Dojo Summer Sessions: Mah Sooper Sekrit Projeckt

So, for almost three months now, I’ve been writing like mad.  I’ve often compared writing to volcanoes: there are times when the magma chamber’s empty, then over a period of time it fills, you get your basic harmonic tremors, and then an eruption that lasts days, weeks or months, depending.  That’s how it’s been for these past many weeks: one sustained eruption that’s disrupted the airspace over this blog and rained ash all over my relationships.  Even the cat’s been deprived of premium cuddle time.  I am Busy Writing Fiction, by the gods, and there is nothing that can pull me away from it for long.

I’m up to 169 pages over the past 12 weeks, and that’s not counting over 100 pages of writing journal and various handwritten scribbles.

With all that, by now, my Wise Readers are saying, “Well, then, Dana: where are the damned excerpts?

There’s a good reason I haven’t posted a single word of all this mad, frantic fiction on ye olde writing blogge for your reading pleasure (or displeasure, depending).  That’s because it’sfanfiction.

Artist’s Impression of Reader Response

Deep breath.

Screw courage to sticking place.


Artist’s Impression of Reader Response

Now, don’t be that way.  There’s nothing wrong with fan fiction, and I’ll tell you why.

For one thing, lots of us get our start writing fan fiction.  Think of it this way: it’s like learning how to play the guitar.  Most folks aren’t virtuosos from the start.  They learn by imitation, drive people mad by playing “Stairway to Heaven” ninety-seven times a day really badly, and eventually, after stealing borrowing bits from the professionals for many years, become skilled and confident enough to strike out on their own.  You can learn a lot about telling stories and handling characterization and all those important but difficult aspects of writing by getting your feet wet in other writers’ worlds.

But after you’ve gotten your feet wet, once you’ve learned how to swim (or, switching metaphors, play something that is not “Stairway to Heaven”), you should never, ever write fan fiction ever again, right?

I mean, you’re just wasting time that could’ve been spent on your own magnum opus.

You’re grown up.  You’re past that, now.

It’s silly.  Immature.  Useless.

And those are things you can tell yourself in order to stay on track with your own work rather than reverting to young writerhood, but let me ‘splain why, after having given myself the “Stay focused, you’re too grown up for fan fiction, you shouldn’t waste time, etc. etc. Peter Cetera etc.” lecture, I’ve plunged into writing fan fiction anyway.

It’s because I needed New Eyes.  Not Wise Reader eyes.  Not New Character Eyes.  They weren’t helping.  I’d got bogged down in the minutiae of my created universe and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  Hell, I couldn’t even make out some of the trees for the trees.  I knew there were places where I was stuck, where my imagination wasn’t grasping the essentials, but I couldn’t for the life of me see what they were or how the hell I could extract myself.  Also, I am teh suck at action scenes, and I’d grown tired of page after page of nothing much going on.  Okay, so lots was going on, psychological drama and all that, but still.  Everything felt stagnant.  And you know what happens when things stagnate.  Ain’t pretty.

Around the time I was about to write this winter writing season off as a bad job and bugger off to do something else, my intrepid companion hauled Doctor Who up for our Monday entertainment.  And there they were.  My much-needed New Eyes.  I didn’t mean to write fan fiction, I really didn’t, but a story presented itself and then (as things to do when the Doctor’s around) spiraled a bit out of control and now we’re pushing two hundred pages, and I don’t begrudge an instant of it because chucking him into my universe is allowing me to see it in ways I’ve never seen it before.  Thorny problems that plagued me for years are resolving nicely.  And I’m improving on the action scene front.  And it’s fun.

There’s nothing not to love here.

When I go back to writing non-fan fiction, I’ll have a fresh perspective.  Not to mention all that lovely exercise.

So here’s my advice to you writers who might be stuck: don’t run away screaming if the possibility of writing some good old fashioned fan fiction presents itself.  If you can fit someone else’s character into your world for a bit, and you feel like trying it, try.  Unleash your imagination.  Because here’s what it does:

1.  Forces you to write from an unfamiliar perspective.  If your characters have all started blending in to each other, or slotted themselves into neat little types, filching other people’s characters and writing from their viewpoint for a bit can break that vicious cycle.  And it’ll improve your characterization chops in the process.

2.  Helps you see your world afresh.  What’s intimately familiar to you and your characters is completely new to other people’s characters.  They’ll notice things you and your own characters wouldn’t pay any attention to.  And sometimes, that will lead to creative revelations.  You might even find yourself quoting T.H. Huxley: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!”  You’ll find yourself questioning assumptions and seeing things differently and asking those questions that make writing a process of exploration and discovery rather than a plodding one-word-after-another slog.

3.  Gives you practice with different techniques and situations.  If your mad writing skillz suffer in a particular area, and you know you need to polish ’em up, using an established character who’s an old pro at this sort o’ thing can give you that polish.  There’s already a template to follow.  And after tracing the template until you’re good at it will allow you to toss the template out and strike out confidently on your own later.

4.  Gets you excited again.  After so much time exploring every detail of your world, you might be suffering the old “familiarity breeds contempt” malady.  Not to mention, you have performance anxiety.  Fan fiction allows you to spend some time writing without suffering those complaints, and hence can recharge your fictional batteries nicely.  It can allow you to fall in love with your own writing again.

5.  Gives you practice for that great day when, as a famous author, you’re asked to write a reboot of your favorite fiction.  Look.  There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, is there?  And you never, ever know.  It could happen.  You might even make it happen.  And in case points 1-4 weren’t enough to convince yourself it’s really okay to spend a little time playing, this last one might be just the permission slip you need.

There are other benefits, I’m sure, probably quite a few I haven’t discovered yet or won’t discover because they’re not relevant to my situation, but might be for yours.  You won’t know until you’ve tried.  And you might never try.  You might never need to write fan fiction in your entire life.  But if you’re stuck, consider this as a way of unsticking yourself.  And enjoy the hell out of it.  And if people sneer at you for piddling around with fan fiction when you should be spending your time being a Really Serious Original Writer, there’s just one response:

Artist’s Illustration of Proper Technique
Dojo Summer Sessions: Mah Sooper Sekrit Projeckt

3 thoughts on “Dojo Summer Sessions: Mah Sooper Sekrit Projeckt

  1. 1

    Writing fanfiction is a bit like the gourmet chef whose favorite meal is mac and cheese. Maybe a bit of a guilty pleasure, but a delicious alternative to foie gras.Enjoy!

  2. 2

    Ah, I'd like to be able to write fiction, any fiction. The Thesis voice is so strong within me now, though, that everything I write sounds like a professional paper. One day my advisor will actually look at my thesis, and I will rewrite it and get it done, and then maybe I can get my fiction voice back.

  3. 3

    I started with fan fiction in my teens, and it was a worthwhile primer. Then around 20-21 I one day asked myself why am I bothering with someone elses creativity when I can come up with my own.Now the battle lies with being too derivative.

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