Somehow winters are worse.
Darcy follows to the hospital. Actually needs stitches. Probably has a concussion.

Water comes from the fish tank. He’s cleaning it, and lazily dumps the old water out the door

Darcy wants to do a twist on a bullet catch. Insurance is a nightmare.
She genuinely enjoys her job. She just does not trust Loki. She still feels used by him.

Loki swears he did not know who she was when he hired her. She doesn’t trust this either.

Nothing goes in any particular order.  I just write things down as they come to me.  If I get an idea as I’m drifting off to sleep, I grab my phone and write it down for the morning.

But once I’m happy with it, I make a copy that can be torn apart.  I like to make a copy because sometimes I want to come back and refer to my soundboard later, and make sure everything made it in as I want, so I want an untouched version.

For the other version, things get deleted.  I start putting the soundboard into chronological order, and remove things from the list as they’re used.  This leaves me with a document at the end that has little bits and pieces I can still use if I find that I need an extra section somewhere.  I can refer to the cannibalised soundboard and see what ideas haven’t been used yet.

The outline itself is very vague.  Main beats I want to hit, occasional snippets of dialogue, and the big, emotional notes I want to hit.

Darcy tries to make it to Denny & Lee, but her schedule doesn’t match up very well. She stops by on dark days, but often can’t make the open stage nights. She managed to make one during the break. She goes back to find some new stuff and get ideas. She gets a call from Loki. Dumbass has been stung by a scorpion and thinks he is going to die. He is the biggest drama queen in the world. She drives out to Henderson to tell him to put some ice on it and calm tf down.

He asks her to stay. He is not really capable of being alone right now. That shit wigged him right the fuck out. He admits to her that he is not okay, and hasn’t been for a while. She realises why he refused to be admitted when he fell. When she suggests maybe he get help, he mentions that he did once, and it went poorly.

They have the conversation Loki wanted to have at dinner. He admits he did a lot of really fucked up things, and apologises. He did not know who she was when he hired her and was already starting to spiral when he accidentally played his hand. He self-sabotages a lot, and thinks that’s how that whole thing got stuck in his head. Darcy still isn’t sure how much she trusts him. She will not be responsibile for his emotional well-being.

Darcy wants to know if he is aware he’s a manipulative, gaslighting bastard. He is. He is also aware he has the world’s shortest temper and no patience.

It’s a little more coherent, and serves as the backbone for the entire story.  In theory, I could write off of this, and sometimes I do if I’m in a good groove, or not working with a deadline.  The outline is a road map.

But sometimes, I need to tell the story exactly how to behave.  It’s kind of like I’m telling the story to itself.  I take this outline, and I break it up into smaller pieces, add smaller emotions, details, and find the pacing within the narrative.  Things will slow down, gain more weight, and begin to take shape.

They come back from their break with a brand new setlist, but still closing with Metamorphosis. Loki has a high he can ride for a while, and manages to claw his way out of his pit for a while.

He’s not happy, but it’s easier to pretend.

It also makes it easier to notice how damn lonely he is.

He drives around their first Wednesday off, and finds his way out to Fandral’s place. His remaining housemates do not like him, and Fandral doesn’t want anything to do with him.

He thinks about calling Darcy, but is desperately trying to respect her rules. He goes home instead, and gets mugged in his own kitchen by a scorpion.

Full panic. He manages to squish it, but has run out of plan at that point. Half his brain thinks he’s going to die. The other half doesn’t want the $4000 ambulance bill if it’s nothing. He calls Darcy instead.

She’s clearly busy, but comes over anyway. She tells him to put some ice on it and calm the fuck down. They come inside to get out of the cold, and he should watch out more carefully. He’s even more convinced he’s going to die, because it’s yellow.

Apparently it’s not yellow enough. It looks pretty fucking yellow to him.

He convinces her to stay. He’s not capable of being alone right now, and that shit wigged him all the way out. He admits that he’s not okay, and hasn’t been for a while. Somehow, it works. She stays.

She suggests maybe he get help. He did that once. It went poorly. “shotgun method” which is the worst fucking name for that treatment.

They have the conversation he wanted to have in ch 1. He admits he did a lot of fucked up shit, and apologises. He didn’t know who she was when he hired her. It was pure chance. He was already starting to spiral and have loads of regrets when he accidentally played his hand. He self-sabotages and was trying to find a way out.

Darcy still doesn’t trust him. She makes that clear. She will not be responsible for his emotional well-being. She wants to know if he’s aware he’s a manipulative, gaslighting bastard. He is. He’s also aware he has the world’s shortest temper, and no patience.

He just wants a friend.

This is my first “official” draft.  It’s crap.  Nobody would read a story told like this, but that’s okay.  The story isn’t for the reader at this point.  The rough draft is just that: a rough look at what the entire story looks like.  And right now, 75% of this fic looks like this.  The rough draft often doesn’t survive the next part of the process, so I don’t have any earlier examples to show you what it looks like in direct comparison.  I don’t make a copy of the rough draft, because I almost never need to refer back to it.  I do my next draft right on top of this one, filling out all the missing bits.

Because the second draft is the one where I tell myself the story.  I fill this out to get all of the important bits in for me.  All of the small notes I want to hit.  All of the dialogue, and the little emotions.  I turn this into something that could be read by someone, and might even be enjoyable.

“I never intended to follow you,” he admitted, still unable to look back up at Thor.  “It just kind of happened.”

“Then what did you intend?” asked Thor.

“I don’t know,” Loki said.  “Cyberbully you until you got fed up enough to come back and take some attention off of me.”

“Loki, you need help,” Thor said.

Loki clenched his fist, barely able to stop himself from slamming it against the table.  “I need to be left alone,” he said.

He looked up at Thor, and that sad and disappointed look on his face.  He hated it.

“I don’t think I trust you to be alone right now,” Thor said.

“What do you care?” asked Loki.  “You left.  You got out.  If you cared, you wouldn’t have left me alone with them.”

He got up and pulled out his wallet, not wanting to wait for the bill to come.  But he’d more or less figured out the local curency, and threw a $20 down on the table to cover both the bill and the tip Americans insisted was required.

“Where are you going?” Thor asked, getting up as well.

Loki shrugged and slid his wallet back into his pocket.  Spotting his phone still on the table, Loki reached over to pick it up.

This draft is often very dialogue-heavy, and doesn’t have a lot of action.  You’ll also notice that there are a lot of misspellings and wonky placeholders sometimes.  I do all but the final draft on my iPad, where I have completely turned off my spellcheck.  I don’t want to be distracted by perfection.  I just want to get the story out.  Nobody is going to read this draft, so it doesn’t matter if my keyboard is running out of battery, or I don’t know how to spell something.  All that matters is that I tell myself the story.

After I’ve finished with all of this, I tell the story to the reader.  This is when I inject all those little details.  The characters act, the scenery comes alive, and eventually there’s an entire world on the page.  It’s only after this point that I finally move to my PC and start working on the SPAG and formatting.

He tensed up again as they got off the beltway and onto the Fifteen.  Darcy laughed, staying in the far right lane and not even having to fight traffic to get off at the very next exit.  Once they were off the freeway, Loki relaxed again and looked out the window at the passing city.  Pretty soon, the Swedish Chef was replaced by screaming and heavy drums, and what sounded like some kind of flute.  For a second, Darcy thought it was a mistake until she looked over at Loki, with his long, dyed black hair, half-sleeve tattoos, and what was now very obviously a band T-shirt.

“Oh my god,” she said laughing loudly.  “You’re a closet metalhead.”

Loki looked over at her with a dissatisfied frown.  “There’s nothing closeted about me,” he said.

Darcy laughed at the mental image of him all covered in black leather and metal spikes, until her mind caught up with what he’d said.  “Wait?  Really?” she asked.

He arched an eyebrow at her and shrugged.

“Oh,” said Darcy quietly, ending that conversation before she shoved her entire foot into her mouth.

Shops became neighbourhoods broken up by big patches of sand, and then big patches of sand broken up by neighbourhoods.

“Where are we going?” Loki asked as they left civilisation behind and travelled further into the desert.  He looked out at the mountains and sagebrush, moving around in his seat like he wasn’t sure where to look.

“Just a little bit farther,” Darcy said.  “We’re gonna do the whole tourist thing today.  Because you have to.  It’s the law.”

“It is not,” Loki said, still looking out at the desert.  He rolled down his window and pulled his hair away from his face as he leaned into the wind.

Sometimes telling the reader the story will only take one additional draft.  Sometimes it will take a frustratingly large amount.  It seems like a lot of work to do, but each pass becomes quicker than the last, as there’s less work to do.

As long as I can get that initial idea on the page in the first place, everything else is just building on the foundations set in place by what came before.  I actually expect to have this fic done by September, and will spend the remaining time doing the same thing for my other bang fic due at the same time.  But because I do it this way, I know this fic is going to be 24 chapters, and clock in just under 100k.  I know the chapter count, because the rough draft is broken up into chapters.  I know the word count, because I’ve done this enough times to have been able to get a feel for it, and know that each chapter will average out to about 4000 words based on my pacing and structure.

But I have the rough draft done, and that’s the hardest part of the whole thing.

This is particularly relevant to fics like Isla Nublar, which I’ve mentioned having not got the attention it deserved.  Normally I use Scrivener, but at the time I wrote the original version I didn’t have a working PC for most of it, and Scrivener wasn’t on iOS yet.  Without being able to compare one document to the other in a side by side view, I wasn’t able to take the second draft and build it up into something with a more robust structure and appropriate pacing.  It’s the same process I’m going through with God of Outcasts as well, using the original fics as almost the rough draft phase, completely rewriting the chapters in a new document, and then repeating my editing process again.

I use colour coding on documents to tell me how heavily a given chapter has been edited, and statuses to let me know how much work has been done on a given chapter.  No matter which stage I’m on, I tend to have the previous step open in one pane, and the current step in another so I can constantly see what needs to be done next.  For big projects, like God of Outcasts, I have a style guide and documents that serve as a canon bible for any small detail I might want to go back and check on.  I also have a check list for every beat I want to hit, to make sure it makes its way into the final draft.