This year marks the I think fifth time that I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo, and each time I’ve done it a little differently. The premise is that one has to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, which is an ambitious and arduous, but utterly rewarding task. I’d been struggling with trying to decide what I want to focus on in writing at the moment, because I haven’t really had any original projects super salient on my mind lately, and so I decided that, for the time being at least, I’m actually going to focus on writing a fanfiction I’ve been working on instead. I know that there isn’t really anything that can be gained in terms of monetary value from fanfiction, so that makes it less of a priority for some people, but it’s my belief that as long as one can keep a roof over their head and food on the table via other means, the things that we do for enjoyment don’t need to have dollar signs attached to be worthwhile.
And it might sound cliche, but I don’t think it’s idealistic to say that getting practice in writing by writing fanfiction is a good way for me to hone my writing skills and see what does and doesn’t work for an audience. My most popular story has thousands of hits on AO3 and on FFN, and while the comments are varied (everything from “where’s my vomit icon?” to “this is just so goddamn good, would be worth waiting a lifetime for”) the fact that there are comments and people reacting to my work is a strong motivator to write, and is a positive confirmation for me that yes, writing is a skill that I have and that I should cultivate.
In the past I’ve always written because writing was something that I had to do for myself or the thoughts would drive me mad trying to get out of my head. But writing fanfiction and writing on this blog, both of which I do for an audience, have taught me the joys of writing for other people as well, and the enjoyment that can come from engaging with people who have read and have thoughts regarding my work. I still write for me — I write about the things that I care about, I tell the stories that I want to tell, and I promote the narratives and information about the topics that I find interesting and important and feel both well-informed about and qualified to write about and weigh in on. (That last one is particularly important when writing online, as I never want to share incomplete or incorrect information that could be harmfully misleading due to my own ignorance.) But what I’ve learned over the course of expanding my online presence and sharing my writing with others is that writing for myself and having those values is not mutually exclusive with writing for an audience, and that’s an important skill that I’m glad I’ve learned and that I have the continued ability to refine.
All the same, I struggle with what to write sometimes because I feel as though there’s nothing I could say that wouldn’t be cliche. Even saying that there’s nothing I could say that hasn’t been said before is a cliche. It has, in fact, all been done before. When I was trying to come up with ideas for my undergraduate thesis, they constantly got rejected because I couldn’t come up with anything original enough to satisfy the person who refused to be my advisor. (I didn’t end up writing an undergraduate thesis in the end — in fact, I changed my major just before Thanksgiving break of my senior year in college.) That said, when it came time to write my master’s capstone, I found a topic I was really passionate about and one where I did feel as though I had something to say that would be innovative and unique and I was able to express that. So when it comes down to it, writing, for me at least, is really about cultivation and growth and the work I put into it.
So how does this work with fanfiction? Well, the simple truth of it is that fanfiction is creative expression that brings both me and my readers joy, and it allows me to think critically about the world in which I create — namely, the Harry Potter universe — to shape it into a reflection of what I think it should and could be. Harnessing that potential and working with that energy can be a really powerful and enjoyable experience, and honestly is just a great way to relax after a long and stressful sequence of other engagements.
I’d be interested to see how other people who write and read fanfiction internalize this experience, so please do let me know in the comments or replies on social media.
P.S. If you’re interested in another passionate defense of fanfiction from me, check out last month’s post, Making Time in a Busy World: A Defense of Fanfiction.