Writing for Fun (Not Profit)

We are now well into my weekly series of guest posts on FanFiction. Every Friday for the next few months, an eclectic mix of writers will guest-post on FanFiction (please go here for a controversial definition). You will be hearing from Computer Science majors and published authors and FanFic writers and Drama geeks and articulate fans. FanFiction is fascinating to me because it brings up issues of technology and copyright, originality and creative derivation, gender-norms and digital communities.

This week we are hearing from Adiva Calandia (nome de plume) writes fanfiction (mostly about obscure fandoms and with a truly incredible focus on bizzare crossovers), as well as singing the occasional filk and editing the occasional fanvid.

When Jessica asked me to write a post about fanfiction for her, I was terribly enthused. Fanfiction’s been part of my life for . . . well, my memories vary. It may have been when I was about eleven, and I started writing a truly horrific Harry Potter story about an ~American transfer student~ who was ~mute~ and ~secretly a werepanther~. I wonder if that’s still on my hard drive . . . Anyway, the point I usually count from is my seventh grade year, when I was thirteen, and The Fellowship of the Ring came out. My first foray into Lord of the Rings fandom was just as horrific, believe me — something about a half-elf who fell in love with Aragorn and ultimately sacrificed herself tragically, I don’t even know, there was a lot of overwrought symbolism with doves and brown eyes and Celtic songs — but it was my first foray onto fanfiction.net. I lasted there until about halfway through high school, I think.

Anyway, so. Counting from my first “official” fanfic, shared with the terrifying wilds of the Internet, I’ve been writing fic for the last seven or eight years. Counting from my private stories on my hard drive, it’s been ten — nearly half my life.

So of course I’m qualified to talk about fanfiction and will have all kinds of insights these folks who just consume don’t, right?

. . . Um . . .

Actually I don’t have the first clue what to write about.

Jessica suggested I write something from a feminist standpoint, about how the majority of fanfic authors and consumers are female, and how the majority of patent and copyright holders are male, and that makes the negative reaction of the establishment towards fanfiction a gendered move . . . and that’s an awesome idea and someone should totally write that post, but I’m just — not legally minded enough on that front.

I guess I oughtta be. There is a not insignificant chance that someone like Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs) or Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials) or Diane Duane (Young Wizards) could decide to sue me. (Well, not that last one, probably. Ms. Duane is not only very encouraging of her fans, right down to sanctioning a collaborative fanwork based on her books, but she got her start as an author writing Doctor Who and Star Trek stories. She still references both canons in her books on a regular basis. If that ain’t an author sympathetic to fans, I don’t know who is.)

Anyway. So I should probably be a little more concerned about that whole infringing-copyright-for-my-weekend-kicks thing. Obviously, I’m . . . not. And frankly I’m not particularly qualified to talk about copyright infringement, or the gendered politics of accusations of same, or what have you, so . . . I’m gonna skip that.

What I can talk about it why I write fanfic.

Or at least, that was what I figured when I started writing this. I figured I could pin it down in some nice academic phrase about engaging with the text and exploring avenues ignored by the authors, aaaaand . . . yeah, okay, there’s some of that. For instance, I started writing a story about a year ago about what circumstances might prompt the Doctor, of Doctor Who, to regenerate in female form — a Time Lady rather than a Time Lord. It’s currently simmering on my metaphorical back burner, along with about four other multi-part epics in various fandoms. Writing four-to-ten page papers every few weeks in college is a great way to lose track of the stuff you’re writing for fun.

–Oh, wait, did I just define it? “Stuff you’re writing for fun”?

Because that’s the thing. Whether I’m writing a parody of “I’ve Got a Theory” (“Once More With Feeling,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer) starring the cast of Heroes, or a multi-part epic about Nita Callahan (Young Wizards) teaming up with the Winchester boys (Supernatural) to fight demons, I’m writing this stuff because frankly, it’s fun.

There are plenty of other reasons, too. I have written something fannish just about every day since seventh grade; that means I’ve been writing something every day for the last eight years. Look in any writing book and it’ll tell you that the best way to get better at writing is to do it constantly, and while I may not meet the thousand-words-a-day mark or whatever some people recommend, I do still write every single day. As a result, I flatter myself I’ve become pretty deft with words. (As empirical evidence, I point to the number of papers I’ve written at the last minute over the last two years at college that still somehow managed to get A’s.)

When I was in seventh grade and I told my friends, bursting with delight, that I had started a new story the night before, but this one wasn’t a Lord of the Rings story, it was a Sherlock Holmes story, I was greeted with sighs, eye rolling, and “Why don’t you write something original?” It was crushing. (I was thirteen. I got over it.) And that “Why don’t you write something original?” refrain is the reason I don’t tell most people I write fanfic — not because I’m afraid of being sued for copyright infringement.

And the thing is, it’s a stupid question. One friend* described it thus:

It drives me crazy, whenever the “why aren’t you writing your own stuff?” argument comes up: people who knit aren’t expected to become artisans, people who cook aren’t expected to become chefs, people who write shouldn’t be expected to become published writers. It’s a whole different animal.

Other fannish friends** agreed:

There’s a whole undercurrent to our culture that if you like something and if you’re good at it you should/will want to get paid for it. There are lots of times people tell me “you should sell those” when they seem me knitting something. I may or may not reply to them with a) there’s no way someone would pay me what my time & effort is worth and b) I don’t necessarily want to do it for pay. That’d suck all the fun out of it. But my not being terribly interested in getting paid for it doesn’t mean I don’t try to improve and learn more.

I enjoy writing on its own merits (as evidenced by how long this post is getting). It’s a pleasurable activity. You might as well just ask me why I write.

There’s also a community aspect, which really I could just devote a separate post to and still not cover everything, so I’ll say this, piggybacking off the earlier idea of “writing every day, even something fannish, makes you a better writer”: if you publish a short story or a poem or even a novel, the most feedback you get on it may be just the notes from your editor. You never know.

When you write a fanfic and you post it, on fanfiction.net or LiveJournal or Dreamwidth or alt.callahans or anywhere else on the Internet . . . the Internet will let you know how it is. Fans can be hugely supportive and gentle and encouraging; fans can be brutally cruel. (Fans can occasionally be unhelpful: “omg this is soooo good more pls!!!”) Having received feedback from all over the spectrum, including the flaming end, I can tell you that there’s nothing like fan feedback for improving your writing. (I thought about including here the tragic story of how I got flamed for one of my terrible Lord of the Rings stories — seriously, it’s tragic, and the more I think about it the more I want to dissect it, and it taught me more about Internet decorum than almost anything else that I’ve ever read or experienced — but it’s long-ish.)

And besides: fans are fun. Some of my best friends are fans, and I don’t even know what they all look like.

Anyway, look. To say that fanfiction is fun, and useful to me as a writer, is not to say that it’s not also an important part of the copyright fight, or of the literary world in general. (My definition of fanfiction tends to be so broad as to count Gregory Maguire’s Wicked or Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan” as fan-works, although I know at least one person in this series would disagree with me violently.) But I don’t feel like thinking about it like that. I don’t think about shooting hoops in the driveway as an important part of my cardiovascular health, or as practice for a real game. It is those things.

But it’s also just fun.

And I’m not aiming for the NBA any time soon.

*Miss Lucy Jane (a pseudonym), who not only writes wonderful Torchwood fanfiction, but has published one novel and several short stories, and is working on a screenplay (and, I think, another novel). When she talks about publication, she knows what she’s talking about.

**Countess, whose knitting is beautiful and creative, and whose writing is the same.

Inspirational Quote:

“I feel like a lot of people are drawn to writing fic or RPing because writing is something they don’t know how not to do.” (this quote is from Esther, who I blame for at least one of my writing projects).


  1. Hi Jess, figured I’d drop a line here and let you know I’m still very much enjoying FanFiction Fridays. Some considerable topics thus far.

    It was interesting to hear Adiva’s take on the difference between FanFic and other genres, although I have a different take on it. I suppose I’m referencing this paragraph in particular:

    “It drives me crazy, whenever the ‘why aren’t you writing your own stuff?’ argument comes up: people who knit aren’t expected to become artisans, people who cook aren’t expected to become chefs, people who write shouldn’t be expected to become published writers. It’s a whole different animal.”

    Indeed true, not everybody who owns a guitar has signed a record contract. Nor should they be expected to. But I also think it’s a shame that writing is thought of in these compartmentalized terms.

    As an aspiring fiction writer, I’m reminded all the time of the ‘lowness’ of fan fiction, and I’m warned not to take it seriously. It’s second rate stuff for hacks, I’m told, don’t waste your time with it.

    I think that’s just a bit harsh, and such venomous sentiments aren’t worthy of my time. On the other hand, to my surprise I often hear similar comments from fanfic writers themselves. When I ask fanfic writers what they do with their stories, I get a lot of “nothing, just post it online on my blog/share it with friends.” It’s fun, they tell me, it’s nothing “serious.”

    Well, why not? Why not try to do something with it? I would suggest that publishing’s not just for them professional elites. In fact, as far as short stories go, most pros never quit their day jobs.

    Publishing is good for two things: it sends your work out into the world in a broader way than what you might be capable of yourself, and I absolutely love that. Sharing stories to me is what writing is all about. (After all, how much fun is it to tell a joke when nobody else is around?) Second, it allows for a kind of peer review process to assess yourself as a writer. I know that the feedback I’ve received from various magazine and journal editors has been immensely helpful to me. Just another tool to help you sharpen your skills.

    In my opinion, we could all stand to be a little more flexible. Literary fiction writers could stand to take a break from riding their high horse and give fan fic a try every now and again. It’s just as legit a genre as any other, after all. And, I’d really like to see more fan fic writers throw their hat in the ring and give publishing a shot, too I tell you, there’s nothing like seeing your own byline in a lit magazine or journal you’ve often visited as a reader.


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