The only limit on creation is your own imagination.
I am a relatively new and amateur writer. In fact, I've only been writing for the last six months or so. However, in that time, I've picked up on various things which have helped me to improve my craft. I'd like to share some of my experiences and thoughts with other new, existing, and prospective writers, in the hopes that I can be of some help to them. (Warning, a lot of the following is based on my own subjective opinion and will not necessarily work for everyone.)
First of all, let's talk about what writing is. In its base form, writing is the act of producing text for publication. Because that's the end goal for many people, right, publication? I know I'd like it to happen. Do I think I'm there yet? Hell no. But while it is an aspiration for many, some writers might not have even considered the notion of getting their text published, and there's no problem with that. There are, after all, myriads of reasons why we write, and those aren't limited to monetary gain (evidenced by the existence of fanfiction, to a certain degree).
So, why do we write? Specifically, why do we write fanfiction? Some people do it as a means of catharsis, others to further the story of the show (or other related fandom thing) they enjoy, some because they have an idea to share with the world, and others to gain valuable experience in writing. If I had to answer this myself, I'd say I probably fit somewhere in the latter half. Ask yourself this: Do you write (or wish to write) as a way to relax, as a means to contribute to your favourite fandom, as a method of being creative, or in order to teach yourself how to write more effectively in future?
Whatever your answer --whether it's one, all, or even none of those things-- that's fine! Writing doesn't need a license, and it definitely doesn't need a reason. This in turn applies to all art. Abstraction and surrealism are examples of this.
Let's say you've decided you want to write. Maybe you know why you wish to do so, what it is you hope to achieve. Maybe you don't. Who cares? Enjoy yourself. But remember, if you are planning to share your work with the world, you should make a conscious effort to put as much effort as you can into it, no one likes half-arsed fiction (or half-arsed anything for that matter).
What is half-arsed? Maybe that's not the best term to describe this, but we'll roll with it anyway. Let's take two authors as an example, we'll call one author A, and the other author B.
Author A isn't the best writer in the world, and they know this, they aren't arrogant. Author A often makes mistakes, and is grateful when others give them constructive criticism; criticism gives them an idea of what to look out for, gives them ideas regarding how they can improve. Author A expresses their gratitude when their errors are pointed out, and works to ensure that they do not constantly repeat the same mistakes, but rather learn and evolve, as does their writing and its overall quality.
Author B is very stubborn and believes their way is objectively correct, and screw anybody who tries to say otherwise. This is the kind of author that is very happy to delete comments, argue reader and reviewer points until they are blue in the face, speak down to others, and the like. These authors typically do not improve nearly as quickly as the former, as they are stuck under the impression that they are currently doing no wrong. Every reader that's come along to complain about an element of their story is 'close minded', 'short sighted', a 'hater', or just doesn't know what they're talking about.
Let's be honest, we've all been author B at some point. Maybe not all the time, but at some point you've been so adamant about your new magnum opus and its godliness that you haven't noticed the veritable avalanche of negative comments piling up against your comments section. I've been author B, and you've been author B.
We should be aspiring to be author A. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Wanting to be imperfect. Look at it as wanting to be humble, and aware of your potential for future development.
None of us are the best writers in the world. In fact, chances are we aren't even the best writers on this site, deciding who that is would be an incredible toss up and would involve evaluating the works of how many authors? At least 50,000? I haven't looked at the numbers. Regardless, I try to be author A, to graciously accept criticism and see my own mistakes, and I urge you all to do so as well. Typically, even if a reader makes a criticism in a pejorative manner, they are trying to help. All input is valuable, don't favour the comments which say what you want to hear.
Here's where the lines get blurred though. Does being author A mean selling yourself short and blindly accepting (as well as adhering to) every piece of criticism you're offered? No. Your creation is your own and no one else's, protect it. Generally, if a lot of people are coming along and telling you the same thing is wrong, rule of thumb is that there is likely an issue there, but not always. What if the first person to come along and state this has a large following? Maybe their fans are jumping on the bandwagon. What if there's a good reason for this ostensible mistake but you just haven't had a chance to share it yet? No issue. What if you think they're all just talking a load of crap, and 'x' is necessary for your story to function? Because really, screw anyone who wishes to tarnish your creative vision, amirite? (I'll let you make your own minds up on that one.)
You need to find a balance. Unfortunately, that can take time. Put it this way. There were multiple varying criticisms that I received on a story of mine a few months ago, a story which I once considered to be good work. I dismissed a fair few of them. I'd pick up on some, find myself in agreement, and get to editing, thanking others for their input afterwards, but there were a fair few I'd look at and instantly think to myself "What the hell are you on about?", or something along those lines.
Since then, I've written multiple other stories. Recently, I decided to go back through some of my older work and see if I could identify any mistakes which I no longer make, a sign of my improvement, and an indication of what needed to be edited on past stories. Here are a few issues I found with my first story:
Formatting was terrible. I would find passages with extremely long paragraphs, to the point that my eyes got tired trying to scan that much writing without as much as a small rest in the form of a line break. It clearly needed to be changed, and what do you know? People had complained about walls of text months ago, I had brushed it off. I had to learn that it was an issue organically, and because of that, it took longer for my writing to change. What's the problem with learning something like that later, rather than sooner? It means I've got more to go back and edit through, of course. More of my writing has this issue because I didn't realise my mistake and adapt sooner. If I had listened I would have saved myself a fair amount of time.
Superfluous information. Rambling about the specifics of something that may or may not come up again in the story. Such passages were long, directionless, boring, and unnecessary. I suppose if you like a story that adds intricate and meticulous levels of detail to every facet of its world, you might appreciate something like that, but even then, it was a little silly. When this was initially pointed out to me, I found it difficult to see the issue. (We don't want to believe that our creations are anything other than perfect, do we?)
Verbosity. This would be a larger issue with some other stories, but with this one it was only minor. Needless to say, some words would have had better (and easier) substitutes. Other issues included comma placement and run on sentences.
So, needless to say, there were problems. Now, my first instinct upon reading this was to flag down an editor and get some assistance, but I quickly found myself indecisive. I thought to myself 'what will I learn from having someone else fix all of my past mistakes?', which gave me pause. I still haven't decided whether to edit the story myself or hunt for an editor, but it's not very high on my priority list.
While we're on the topic, here's something I've learnt about editors. There are three types of editors.
Type 1 are the most common, and these are the editors/proofreaders that will get in touch with you, tell you that they're happy to take on your story, and then vanish off the face of the earth. Now, I bear no animosity towards these people, they're offering a service for free after all, but when something like that happens (as it has for me multiple times) I feel a little stuck. I'm not sure whether I should be looking for another editor/proofreader or waiting for the last one to reply to my message from weeks/months ago. I don't want to bother them, after all, but I don't know whether they have any intentions of returning.
Type 2 are the worst. These are the pleasant and devoted editors who absolutely love your story and have chosen to assist you with it because of that, but unfortunately either A) like your work too much to heavily criticise it, or B) actually know less about writing than you do. The problem with these editors is that they really aren't doing much to help you, but they're typically so nice, it's impossible to say no to them half the time. For the record, I think it's brilliant that there are people devoted to improving their editing skills, and respect that everyone has to start somewhere (as I did with my writing), but as a writer, this can put me in a bad situation.
Type 3 are the best, but I've never encountered one that wasn't also extremely busy. These editors are like unicorns (Wait, does that work on this site? They're like something rare, okay?), simply for the fact that they [i]do[/i] know what they're talking about, a great deal in fact, and aren't afraid to tell you where you're going wrong. That doesn't mean that every effective editor is rude and devoid of tact, they just know how to be direct and to the point. If your sentence reads like crap, they'll tell you about it. Editors like these are brilliant. If you happen to get one, don't get in an argument with them because they're criticising your story a lot and pointing out plenty of mistakes, you'll quickly lose a great help. (Don't be author B.)
So, now you know what editors are like, and absolutely nothing about how to get one. Let's talk about something else!
The feature box. Maybe I'm not the most qualified to talk about this, I've written eleven stories and been in there four times. I'll talk about it anyway.
A lot of writers on Fimfic consider the feature box to be a goal to aim for with each release (or update on longer stories). Chances are, if you've got a slew of followers and a couple of thousand people are notified every time you post a story, you're quite familiar with the feature box already. Newer authors don't have that advantage, especially those with low follow counts and a basically nonexistent reader base.
So, how do you get featured? Many, many factors. I believe the formula is something like views + upvotes + bookmarks + comments divided by time since the story was posted equals your heat, and the stories with the most heat get featured. As far as I can tell, upvotes and comments have more impact than views, as only site members can leave them.
So how do you get those upvotes and comments, and fast?
A lot of it's down to luck. From what I can tell, certain stories blow up, others don't, and there's not really anything you can do to control that. (Edit: There is one thing you can do to control that, at least somewhat. Post at a good time of day. This may not be in your control if you’re submitting to moderators to approve, but if you have auto-approval, pick a good time. A good time is one where lots of people are online, but not so many stories are being uploaded. This way, you stay at the top of the list for longer! Ergo, more people see your story when it’s brand new, regardless of who you are.) However, there are reasons that certain authors typically do better with their stories than others, and they include but aren't limited to:
Good cover art - One of the first things a prospective reader is likely to notice is your story's cover art. Typically, you should be going for captivating or cute. Nothing that looks too slapdash if you can help it, imagine this is the front cover of a book. Think of it this way, how many times have you seen a video on YouTube with no thumbnail?
The rest of your story's page - Title is important, has to hook the reader's attention, no matter what kind of story you're writing. No one wants to read a story called 'My Thirty-Eighth Fanfic' or something like that, they want attention grabbing.
Go for puns, go for powerful wording, go for implications, go for an ominous tone, whatever your story calls for. Same goes for your description. If you're writing a comedy, try not to write a really long exposition filled description that isn't very funny. (Well, typically. There are likely exceptions.)
Same goes for your AU Adventure epic, don't fill it with jokes if the entire story is going to be based around serious action. This is similar to a bait and switch (which I would advise you to avoid), as it missells your story by setting it up to be something that it isn't. Allow the description to mirror a heavily condensed version of your story (while not giving too much away). Sometimes, something simple is your best bet, descriptions should rarely be very long.
Pander to your readers, pay attention to trends - No, I'm not telling you to go and write a standard TwiDash shipfic because it's guaranteed to hit the feature box or whatever. All I'm saying is that it can't hurt to be a little savvy. Just for a second, let's say you did want to pedal out a generic, formulaic story. It might get a lot of attention, depending on how many other factors are lined up in your favour, or it might flop, just like any other story you write.
If you don't want to write a story that's been done many times before, there's nothing wrong with pursuing other avenues. However, there are limits. Writing a crackfic about two or more characters that are generally never even considered to have anything to do with one another is generally a bad call. Don't get me wrong, something like that can flourish and do extremely well, but there's a slim chance of it happening.
Also, pay attention to what trends are rising and falling. Simply clicking on a character tag will allow you to see how many stories including that character have been published, as well as how many are being published per month. Statistics like this can tell you which characters are becoming more popular, which people are beginning to lose interest in, and which could generally use more stories being written about them.
Take note of what's being discussed on the forums of groups, you'll see which characters people talk about lots. Find a character that's currently a pretty popular discussion topic that's not being featured in many stories? That might be an indication as to what you should write next.
Write stories people want to comment on - What kinds of stories do users wish to comment on? Ones that have had an effect on them of some kind, ones that have made them want to express something in response. Now, your comments work much like your cover art and description in dressing your story up for potential readers, but you have no control over them. (Unless you decide to delete comments, which I strongly advise against.) Typically, you're stuck with whatever readers decide to say about your story, but there are ways to turn the comment situation to your advantage.
First of all, think about what kind of comment you wish to receive. Depending on which genre you've chosen to write (another thing worth looking into to gauge current popularity is genres) comments containing certain things may be more favourable. For example, if people are asking what the hell's going on in the midst of your adventure/mystery story, that's probably great! If people are asking the same thing during your Sci-fi flick, you've probably lost them.
It's important to reply to each comment in the same manner, don't play favourites. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't be more upbeat with the guy who just gave your story twenty compliments and made a really funny joke than you are with the guy who made fifty criticisms and then told you that you were terrible, but you should at least make an effort to keep cordial. The majority of this site's users aren't arses. If users can see that you've made a serious attempt at a story (whether it is perfect or not) and another user has come along to mock your attempt, their comments will likely get a ton of downvotes, no one's paying any attention to them. Best for you to kill them with kindness and keep an eye out for the ones that actually want to see you improve.
Of course, the content of your story will dictate just what people comment about, which leads me onto my next point.
Make sure your story is as good as you can make it - This right here is extremely important. Let's say you've done everything else right: You've found good cover art, you've picked a trendy topic, you've used the descriptions to advertise an interesting and hooking premise, and you've given your chapter a good name too (no one likes to see 'chapter 1'). If readers then open your story, expecting something that's really quite worthwhile, and instead find something significantly less spectacular, there's a chance they'll leave before even reading the whole of your story, much less upvoting it.
This isn't to say that your story has to be professional standard literature that would make Agatha Christie jealous. It just has to have effort put into it. Time taken to plot out your scenes in advance will help, talking to other users who enjoy reading things similar to what you want to write will too, roping in pre-readers and editors where possible will be a massive help, but ultimately you have to be competent and confident in what you're writing.
Is this to say that certain people can't write a great, or even good story? Hell no. But, certain people can't write a great story just yet. It's not something your average person just wakes up and does, as I've discovered. My improvements are not representative of anyone else's, but they have definitely come from time and devotion, research and effort. All of these things will play a key role in you writing a story that will get you noticed.
One more thing: Don’t be afraid to get a little controversial. Scared of downvotes? I was too, then my latest story accumulated nearly 50 while it sat in the feature box for four days. Clearly downvotes mean nothing, so don’t be scared of writing on a subject that some people are going to immediately dislike, you can’t please everyone!
Another tip: Keep your best story ideas off the table for a while. I've not used any of mine yet, not even one. Why? I don't have the exposure yet. Build up, gather an audience, make people pay attention to what you're doing, refine the skills necessary to make your best ideas into the quality stories they deserve to be. Then, and only then should you write them.
Imagine the feeling of writing your groundbreaking story idea, knowing it was fresh and original, innovative and exciting, secure in the fact that weeks or even months of planning had gone into it, that every layer of the narrative had been slowly cut into shape, the rough edges stripped away over hours of editing, rewriting, reconceptualising, getting second, third, and even fourth opinions, just for the end result to be a hundred views, six upvotes, and your story fading into obscurity within an hour or two.
Then, a week later, you pedal out a random piece of crap to kill time and it becomes a fandom classic because screw you. We don't want this to happen, we also want your best ideas to be your most well written ones, so be careful.
Another piece of advice that surely everyone with a parent has heard before: Do as I say, not as I do. If you look in my stories folder, you'll see that I currently have three incomplete longfics, and am trying to update and edit all of them simultaneously. Don't do that. The whole point of this blog is for you to learn a few tips, avoid a few mistakes, get a little clued up, and succeed. It is not for you to be like me in any capacity.
For example, I occasionally write controversial stories because I enjoy it, knowing that the potential for backlash and negative criticism on stories such as these is pretty high. I'm not saying that you shouldn't do that, but it won't get you popular. It will, however, get you out of your comfort zone, and hey, I want to make this post comprehensive, it's not all about trying to get popular and knowing your audience and site mechanics and whatever, it's about improving your writing skill.
Experiment with genres where you can. This doesn't mean you have to publish everything you write, I certainly don't. Write for practice, reread your old stories and search for prevalent and recurring errors, see if you can correct them.
Let's talk about creative versus technical. While I know you can't exactly split writers into two groups, just imagine for argument's sake that you can here. For the purpose of this, a creative writer is one that relies on their ideas to write fiction, and a technical writer is one that relies on their linguistic skills to write and edit.
This isn't to say that these two elements cannot be matched. In fact, they should be. Being able to self-analyse work can be a blessing and a curse, as you may find your constant rewriting of certain sentences and paragraphs for the sake of grammar and readability impede your rate of writing. You may also find that what you come out with doesn't look like a jumbled mess, so bear that in mind.
If I were to write without restriction, I could easily hammer out ten thousand words a day without any real effort. That's no thinking, no planning ahead, no edits, just plain writing.
Of course, the results would be horrible, but I could do it.
Don't do that. Take as much time as you need, take breaks, edit as you go, at least enough to make sure what you're writing is legible. Stop and read it over every once and awhile, keep an eye out for continuity errors, accidental anthropomorphism, that kind of thing. If you get to the point where you're making mistakes at a much more frequent rate than you were when you started writing, or you're finding you're having to rely on google more and more, it's probably time you took a break, your brain is becoming fatigued.
Everyone's brain has a limit. As much as it would be lovely if we could just write to our full potentials all the live long day and publish a novel every fortnight, we have to be realistic, that means not relying too heavily on yourself.
Don't go too far the opposite way either. Just because you're not superhuman, that doesn't mean that you can't be incredibly talented, and that you don't have the ability to put in some truly great work. Trust in yourself, trust in your abilities, but don't become conceited along the way.
A small recap: So far we've covered various reasons for writing, why it's necessary to put effort into your work, why humility and acceptance of criticism is important, versatility as a writer, the different types of editors and other helpers to look out for, the benefits of reading over your old stories to look for signs of improvement, an idea of how the feature box works, some methods to potentially write a popular story, food for thought regarding authorial integrity, strategic use of your assets, be those your writing abilities, your ideas, or anything else, and remembering not to burn yourself out.
There were a few other things I mentioned too. There was, in fact, quite a few other things I wanted to cover, including the effects of plugging your story, and what I've found are the better ways to go about that, the effect your onsite interaction has on your overall image as a user, the benefits of adding your stories to group bookshelves, whether it's a good idea to follow many people, or follow strategically, and a whole bunch of other things, but I'm approaching my word limit here, so I'm going to leave this on one final point.
Fanfiction isn't everything. It's a source of fun and enjoyment, it's a means to let loose and get away from the world, and the existence of sites such as Fimfic are a great way to network with like minded people, but don't feel you have to make it your life, not unless you're making a living from it.
Maybe you love to write, maybe you love this site, maybe you wish to write for this site every day, there's no problem with that. However, when you live, sleep, and breathe Fimfiction, that's a pretty big problem. Be sure to segment your life appropriately, and remember that there is other literature out there to be read, and to be written!
If you're a fanfiction author, another great way to build versatility is going to be attempting to write original fiction. It doesn't have to be amazing, and you don't necessarily have to do anything with it, but give it a go, and see how you fare! You never know, some current fanfiction writers might find themselves getting published one day and doing the writer thing for a living, so stick at it! It's a fact that there are multiple published authors who started out writing fanfiction, so bear that in mind!
The thing I can't stress enough is to go at your own pace. Some people have a lot of drive and motivation, and that allows them to do a huge amount with their free time. Couple that with being a proficient writer, and there you have a prolific quality fic machine. Don't compare yourself to them. Chances are, if there's someone on the site that's published a ton of stories, or that is constantly publishing stories just for them all to succeed, they've been at the author game for a while. If you want to be like that, I understand, and you can likely get there! But building up to that level of productivity is a process, taking on too much at once can very easily cause you to fall flat on your face.
Another important thing to remember, every writer is different. Not everyone will start with the same level of skill, not everyone will start with the same level of knowledge, some writers will have been at it longer than others, some writers will be better at writing certain genres than others. What's important is that you're all patient and understanding. Fiction is a wonderful thing, it's often born of a person's desire to share their ideas with others, everyone who does so is in pursuit of an awesome goal, and you should all be willing to help each other on that path as much as you can!
One last thing: Don't do nice things solely with the expectation of receiving something in return. Do nice things because you want to, and you consider it the right thing to do. If someone appreciates whatever you've done for them and decides to return the favour, consider it a bonus! Fimfiction may be strategic in some senses, but it isn't politics, and the users are people. What's more important, making sure you write the most popular stories on the site and receive as many followers as possible, or being a nice person and enjoying yourself?
Strike a balance if you can. Aim to succeed, but don't step over other people in the process. Have fun, make friends, learn and improve.
Every author is different, and what works for one person won't work for another. But if you're looking for somewhere to start, AAIQU's perspective above is a great place to begin. Whether you copy his exact approach to, say, reappraising your old stories or not, there's almost certainly something here that you're going to find useful.