Recently I was discussing with a fellow writer on CV about the role of fan fiction in terms of how it relates to the skill of writing. He relayed to me the quote from Neil Gaiman that writing Fan Fiction is "writing with the training wheels on." I guess this blog is more of a personal reflection on that concept, and what I have been doing with a lot of my free time in the past year, but I thought it worthy to share with the other writers (or anyone else that is interested). In April 2012 I decided that something that I might like to take a shot at would be to become an author of fiction. I got the idea after having seen John Carter and identified a few key problems with the concept and its presentation. Alas I already had a trip planned for May so while I started planning an epic novel, I didn't really start until last June. With June 1st as an arbitrary starting point (though I probably started later) I wrote in total about 368k words last year (not including blogs, reviews or fan fic, of which I did a lot of all three.) I had some motivation with NaNoWriMo to expand my horizons and to write something new, and once I did I ended up writing a lot more - a technological post apocalyptic story, a crime/revenge story, a story in the literary nonsense genre, an erotic thriller, and started a few others (a horror and a zombie story). At the end of the year though I sat down and read the epic again (it was 173k and I was still adding to it) and I discovered that I didn't really like it in the end. Maybe "not like" is not the proper description, but I sure felt like it wasn't a part of me.
How does that relate to fan fic? Or if I had taken a more serious attempt at writing beforehand would I have been better prepared for my journey which I just put myself back to the beginning of? I am not so sure in this case that Neil Gaiman's words are so accurate. I think in terms of writing that a writer needs three things - inspiration, technique and dedication. For writers starting out I think the inspiration is usually what hooks them. Very few authors start to write because they say "I am a strong technical writer, so I better do something with it" or "I can complete writing marathons where I don't sleep for days on end" but rather because they say "I wish this story had turned out differently" or "This character would be awesome" or something like that. I think therefore in terms of what Gaiman is saying, is that it is only partially true. For instance, what of an author that wants to write Halo books based in the Halo universe? Or would anyone argue with the success (if not quality) of 50 Shades and E.L. James even when this story started as fan fiction for Twilight? I think that the writer has to be inspired by something. In my case it was a mix between John Carter and Adam Strange. I even considered not writing it as a novel and just as a fan fic which I would post here until my husband convinced me to take it more seriously.
What I do see as a problem for some though is accepting the limitations of the comic medium and simply perpetuating those problems. If that is the inspiration for fan fictions that is fine, but if they do regard themslves as wanting more of a writing career they definitely need to break outside of the box and get the training wheels off. So much of fan fic is like working with a safety net. If someone writes a story about Luke Skywalker or Batman, they can rely on the well established characterization for these characters without having to work it in themselves. Equally the conception and explanation of such otherworldly places such as Gotham City of Tatooine is going to be overlooked for the fan fic author venturing outside of the genre. I think if I have learned anything after the first year of writing it is that writers have to take chances and make mistakes. Only by finding out what we do wrong can we make ourselves better.
In short then, I think this comes down to the individual writer. A writer who relies too much on what is already there needs to move out and grow if they do plan on something in their own name. Equally, not everyone that writes fan fic wants to do more than write fan fic, and for those I applaud them for at least writing, as it is a great skill to have. I can only say this from my own perspective inside the writing world, as my personal great inspiration presently sits at a word count of 0, that I am glad to have found this passion and to have grown from it, but that I know I still have a lot to learn.