Just do it.
I know it doesn’t seem like great advice, the same as ‘just rip the bandaid off’ doesn’t always seem like great advice, because it ignores all the nervousness, the hard work, the actual writing and then the posting, but if you don’t just do it, then you’ll get up in your own head and never go through with it.
And that would be a shame.
RelenaFanel’s 101 on Fanfic Writing: ADVICE, not RULES
(keep in mind that my very first fic was posted in 2001 that’s how long it’s been since I started, so I’m going to base this on what I’ve learned in my advanced age. there’s also a tiny bit of these feelings when you start a new fandom)
1. Think of something to write. I love writing AUs, but usually the fandoms I end up writing AUs for are ones that need them. So, you can look at fandom and see what it is that you want to put into it, OR you can acknowledge the many-cake theory and just write what you WANT and love. So Bucky in the Steve Rogers Problem tended to scope out fandom for gaps, and I do that too, but it’s not the only way.
2. Sit down and write it. Maybe scrap it and start something new, maybe not. This step is extremely personal to what will turn out to be your writing habits, so I’m not touching it. It turns out individuals treat an activity like writing as personal, so if you want tips, there are a ton of writing guidelines out there, but don’t take any of them as YOU MUST do this.
3. Get someone to read it over for you to check for plot inconsistencies, typos, etc. I advocating getting a beta reader, but I know a lot of people have trouble with this step and I’m 0% help. So, if not, get someone you know irl to do it. I started with my BFF.
Also: remember that you’re the author and so you have final say over what your beta suggests. This isn’t me telling you to ignore all their help, this is me telling you that you know what your intention was. So if they say ‘no this doesn’t work’ but you think it’s important, consider that maybe they picked out clunky phrasing or something else that would hinder the reader.
4. NOW YOU’RE READY TO POST YAY. (this is all assuming Ao3, and honestly gets a little tl;dr)
Pick a title. Look, picking a title sucks a lot. If you’ve noticed mine have started looking like clickbait articles, and I’m ok with that. A funny title fits my writing. Honestly, go ahead and use song lyrics or poetry lines, or maybe a reference to the fic. Life is short and you could spend half of it thinking up titles – JUST, don’t use something common. Like, if *I* can recognize it as a line from Hamilton or Mumford and Sons, maybe don’t use that one. Ppl don’t pay that much attention to the title unless there’s no title there to pay attention to or if they’ve seen 8 fics in the last week with the same title.
Your life will be happier when you don’t really give a shit WHAT the title is. It took me until like 2015 to reach that point, so… *shrug* Just make sure to call it something.
Write a summary. This also sucks a lot and I haven’t entirely mastered it, but DO NOT admit to anyone that your summary sucks. “summary sucks, just read”? dooonnnn’tttt. If I see that line I’m going to assume the writing in the fic also sucks. Most of the time the summaries aren’t that bad until you get to that line, so just own your summary, no matter how awful you feel it is.
Sometimes you can get away with a line / para from the fic. I try to reserve that for shorter fics that don’t need a lot in terms of summary.
You’re trying to convey what the story is about and make it interesting. So, go look at some summaries for similar tropes and see what people are doing. Just read the summary, this isn’t the point you’re looking at reading the fics. If there’s something you like, copy the style of it (but not word for word).
Also PROOFREAD. Summaries with typos are also something that tends to repel discerning readers.
Make the tags. So for tags you want to remember a few things. Only tag the main relationship in the fic as a courtesy. Then start broad and then narrow in on more specific. So start with whether it’s au or canon. Then the tropes in the main theme. Then some of the tropes that aren’t as important but are present. If you mention something once and it has no bearing on the fic as a whole, there’s no need to tag it. Also be aware of what possible triggers are involved, and conversely what things you might tag so people can find it. An example of this is with sex scenes and whether one of them bottoms. I want the people who love that to be able to find it. I am, as a person, a lot less concerned with people who might find that specific example triggering, but they do, so also be aware of that.
also, be aware of your tags as a whole message. If you write a 5k adorable coffeeshop au that has one line where someone inappropriately comes on to a character, don’t dedicate 5 tags to that line because it’s disproportionate to the contents of the fic. This, ofc, depends on the gravity of the thing, but you could honestly just explain the contents in an author’s note instead of using the tags to explain. If it’s a fluff fic, most of your tags should reflect that.
And honestly if you have a fluffy fic with some major grim or dark themes, then maybe it’s not a fluffy fic?
Also, once I’m done with that I sometimes add some funny or clever tags, but if you’re into the funny and clever tags, remember to make sure the important ones are included so Ao3′s tagging system can work to your advantage.
FINALLY as a specific nitpick of mine that I think is also good advice, don’t admit it’s your first fic or your first fic in a while. It feels like you’re lessening your own culpability, like saying “this is my first fic be gentle” means you’re admitting it might suck so you hope people will be gracious, but in my experience what you’re doing is telling people “be slightly harsher judging this because it might suck” – whether they do it on purpose trying to be helpful or whether it’s subconsciously. It does the opposite of what you mean for it to do.
So, in general, don’t show weakness. Fake it til you make it. The whole process is scary and sometimes it makes us feel better to say something like “oh god this sucks idek” (yes, including me) but it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to your own anxiety. Feel it in your brain, but resist the urge to put it in the post, because what readers see isn’t your ball of anxiety or ‘what if ppl don’t like this?’ panic, they see an author who doesn’t like their own work, and so why should they? They see an author who says ‘this sucks’ and since they’re the authority of their own work, they believe it.
So don’t sabotage yourselves my dears.
5. Authors notes and Posting. You can put any details you don’t tag in the authors note. Usually, I also include a link to my tumblr in the end note because I want people to find me. Learn the html here.
Then, hit that post button.
6. Advertise yourself. You’re your biggest advocate. So make a tumblr post (if you have one and didn’t anon me because you don’t) and tag it with the common tumblr tags within the first 5 tags. This isn’t as important, but it helps. If you do this, make sure to include the link to the tumblr post in your Ao3 notes. You want people who like it to pass it on.
7. Be kind to yourself. As a final point, I don’t know how to approach this without sounding like an egotistical dick, but don’t ever compare your fic to mine and allow my kudos/comments to make you feel bad. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been writing fanfic since 2001, I adapted early on Ao3 and have had a ton of time to build up subscribers. I’ve been around for a long time, ok, and so you can absolutely strive for the popularity and put the work in for it, but don’t torture yourself over comparing your work to mine.
It’s not a fair comparison.
You know what is a fair comparison? Compare your second fic to your first. Did it do better with kudos/comments? Worse? What’s different between them? Maybe it’s a less popular trope, which you can’t control (unless you write for popularity, in which case make note of it). How can you improve? What do you want to try next?
Play the game against yourself. I promise you, the results are better and you feel a lot less bitter and downtrodden. It’s ok to emulate other authors you admire as a way to work on your writing and find your niche. Don’t outright steal, but work on copying tone as a writing exercise. Keep in mind the fics that you love and ask yourself what you love about them. Tone? Characters? Dialogue? Description?
Hold the nice comments you get close to your heart. Did someone love your description of a certain scene? Love that you’re good at description and keep writing descriptions until you’re better at them. Until you’re the description master.
Did someone leave you a not-so-nice comment about your characterization? Ok, first of all, it’s ok if your first thought is ‘screw you’ because yeah! you stand behind your fic! (maybe don’t answer back ‘screw you’ and if you have the ability to stomach it, instead ask if they mind being more specific in order to help you improve – I have never had that skill, I’m a sulker under negative feedback). But also, if you’re going to internalize their criticism anyway, then use it to your advantage and start paying a little more attention to that part when writing.
A lot of this stuff gets so intuitive that you probably won’t be consciously thinking about it.
Most importantly of all: have fun.