I wrote for 30 prompts in 30 days to challenge myself. Here’s the why, how, and what I learned.
There are many aspects to writing. Last time, I discussed the concept of the writing skill tree. But one major branch of the writing tree that I forgot to mention, which is vitally important (the trunk, if you will), is actually sharing your writing.
Being willing and open to share your writing is a skill all its own.
The Anxiety of Sharing
Sharing is – for a lot of reasons – something I’ve struggled with.
It’s not just that being open to criticism in general is scary. It’s that, for me, sharing has been at times a deeply traumatizing experience, involving such extremes as public humiliation. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful, positive, thorough critiques over the years, whether it’s glowing fanfiction reviews for things I wrote in college or detailed worldbuilding advice from talented friends in person. But I still feel a deep tension about sharing. I still feel a deep, unnecessary anticipation for severe, humiliating, bad-faith criticism and bullying. (And the concept of Twitter dogpiling hasn’t exactly helped.)
Anyone willing to share enough to have me beta read is already, in my opinion, pretty darn brave.
But at one point, I was frustrated with myself. I’m in my thirties! I’m not a tween! I need to stop being this way! But how?
Throw myself into the fire, that’s how. And as an all-or-nothing person, I decided to go from working-on-novels-for-years-in-solitude to share-everything-immediately-until-you-can’t-stand-it-anymore. To accomplish this type of sharing, I turned to Reddit.
I chose reddit.com/r/writingprompts, because I became deeply familiar with Reddit and its culture during my time at Ninjas. I had witnessed how unpredictable virality is based on quality, but seen how invested, fun, and engaged core communities are there compared to other parts of the internet. It’s very different from publishing an Amazon book into the void or exchanging something at a writing event, which either brings too little or too much feedback all at once.
Reddit is an interesting place. It has all types of commenters, from the helpfully critical to the kind to the downright mean, and I was completely used to seeing this kind of intense feedback rapid-fire. The /r/writingprompts community, luckily, is a kinder community than much of Reddit, with stricter rules on harassment and negative, non-constructive feedback. It has a layer of protection.
But could I handle sharing my fiction there? Would I still feel vulnerable? Could I learn to adopt the same aloof, thick-skin attitudes as my non-fictional projects?
The r/WritingPrompts Challenge
- Write a story based on one prompt per day. Prompts must be from that day.
- Stories need to be more than 100 words. Also, follow the rules.
- No think. Only write. By that I mean give yourself less than an hour to do this.
- Grade yourself. Was it good, bad, or meh?
- Share quickly. Do it right after proofreading.
- Do not crumple or devalue yourself because of a lack of upvotes. Most of the upvote game is actually about timing, which I’ll explain later.
- Engage with your comments. Be kind and take in criticism.
- Study your ticks. Learn how to become a better writer.
- Do it as many times as you can. I chose 30 days.
- While doing this, read other people’s work. Comment. Be a good member of the community.
- Consider submitting your own prompts. Don’t write for your own prompts, though. That’s kind of a faux pas.
- Have fun. This is not optional.
Besides stretching my sharing-caring muscles and avoid nihilistic sadness, I wanted to actually learn some things.
So, here’s what I learned:
What was my default writing like, when I was starting from scratch?
My favorite genre is fantasy, followed by science fiction. (Shocker.)
My default POV was 1st person, present tense (which is … actually surprising, I thought to myself).
The favorite combo is a POV 1st person present tense in the fantasy genre, followed by sci-fi in the 3rd person limited, past tense.
While it might be a good idea to get in and get out quickly, a story needs a minute to breathe, and brevity on a first draft has never been my thing.
My average was 506 words.
I wrote a total of 15k, which is about a third of a typical NaNoWriMo month.
A note about karma: As I mentioned before, upvotes depend on a lot of factors, such as timing, and should not at all be considered a grade for quality or taken too seriously. But it’s still fun to see the data.
Upvotes varied wildly, the top earner being 593 and the least being 1.
The upvotes on your writing (the comment) depends greatly on the prompt’s upvotes (the post).
A Note About Timing
Did I mention timing? While I didn’t capture a lot of timing data, one lesson I learned was that it was important to post early (the first three comments) on a quickly-rising post (before the first 300 upvotes) in order for a comment to get a significant amount of upvotes. This wasn’t always feasible – I couldn’t keep refreshing or scrolling all day. Also, I frequently completely ignored opportunities because I saw low-upvote ideas that genuinely interested me more.
That being said, if upvotes are important to you, consider this method, but I must insist you compare against a much more important metric: what YOU think of your writing. It’s important to evaluate a piece of writing independent of others’ reactions to it, especially on the internet, which depends on timing and algorithms.
This should be done BEFORE you post something.
I only thought my own stuff was “good” (not great) 40% of the time.
My most-upvoted posts were on days I’d graded my writing as “meh” and “bad.”
This felt true as well, as one of my favorite posts was actually one of the least upvoted. I still love it though!
Now, this is a really important thing to think about. This is why so many writers insist “keep going.” Stuff that you might not think is great can still captivate, and upon a re-read might be better than you think. Don’t let writing depend on your mood. If people like Alan Moore can say it, so can I.
This stuff is very interesting, because one doesn’t typically make conscious choices to have good representation while spewing out words as fast as possible. One is leaning on subconscious, which can have a lot of stuff dangling around inside while living in our culture.
While it’s not a good idea to dwell too much on this stuff if you do this challenge yourself (what you intend to share professionally will ALWAYS be more important than what how your subconscious is responding to random posts), it still can help us be more aware of unconscious biases as we write things more intentionally. Being conscious of bias will help us write better.
So alright, let’s spill it. Here comes the cringe.
Damn, that internalized misogyny.
Romances leaned straight, but had more variety than I expected.
I loved getting and giving comments. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. I was surprised by the kind support.
There were a handful of negative ones but overall people were enthusiastic and supportive on the sub.
More posts got comments than not in my 30 days.
Again, it’s very important to give comments as well as earn them.
The part of the challenge that I liked the most is that I got to know some completely new, off-my-radar characters, some of which became recurring, like Shev, the space Amazon worker with horrible manners, the pre-FTM-transition professor of magic and her necromancer crush, the Lady of Orthioc.
Naturally, some of my own characters I’d already conceptualized had wormed their way in.
And of course, it’s great to write about established characters like Batman or Screwtape.
Other Important Things I Learned About My Writing: My Ticks
There are some things I’ve struggled with consistently:
- There are typos galore, for sure. Homonyms are a bitch, man.
- Sometimes I have a hard time deciding on POV/tense. Often, in the middle, I’ll realize I’ll like a tense better and swap halfway through by accident. Occasionally, I’ll slip up and accidentally publish the mistake.
- I struggle the most with character voice in my drafts. This makes a lot of sense, especially because I don’t really know the characters yet. It can be hard to make something “voicey” in a few minutes. That’s like learning to imitate someone after just meeting them. I’m finding, reading everything back, there’s a same-ness to the content. It seems like readers on Reddit and especially young readers like intense voice, rather than a “camera” that writes at a distance.
- In order to make up for the voice issue, I lean on 1st person. But 1st present doesn’t equal “voice,” and also can have a same-ness if I don’t know the character yet. I think a lot of YA writers struggle with this issue.
- I overwrite blocking. I knew this before – whenever cutting down my drafts I take out a lot of sighs, huffs, pouts, tooling-withs, glances, twitches, trembles, and turns. But seeing all this sloppy stuff together is … a lot.
- When in doubt, I toss in dialogue. As a trained screenwriter, I love me some dialogue. It’s simply my default for grabbing attention and moving along a story. Only two pieces in the 30 days did not include dialogue.
All-in-all, this was a great, if not exhausting experience. I expect I’ll keep writing but on a less strict basis. For any of those who commented on my work, thank you! And perhaps I will consider creating a story centering around Francis and the Lady Grey of Othioc … we’ll see!