Saturday, 12 July 2008

Being a "Real" Writer

A friend of mine had a good cry on my shoulder the other day. Being a writer, she works hard on her craft, and has gained a pretty good mastery over it for her needs.

Her source of misery? A non-traditional reader's comments disparaging her chosen field.

See, she writes fan-fiction. She's really good at it, having several novel-length works under her belt, and a bit of a fandom of her own.

I love fan-fiction. Used to write fan-fiction as a way of developing my own mastery of the craft. (Alas, I don't have the time now.)

Fan-fiction is a good tool for working on one's craft.

1. The love is already there. To write really good stuff, one must love what one is writing: the characters, the world, etc.

2. Instant fan base. You wanna write Snape slash? There's someone out there that wants to read it.

3. Quick feedback. Readers of fan-fic will respond to your posted works, with everything from "I loved this!" to detailed critiques. Snag a few good beta readers, and your mastery of the craft grows in leaps and bounds.

So why does fan-fiction have a bad rap? Its biggest critics claim it's "derivative and unoriginal".

Okay, granted, fan-fiction writers are borrowing characters created by other writers. Unless the fan-ficcers plan on passing off these characters as their own, I don't see anything wrong with this.

But the rest of the story? Pure originality. Fan-fiction writers take characters and develop them. They delve into areas that the original writers didn't cover (for whatever reason) They come up with new plots. They explore the unexplored territories.

Sounds like being a television writer. They're given characters and a situation and even settings and told to come up with a new plot each week.

Only difference is that television writers get paid.

Another argument some people use against fan-fiction: "If you didn't get paid for it, it's not real writing."

You know, I've heard this one a dozen times from lots of people who aren't being paid to write. I have yet to hear it from a paid writer. I'm not sure why that is.

So it's a law that fan-fiction writers cannot earn a profit from their fan-fiction. After all, the rights to the characters belongs to their creators, and if any money is to be made, it must go to those who hold the rights.

One could argue that fan-fiction itself is illegal. But authors tend to turn a blind eye for the most part. Fan-fiction is one of the most sincerest forms of flattery.

Enough about the legalities; more about the craft.

Writing is writing. Every writer wants to become a better writer--that much they have in common. Why they write, that diverges. Some write for themselves, some write for small audiences, and some want to write for bigger audiences. Some love writing fan-fiction for an audience that pays in whuffie and adoration. Others prefer writing fiction with commercial potential (and comes with ca$h).

To say that fan-fiction isn't "real writing" because it borrows established characters or doesn't turn a profit shows true ignorance of the writing craft.

A writer writes because they want to. The real payday of writing is not whether or not you get paid, but if you entertain your audience--whomever they may be.

So my friend knows this. Intellectually, logically, she knows this. But her heart wanted approval.

For the most part, she gets approval from her traditional audience, and well she should. But when someone who isn't of her traditional audience asks her if she's a writer, she told them she was. That seemed to impress tem and when they wanted to see something of what she'd written, she gave them a sample of her work, and, well...

One can't please the whole world. Be happy with the few one can please, and above all, please oneself first.

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