04/03/2003

Dirty Little Secrets, or, Why I keep my fan fiction in the back of the closet with those godawful pants and the "what was I thinking?" shoes...

I've been writing for years. For academia, for publication (albeit as yet unsuccessfully), for personal pride and amusement. But for all intents and purposes, I got my start in fan fiction (Star Trek).

Not that you'll catch me admitting that to many people these days.

I read it, write it, occasionally defend it. I am proud of the fan fiction work I've done. I put it on the web. But outside of certain circles, I won't admit to it.

Yes, I am fully aware of my hypocrisy. That's sort of the point of this little editorial.

Ignoring the fact that most fanfic falls under Sturgeon's Law, the real issue seems to come down to authenticity and liability. I see all sorts of fantasy series out there that are well-established worlds continued by new authors. Not to mention the explosion of media tie-ins over the last few years.

In my mind, it's all just like fan fiction, but it's sanctioned fan fiction. Permission has been given by the owners of the ideas for their use, so there's none of the "fan fiction is the theft of intellectual property" (which, really I think is debatable anyway, but so not going there).

Besides, most of it falls under Sturgeon's Law, too.

The legality-related issues aside, writing fanfic is one of those things an aspiring professional writer never wants to admit because it's not considered "serious" or "real", since you're using someone else's world and/or characters. It's seen as cheating, a cop-out because you can't come up with your own ideas. While a few professional authors out there got their start in fan fiction, they're the exception rather than the rule, and I have to wonder if it worked against them in the long run. In that reality, fan fiction is a guilty pleasure, like watching "Temptation Island" or "Married by America"; you love doing it for the sheer fun and entertainment, but are embarrased to actually admit you do so in polite company.

Author Neil Gaiman said it best, I think:

"I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you're writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you're writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you're still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer..."
Yet, he does go on to make this excellent and very important point (if you can get that Smeagol-Gollum slash mental image out of your head long enough to pay attention):
"But I do think that, in the final analysis, all a writer really has to give is the stuff that only she or he can give the world and no-one else can. That the sooner you sound like you and tell the stories only you can tell, for good or for ill, the better. And from that point of view, I suppose I think of fan-fiction as training wheels. Sooner or later you have to take them off the bike and start wobbling down the street on your own."
For a lot of fan fic writers, I'll bet that it's really no more than literary daydreaming, or a way of community building, or, hell, just having fun with a show they adore. They don't care about anyone's opinion of their work outside of the fandom or fanfic community (making them smart people). And then there are some who see fanfic as training wheels, but will never take them off. And then there are those of us who are wobbling down the street, but keep those training wheels tucked in the back of the closet, within easy reach but out of sight. Because while we enjoy the security and ease of them (and the sheer gleeful fun), we're afraid of the mockery and head-shaking of our peers in the "real writers" world.

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