Gaelicspirit (gaelicspirit) wrote,

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On Writing: an epiphany

Recently, I had the misfortune to read a rather negative-opinioned, ranty post about writing and online submissions and it got me thinking. When it comes to writing, we all start at the same place, regardless of where we end up.

I won't subject you to the post I came across. I don't want to grant undue attention to someone who has no interest in hearing what anyone else has to say. If you're curious enough, search through fictionwriters; you'll probably find it pretty easily.

I didn't comment over on that comm because a) I tend to shy away from confrontation (thus posing this on my own journal) and 2) I don't like feeling the compulsion to defend something that really doesn't need defending - like writing fanfiction.

Since I first got involved with LiveJournal, I tried to join communities that I could learn from as well as be accepted by and enjoy. I joined fictionwriters hoping to learn more about the craft of writing. I've never posted any of my stories to that community, though, and this is not about retaliating against someone who basically fired buckshot into a crowd. He may have hit what he was aiming at, but he potentially hurt a lot of other people in the process.

This is about perception.

To be fair, though done with a mega-ton of sarcasm and via an extremely insulting choice of phrasing, the writer of the post made a few salient points, such as spell-checking your work, putting what you consider to be the best you're capable of at the time out there, and offering feedback if you want feedback.

The thing that got me, though, was the entitlement that seemed to roll off his words. As if once you declare yourself a writer, you have leveled-up and are no longer wandering, lost, among those searching blindly for ways to make themselves heard.

Yes, writing is hard. But everybody had to start somewhere, right? When you write, you are putting a piece of yourself out there for the world to judge. And that's a scary risk, regardless of the genre or medium.

Writers -- those I've met anyway -- are somewhat of a damaged lot. The level of 'damage' varies by degree and definition, but there is something inside of a writer that is searching for a voice and it's only through story or article or blog or journal that the writer is able to bring solace to whatever it is. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say."

So, by that token, one would think writers would be more understanding of one another rather than revel in their individual superiority as some seem pressed to do. I tried to pin down what it really was about this particular perception in this one particular post that I couldn't let go. And I think it simply boils down to this: he called my baby ugly.

At one point in his post he says:

The awesome thing about allowing fanfiction [in this community] would be the probability that most folks reading it aren't involved in the microcosm of the fandom that spawned it. Because we're not emotionally involved in the story before we start reading it, that means that we're able to see the story for the gigantic space-turd it really is. Can you understand how judging fanfiction by a consistent set of standards would be hilarious? Or at least stop people from posting it? I am willing to put aside my own biases if it means I get to ruin some clueless nerd's day.

Okay, so maybe not my baby, specifically, but he is insulting the place I've found a home. The place where I learned how to marry the grammatical tools I amassed in school and with the application of style and voice. The place where I realized that it wasn't enough to want to be a writer; I had to be a storyteller. Otherwise, I wouldn't feel whole.

It felt as though he lumped everything any critic has ever said about fanfiction into one sarcastic scoff -- and then said that the comm should allow fanfic to be posted in a non-fanfic forum for the sole purpose of tearing it apart as an affront to writing. *grits teeth*

I get that fanfiction is the red-headed stepchild of the literature world. I get that people outside of fandom (and some inside as well) don't consider fanfiction to be literature at all.

I am aware of the perception. And I hate it.

Because between you and me? If it weren't for fanfiction, I would have no idea what I might be capable of writing-wise. I don't have a Masters in anything writing or literature related. I don't have the scholarly background that some writers have had the good fortune to invest in. I read and I have imagination, desire, instinct, and hope. That about covers it. And if it weren't for the practice that fanfiction offers me, I wouldn't be taking the chance on "original" writing that I am now.

That's another thing -- fanfiction, while grounded in the creation of another person's characters, timeline and setting, is original. Or can be if done well. Some people even make money writing fanfiction. How many of us have wandered the shelves of Borders or Barnes & Noble and seen the scores of Star Trek novels? I myself have a shelf heavy with Star Wars hardback books that started from the moment Return of the Jedi ended. Just about every popular show out there has novelizations. The difference being that those writers were singled out, authorized, and paid to produce their work. But it's still fanfiction.

And a good writer -- one who cares about their character(s) and the reader's experience -- works just as hard writing a fanfiction story as they do writing an original story.

thatgirlsix suggested that I not refer to my story as "original" fiction for that very reason. I still do because I haven't figured out a way to differentiate the two since I also still write fanfiction while working on my story, but I understand her point. In my opinion, fanfiction writing is not 'lazy' writing as some have claimed. It's just a different level of difficulty.

When writing a fanfiction story, we have a ready-made audience, we write with an assumption that if you're reading in this fandom you have a basic understanding of the character backgrounds and habits and you know what they look like. We don't have to introduce the character to the readers at the beginning of each story. But! While we don't own the characters, we still make them ours for the time they're in our story, living through our plot. We still have to weave the story elements in a believable fashion. We still have to research. It is still work.

Now, I don't read a ton of fanfiction, but I am fully aware that the level of quality and content varies to great degrees. But so what? The level of quality and content in actual published material also varies to great degrees. And I keep going back to the fact that fanfiction is a fantastic proving ground for practicing your craft -- if you choose to use it as such. Or you could just have fun with it!

Writing an original story is challenging on a whole different level: you have to set the stage, describe the players, provide a compelling motivation, coordinate the timeline with the plot...and you have to do all of that without a ready-made audience. But it's also freeing, from my point of view, anyway. You aren't working against expectations and interpretations. You. Own. Everything.

The writer of the article also claimed this:

Anyone can write a novel when they've got inspiration, it takes a REAL writer to force themselves to sit down and shit gold.

Maybe these words are true. Maybe the fact that finding the place inside of you that provides you with the 'gold' he's referring to is such an arduous journey that it separates the "men" from the "boys."

But the entitlement that I have observed and listened to from some self-proclaimed writers outside of the fanfic world -- whom, incidentally, I've never encountered in the fanfic world -- is frustrating. I fully recognize the difficulty of pulling words together just right to make your point or paint your picture or tell your story.

It's work to describe the movie in your mind in such a way that a total stranger sees something other than a blank canvass.

But just because you might be one of the lucky ones to find the have created that gold, if you will...doesn't mean you are necessarily any better than the those of us still searching. I mean, the only thing that really separates Stephanie Meyers from Stephen King is perception. Both are still best sellers. Both are still successful. I personally think one is a hack and the other a genius, but so what, right?

That's the epiphany. Ignore the perception by some that those who write fanfiction are in some way inferior writers to "real" writers. I guess it just took the sarcastic and insulting tone of a complete stranger for me to embrace that fact; I've only been dancing around it with sideways glances and uncertainty for about a year or so now.

I'm not going to change that perception. I know that. I can simply say to you that I see the value in telling these stories that we here agree we like to write and to read. I have learned from this experience and I find such incredible enjoyment in this genre.

And if I end up being one of the lucky ones...if this 'original' story I'm working on actually goes somewhere...maybe that's when I can give voice to the fact that there is value here, there is community here, there is enjoyment here.

Okay then. Let's go write something and let our words bleed onto the paper until we find the momentary solace we've been seeking.
Tags: fandom, fanfic, fic, original fic, random, rant
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