16 March 2015 - 6:45 pm

Pacing a Serial: the Writing

How fast do you want to write? (Picture by cactusowa)

How fast do you want to write?
(Picture by cactusowa)

We’ve talked about how to pace your serial story; now let’s talk about you, the writer.

Serials are long-running commitments and reliability is important, so it’s a good idea to figure out how to pace yourself. You don’t want to burn yourself out and wind up never finishing the story (your readers don’t want this, either!). You might not want to sign up for a ten-year project, either.

The pace with which you produce each post, chapter, or entry in your serial is going to depend on a lot of factors, all of them incredibly personal. Our lives are full of many demands, commitments, distractions, and desires. Where your serial writing fits into that is up to you.

When it comes to figuring out a good pace for producing your serial, one of the important things is to allow for more than just writing. The actual writing part might be the biggest chunk of work, but it’s not all you need to do! Here are just some of the things you might need to build into the time you allow for producing your serial posts:

  • Planning. Plotting, scheming, staring into space. You might be pondering the next big plot arc, turning over ideas for the next post, or restructuring an entire section of your plan.
  • Research. You might have everything figured out up-front, but you also might stumble across something new on the path through your serial that you need to work out. Fact-checking, research, even worldbuilding might be something you want to allow for.
  • Writing. Well, duh.
  • Redrafting. As much as we’d all like to produce gold in the first draft, there isn’t a writer in the world who doesn’t need to redraft their work before it’s suitable for public consumption. Personally, I do at least three read-throughs of each post, the first one or two of which is for redrafting. It could be restructuring the post, filling out parts, removing unnecessary waffle, or reworking a section.
  • Editing. Also very important if you want to produce a quality product. Once I’m happy with the big picture and flow of a post, I’ll do an editing pass, checking sentence structure and things that just sound weird. It’s also a chance to make sure that the redrafted pieces make sense in context. A last pass over the post is for proofing, for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Formatting. I do all of the above off-line, and thanks to the complex format of my current serial, when I come to upload it into the website, there’s a chunk of formatting I have to do (the things I do to myself!). This is going to vary widely between serials, but do include time to check the output on the website and correct any weird display glitches (depending on your platform, this might be easy or hard).
  • Responding to reader comments. This is something that I take great pleasure in! It is, however, another chunk of time that you should allow for.
    Be prepared to deal with spam comments, too. I spend more time filtering out and removing spam comments than I do responding to readers! There are tools that can help with this, depending on the platform you’re using for your serial.
  • Marketing. You’ve got to get the word out somehow, right? I usually spend a bit of time at the beginning of the serial to do this, because I like having readers, and then I tend to slack off. I’m terrible at self-marketing.

If it seems like a lot, that’s because it is! (It’s totally worth it, though I might be biased.)

For a long-term commitment like a serial, it’s important to be realistic with what you can achieve. There will be times when you get ahead and times when you fall behind. There’ll be parts that are harder to write than others, for various reasons, and some that rush out of your fingers.

So when you’re thinking about what kind of pace will work for you, think about your good and bad weeks. Allow yourself some wiggle room for those more difficult weeks. And don’t forget to allow yourself time to breathe!

Which brings me to the idea of taking breaks: hiatuses. There are pros and cons to taking a hiatus from your serial, but the one I want to call out here is that they negatively impact your readership. Some people will simply forget to come back, or may get distracted by another serial.

Ideally, you want to minimise your hiatuses. It’s another reason to find a realistic and reasonable pace; the fewer breaks you feel you need, the fewer hiatuses you’ll take, and the fewer disruptions to your serial.

All that said, if you’re anything like me, keep in mind what drew you to writing a serial in the first place. For me, part of it was the discipline and the challenge. I wanted to push myself, which is why the Apocalypse Blog was written, edited, and posted every day (for a year). Now, for Starwalker, posting every week can be a stretch, but that stretch is usually good for me. I try to keep my hiatuses to the gaps between books and emergencies.

This is what works for me. I don’t think I could match the pace of the Apocalypse Blog again; I adjust my pace as I move forward. Life changes and changes us. Work out what works for you!

Next up: posting cadence

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