Thanks for reading Uhh, Reincarnation Goddess? You Forgot to Give Me the System, my semi-satirical, semi-serious LitRPG web serial that ran for the last half-year. I hope you enjoyed it! Or, if you didn’t enjoy it (or if you didn’t even read it), then I hope you enjoy this systematic project breakdown/beatdown in which I reveal that I didn’t enjoy it.
I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I should have.
The URGY project wasn’t a total failure, but it did fall short of several of my goals for it. Story quality, the project’s size/development speed, the story content itself—I missed the mark on a lot.
But what would a failed project be if I couldn’t turn it into a sappy learning experience? I’m a big fan of project postmortems and retrospectives (and web serial readers are too, if Wildbow’s serial retrospectives are anything to go by), so I wanted to write one for URGY—so that any URGY fans still following along can get the inside scoop they so desperately crave.
(Plus, I like author transparency in general. This is me being the kind of author I want other authors to be.)
Anyway, here are all my key takeaways from the URGY writing/publishing experience, in digestible blog-post form.
1. The Endless Grind of Writing Serials
If you’ve never written a web serial before, here’s the most important thing to know about the medium: you need to be prepared to make consistent updates—weekly, twice weekly, thrice weekly, whichever—from the day you start until the day you conclude. Which means if you’re not a consistent writer to start with, or if you like silly things like breaks or vacations or occasionally pausing for a second to catch your breath, you’re gonna have a bad time.
I’m an inconsistent writer and a slow writer—if I manage to pump out a few hundred words over a few hours, I call it a good day. On the bright side, agonizing over every word choice as I’m writing means my first drafts are pretty good. On the downside, it means (when combined with my other commitments, like my actual job) I couldn’t produce nearly as much content as other web serial authors. Which meant slower updates.
After doing the math (aka after writing a bunch of chapters and looking at how long it took), I settled on releasing 1 chapter per week. Because that’s exactly how fast I was writing.
MISTAKE #1: I didn’t pad my writing/release schedule with extra time, so that I could take breaks while posting from my “break backlog” of chapters.
Not that I could have if I wanted to—1 chapter per week is already the absolute slowest acceptable speed for a web serial of this sort, and even that got a lot of pushback when I finally started posting URGY to the public. (A month and a half into posting, I decided to recalibrate to posting 4 chapters per month, all on the same day. In theory, this helped with the reader experience. It probably also killed any serial-reader momentum I might have had.)
There’s only so long that you can keep yourself working at nonstop max speed. I first started to feel the cracks in my pace some time around Chapter 10. That I was able to power through it and keep going just as hard for another ~25 chapters is nothing short of a miracle. I was mainly able to do it because I made finishing “Arc 1” of the story my primary goal—once I did that and had to move into Arc 2, which I hadn’t really planned or outlined at all yet… That’s when the burnout hit me like a truck.
TAKEAWAY #1: Serials are not the right medium for me. The constant pressure to “keep writing” destroys my ability to outline in advance and take time to make sure I have the foundations (plot, characters, etc) right.
2. The Bigger They Are…
In mid-2020, I desperately needed a break from my long-running novel-in-progress. So, I had the bright idea to start a side project: a “low effort litrpg isekai,” because those were all the rage at the time. Something I could breeze through for however long while I rested, before I returned to the project I actually cared about. And hey, maybe it’d become super popular and I’d make some money in the process!
Over the course of a few weeks of planning, that “low effort litrpg isekai side project” became my main project URGY.
MISTAKE #2: I don’t do anything “low effort.”
So now instead of recovering from main project burnout, I was envisioning a multiverse-spanning epic that would probably take at least 5 years to complete. As a side project. I was planning character backstories and plot twists that I wouldn’t be writing out in the story for years to come. As a side project. Yeah, I know, you don’t have to say it. I’m a moron.
A lot of my stress in that half-year of writing URGY was specifically about “oh noooo if i keep writing this story i’m going to be doing it for ages, but i want to get back to that other story. but also URGY has a pretty cool plot… in like 2 more years.”
At least I got through all of Arc 1, so that URGY’s handful of readers got some resolution.
TAKEAWAY #2: Don’t start a long series as a side project. Just… don’t. A short story as a side project, sure. Anything longer than that… no.
3. Being Trapped By Genre Trappings
If you’ve read URGY, you might notice that for a LitRPG, it’s pretty dang sparse on the RPG aspects. Sure, I’ve got the whole magic system I kept teasing; people have stats, levels, classes—but I never really gave any details on what all the stats and classes are. I never delved into what special abilities people can have.
Part of that is because of the setup: my first-person POV main character doesn’t have the System, so we’re limited to learning what she learns. And part of it is because I decided to be a coy jerk and turn all the details of the System into an Arcs-long mystery, where you’d have to pay attention to all the off-hand mentions of a single new Stat/Class/Element/Rank/etc in order to put together the entire picture. (Because as a Rational™ Fiction, I wanted readers to have the chance to figure out the System before the main character herself did.)
But I’m pretty sure that underneath all those other perfectly valid reasons, I was sparse on the RPG details because… I just don’t like the LitRPG genre.
I’ve never read a LitRPG before (other than my friend’s parody reverse-isekai Reborn on a Systemless Earth… With a System, which URGY was very much written in response to), and I have no interest in reading LitRPGs. I know the genre exists because there are plenty of people out there who love reading about characters leveling up, gaining new abilities, conquering dungeons and climbing towers and all that… but I’m not one of them. That’s not to say I dislike the genre; it’s just that my interest in it is a big resounding “meh.”
So… Why did I decide to write one? Because it was trendy, I guess. And because this story was kind of set up to be an anti-LitRPG (MC with no System), I figured I could get away with it.
But I can’t. Every time I had to touch upon the Class/Stat/Level stuff for the sake of the other characters, part of me was embarrassed to be writing it at all.
MISTAKE/TAKEAWAY #3: Don’t write stories in genres I don’t care about.
The Rank stuff was perfectly fine to me, weirdly enough. Maybe because URGY’s other inspiration was Will Wight’s progression fantasy series Cradle. If I were to restart URGY from scratch, I’d make it a pure progression fantasy story without any of the RPG components.
4. Not Enough Planning
I hinted at this earlier, when I said I started writing URGY after just a few weeks of planning, and then I didn’t have any real plans for Arc 2 before I started writing that. I just straight up dropped the ball on planning this story out for the medium-term. Short-term was fine; I always had a vague idea of exactly how the next 2 or 3 chapters would go. Long-term was fine; I had a pretty good macroscopic idea of how the Year 3/4 arcs would go. But the content in the middle? Ha ha, I’ll have to get back to you on that…
It wasn’t just the plot beats I failed to plan enough on. You know that magic system that I kept teasing? You want to know why I kept it at mere teasing? I mean, other than for silly mystery purposes. In those two weeks that I planned out the System, I figured out all the Elements of the magic and their conceptual underpinnings; I wrote down a bunch of cool Artifacts and their special abilities and their Elemental makeups and some details of the magical Scripting language (and note that none of this stuff even made it into Arc 1)… But I failed to figure out the extent of the magic system.
Okay, so Fire and Lightning and Wind and some others are Elements. What can you do with Fire magic? What can’t you do? What can a Stone-rank do with it compared to an Iron-rank, and beyond? What kinds of Artifacts can you and can’t you make? What can you do with Scripts that you can’t do with pure hand-wavy magic? Those are all actual questions that I’m asking, because I don’t know the answers.
All of this is what I consider to be URGY’s cardinal sin, when it comes to being a Rational™ story. How can I have the main character experiment with the limits of magic if I don’t know what the magic is capable of in the first place? This is seriously stuff that I should have figured out before I started writing any of URGY. Except I didn’t, and then as soon as I started writing, I was in the mindset of “oh no gotta keep writing nonstop because the backlog can never get smaller.”
I really set myself up for failure there.
MISTAKE/TAKEAWAY #4: All that stuff I just said.
5. Promises Unfulfilled
Speaking of the MC experimenting with the limits of magic or with this other universe’s laws of physics… Despite that being one of the big things I kept teasing (both in-story and in synopsis paragraphs), that never happened. At least, not in Arc 1. (Future spoilers: In Arc 2, I was going to contrive a whole situation in which the MC was going to measure that universe’s speed of light. It was going to be an awesome chapter full of educational exposition about how the speed of light was measured on Earth in the 1840s.)
Maybe the only issue there is that I stopped before I got to that part of the story. But still, I should have done more to include such things in Arc 1 itself. This is something I would also address in a hypothetical total rewrite of URGY.
MISTAKE #5: Not firing Chekhov’s gun. Writing checks my plot couldn’t cash. Teasing things that ultimately didn’t pan out.
I’m not sure what lessons there are to be learned here. We’re getting into “TAKEAWAY: Write the story better” territory with this one. Which brings us to…
6. The Plot Itself
MISTAKE #5: The MC was too passive. As one reader pointed out, she spends the entire story just being taken from one place to another and being shown things. Sometimes involuntarily, and sometimes just like “lol whatever” and rolling with it so she doesn’t have to make her own decisions. Whoops. That was a pretty big goof. I fully missed this when writing because I was too focused on the trees and not the forest. And then, suddenly, oh shit, every tree is passive. This is something I do in a lot of my stories, and it’s something I really need to work on.
MISTAKE #6: The antagonistic threat is too vague. Gostrey is rebelling because… Virulesse is evil? Virulesse is evil because… she kills people sometimes for no reason? King Valion is also evil because… the story says so?
MISTAKE #7: The story starts implying the threat of Virulesse invading and taking over Earth? Even while pointing out that she has no way of reliably getting there? This was a really jumbled plot point. I should have contrived a plot way for Virulesse (and maybe even Ash, who knows) to actually be able to get (back) to Earth, so this threat wouldn’t have been so irrelevant.
MISTAKE #8: The MC’s primary character trait is: mentioning that sarcasm is her primary character trait. I didn’t realize I did this so often until someone pointed it out. Again, trees vs forest. Oops.
There are more nitpicks I could share (like Bohriam’s character arc being a little messy and self-contradictory in the order in which his backstory was revealed), but these are the main issues I have with the story as it stands right now.
As I said way up at the beginning, I don’t consider URGY to be a total failure. I’m an inconsistent writer, and URGY got me to write consistently for half a year! I wrote an entire small novel’s worth of content! I practiced with new writing techniques and character archetypes! I learned how to set up and operate a web serial website! For all those, I am thrilled.
Yet I can’t help but measure the story up against what it was “supposed” to be: a massive fantasy epic spanning hundreds of chapters, probably hundreds of characters, and becoming a top tier member of its genre. The Worm of LitRPG.
… Which was a pretty silly goal, considering Worth the Candle already exists.
So, where does that leave us? Is the URGY project 100% canceled forever? In its current form, yes—with the key words being “current form.” As I hinted a few times earlier, there are a bunch of things I would change about Arc 1 if I were to restart URGY from scratch. More pre-planning, pivoting genres… I could build a better foundation on which the rest of the series could be built.
But I’m not going to commit to doing that. Because the one thing more cliche than a serial writer canceling their big project is a serial writer restarting their big project because they want to do it better. Like URGY’s Ash Kyriakides, I’m genre savvy enough to know better.
(… I still want to do it, though, so I can’t rule it out entirely.)
Thanks for the update. You’re right, I did like the retrospective.