Have you taken my advice from Part One and done as you were told? Gone off to write the next great novel or short story or personal narrative or radio jingle? Have you left my post with great intentions but no idea where to start? I thought you might be back. Well, dear reader, I have a suggestion.
To someone with Pulitzer ambitions, who has already been practicing their interview for when their novel becomes an Oprah Book Club selection, fan fic seems like becoming a literary whore, but I say there are benefits, particularly for someone new to the writing process, from whoring yourself out.
First, the essence of fan fiction is that the authors write about something they like–a favorite book, a great movie, or even a cheesy television series. The stories can be true to what they know or can vary widely from existing canon, coupling characters that would never, under any circumstances, get together; or exploring beyond what we know about the inspiring work. One of the benefits, aside from the sheer act of creation, of writing fan fic is that you are often writing about something you have a passion for. Right now, for example, in between work on the final couple of chapters of my novel, I am working on a Harry Potter fan fiction that picks up where J. K. Rowling left off after the Battle of Hogwarts in the last book. (For anyone who would complain about the vague spoiler here, I would say that if you haven’t read the book yet, you’re not a true fan anyway.) I am an avid fan of Rowling’s work and can’t stand to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione age nineteen years in the time it takes me to flip a page. Damn it, I want to know what happened in those nineteen years and if she won’t tell me, then I’ll figure it out on my own. That passion, the overriding need to know what happened or what could happen under the right circumstances, is what creates good writing. No author ever became successful by being indifferent to his or her subject. Every novel you see is an act of passion and if you learn to harness the passion you already have for something else, it will be easier to do when you have an original idea. When you physically, mentally, and emotionally need to know what happens in your own story, you can drive yourself through all self-doubt and cast aside all excuses until the work is complete.
The second benefit to writing fan fiction is that, on most online sites, readers are allowed to review your work, allowing you continuous, and sometimes immediate, feedback on the quality of your writing. However, you should brace yourself for this fact–not all feedback will tell you how great you are. Some people who review your work will offer constructive criticism meant to improve your writing while some will, for reasons still unknown to me, trash you simply for the sake of tearing you down. Once you weed out the trash talkers, use the constructive comments to improve your writing. If one person sees a flaw in your story, your style, or even your grammar, more will probably see the same thing, particularly editors and agents who do such things for a living. As you write and read what people think of your work, you become more aware of the blind spots you have and are quicker to seek and destroy them. The editorial process, something which many authors have trouble with, becomes easier as you learn to look for your mistakes rather than to look over them. Another benefit of reader reviews is that when they are good, they boost your confidence. Anyone who has ever poured their heart and soul into a piece of writing, only to ship it off to some publishing entity, wait for six months, and receive a form rejection letter can tell you of the importance of keeping your confidence up during and after the writing process.
One more positive that I’ll touch on regarding fan fiction is the sense of community you find on many fan fiction sites. When a group of people get together and apply their imagination toward a single thing, regardless of the form their creativity takes, it allows people of similar interests to share ideas and, in many cases, help each other build confidence in their work. Fan fiction communities, in this sense, offer the same benefit as conventional writing groups, that sense of camaraderie that comes from common interests, common labors, and common dreams.
I was skeptical at first about writing fan fiction. I thought that adding my own two-bits to Rowling’s series would be a waste of time, a distraction from the works that I thought might be commercially viable. Then, I realized that, by thinking along those lines, I was missing the point of writing entirely. We don’t write to make money, to make friends, or to make it sound like we’re trying to get out of our miserable jobs. We write because we are driven to write. We write because we have passion and that passion needs to be expressed when and where we can find an outlet. For your writing to be worth reading, it has to fill a need, not a want. I want to make money. I want that Pulitzer. I want to be on Oprah. I NEED to write.
And that makes all the difference.
P.S. If you would like to read my contribution to the Potter universe, go to Mugglenet.com’s fan fiction site and find “Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher” by leesmiley (my less-than-imaginative pen name). Feel free to leave me a review and read some of the other works on there. Very creative, we Potterphiles.