Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Price, Value, and Worth of Writing

I received a refreshingly nice comment from Tod Goldberg on a previous post, and he raised some interesting and polite points. I thought I would respond to him in a new post, since the issues he's referring to have come up in other debates.

I don't look down my nose at you. Rather, as a person who teaches creative writing in addition to writing it, I see a writer with potential who is wasting it on endeavors perhaps not worthy of her talents. I'm not here to debate the worth of fan fiction -- my opinion is perhaps less harsh than my older, uglier brother's, but suffice it to say, I think it's not the best route to go, but, hey, you're gonna do it, whatever -- but to say, look, instead of spending all these hours crafting your Harry Potter book, use that same due dilligence to create original fiction that might improve your chances of getting published if, indeed, that is your end goal.

Tod's quite right: being published is indeed my "end goal," so to speak, but as the old saying goes (more or less) it's not just the destination but the journey. And I do not consider a single moment I have spent writing fanfic "wasted," nor a shred of my creative energy, nor my (debatable) writing talent or potential.

Is there any creative endeavor "not worthy" of a writer's talent? Or any endeavor not worthy of any person's talent?

Instead of writing so much, should I have focused solely on school? Heaven knows, my grades would have been better. Who the heck is going to finish a novel at all in law school? Maybe I should have put all my ideas and outlines on the back burner for three years.

Should I not have participated in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society? I mean, moot court is one thing; it looks good on the resume. But a theatre extracurricular in law school? People may think it's "cool," but it doesn't exactly speak to my legal skills. Hours and hours of precious study time on rehearsals, cast parties, tech weekends, and performances...and the best friendships I have ever had, and the most happiness I have ever found in my experiences in higher education.

Is that truly a waste?

So when I read that you want to write all these novels and all these screenplays, I think: then do it. Write them. But when you say, First I need to finish my Harry Potter book, I think, oh, Jocelyn, channel your energy to the future.

No worries, Tod, I do that. My entire frigging existence is about the future. I've been in transit for five years, from undergrad to law school, from job to job, always moving forward, always moving from this temporary residence to that one. I can't wait to settle down.

On the other hand, my high school track coach told me when I graduated, "These will be the best four years of your life." (Meaning college.) I was a good little girl in college. At the number one party school in the country, I focused on school and the debate team. Nothing else. And I do mean NOTHING.

Naturally, those were NOT the best four years of my life.

And if there's one lesson I learned from my excellent GPA, debate medals, and mind-boggling boredom, it's that I refuse sacrifice the present for the sake of the future. The future is important; I don't deny that, and I always measure my decisions with my future plans in mind.

Look, write whatever you want to write. Castaneda said we make one choice, to be warriors or ordinary men, and I say, be a warrior. (On a purely teacherly level I'd also say: focus on one project at a time. Trust me.)

Well, perhaps it's just difference in work style. On a purely lawyerly perspective, I respond: two words: multi-task. (Well, one hyphenated word.)

Let me tell you about the "value" of my fanwriting. This is why I'm finishing my Harry Potter fanfic before I focus entirely on my books.

Last year, when I started the story, my mother started to read it, having recently become a Harry Potter fan herself. My family had taken a passing interest in my fanwriting before, but this was the first time any of them had followed it. Soon, she was reading it every day, nagging me for more just like my online readers. When I went away to London for a month, she told me she wanted to, "Pick up where I'd left off," while I was gone.

Thus began my first co-authorship. Mum and I are now closer than we've ever been. We read our reviews together and laugh, spend hours over the laptop when I'm home, writing away (that's our current plan for this weekend: to finish the story), and I've taught her the ins and outs of the Internet.

Where is the "waste" in that?

I've had readers tell me I've made the wait for Book 6 bearable. I've been told I match the "voice" of an author perfectly. I've had readers inform me that they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first novel, that no matter what it's about, they will buy it.

I've even met a few of them in person. Some have authored fanfics that I love, and we have gabbed over our plots and themes and plans over lunch. I've made some good friends.

There's more to the value of writing than dollars and publishing contracts.


Anonymous ppg said...

Oh word word word. It's hard to remember in the fray that there are intangible benefits to writing, that don't include money. I can understand where professional writers come from. If particular authors don't want fanfiction based on their works that's fine. However the intangible benefits (for which I think everyone writes, in the end) aren't just for professional writers or "original" fiction writers. It's the intangible benefits of writing that I think most fanfic writers appreciate, since most fanfic writers probably aren't going to become professional writers. (Some of those fanfic writers might not even write otherwise.)

I've noticed that fan fiction, where it's allowed, serves as a glue to hold a fandom together. Fandom is simply another word for "community". It's a living, breathing thing. Sometimes it's a loose connection, sometimes it's a tight one, even if it's spread across the globe.

Now I must find out where you've archived your fic, because I really want to read it. :-)

11:53 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

You never get back the time, Jocelyn. I understand what Tod is saying. I've wanted to say the same to you. You'll make your own decisions, of course, but if you want to write, then you need to do it and do it in a real way.

It's not about publishing contracts and dollars, believe me. NOBODY does this without love of the craft. Fanfiction is a time suck you can ill afford. A poor substitute for the real thing.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

Now I must find out where you've archived your fic, because I really want to read it. :-)

It's no secret. I'm "Jocelyn" on Most of my earlier work is pretty ghastly, but the Harry Potter stories have been well-received, as has my Silmarillion/Unfinished Tales-based work.

You never get back the time, Jocelyn.

Very true. But I'm not just talking about writing time and word counts. I'll never get back this year with my mother either, and I wouldn't trade the time I've spent fanwriting with her for a million-buck publishing contract for one of my novels.

You'll make your own decisions, of course, but if you want to write, then you need to do it and do it in a real way.

I'll pretend you didn't mean that to be as belittling as it sounds.

The connection with my readers, with my co-author parent, discussing the plot and future chapters via email and on the message boards...what's not real about that?

12:30 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

I'll pretend you didn't mean that to be as belittling as it sounds.

Have I belittled you yet? Why start now?

I can't tell you who I am, but I can tell you that I understand about the writing with your mom. I did the same thing with another very special person and won a prize, a real writing prize for the effort. Even if the thing is never published, I'd still not count that time wasted because I can't put a price on the inspiration and the work that went into that novel and the relationship it deepened.

And yes, things can win prizes and still not get published. to paraphrase driving the Florida Keys, Persistance Pays.

From what I've seen and I know a LOT Of fanfiction writers and been around a while, FF builds bad habits that are painful to unlearn when one goes for the real thing. Yet, my experience is that those writers can't see it from within the bubble of fandom. So, that's what I mean about not losing your time. Mabye you and mom can embark on a new adventure together. Something original.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

Even if the thing is never published, I'd still not count that time wasted because I can't put a price on the inspiration and the work that went into that novel and the relationship it deepened.

There you go. Even if all we ever get out of it from the rest of the world is the praise of our readers, the experience between the two of us has been priceless.

Mabye you and mom can embark on a new adventure together. Something original.

We're planning on that. I'm planning out a novel based on an idea Mum had a long time ago, a Biblical novel that has the potential to cause a similar uproar in the Church that the Da Vinci Code did (apologies to Lewis Purdue, if he reads this), and I'm nagging Mum to write a mystery series she's been mulling over for years with a nurse as the amateur sleuth.

But we are going to finish Battle of Wills first. We've had too much fun with it, it's almost done, Mum's loved the experience of her first foray into fandom with reader reviews, and we both like analyzing Harry Potter too much.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I probably spend less time in my fandom than Jocelyn in hers, but like her, I don't consider the time wasted. I've met a number of nice people that way, and, as editor and co-moderator of a fanfic archive/forum I've encouraged several others to give original fiction a try. Fanfiction is a way to get started. Morevoer, since this archive requires submission, the stories are no stinkers and some of them are really good.

I know several writers, published ones among them, who spend hours playing Final Fantasy, Rome Total War and other such games to relax and while they joke about the time waste, they also love it. I write fanfiction for that reason, and because it gives me a basis to experiment with new techniques (btw, I started with original fiction after a 25 years break and had one sucky novel finished before I even learned there's something like fanfiction).

But my original projects come first and there often are several weeks in a row when I don't write any fanfic. I do it only when the mood strikes me and I don't feel like working on my other stuff. I know my readers aren't happy to wait so long, but they respect it.

And they want to read my original fiction, too. That's something easily overlooked: if you build a fanfiction fan community, you will have future readers. Not thousands, of course, but 50 or 100 additonal books sold can make a difference for a beginner.

I have followed the discussion on several blogs, and, as moderator of a forum where people discuss writing fanfiction in a tolerated fandom, I have to say that lack of creativity is a very injust and wrong accusation. There are discussions about every problem from staying within character, inserting an OC who is not a Mary Sue to writing good dialogue. Most of the participants are quite young and I daresay it will be a start into writing original fiction for some of them. I wish I had gotten any feedback for my writing when I was a teenager, and I wrote both original and derivative stories back then.

I'm a multitasker, too, ever was since I did my math homework during the English lessons because I was bored by both. ;)

In short, I won't consider writing fanfiction a waste of time, but I'd say watch out how much time you spend doing what. If the balance tips too strongly towards fanfic, it might be a danger - one of the many writers face, like having two dozen half-finished stories, getting caught in the research trap *cough* (lol) or the endless editing spiral and other obstacles to writing and finishing a publishable novel.

Good luck with Paulina.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

I won't write fanfiction, but not for the reasons people usually give. I'm certainly not indignant about it.

Heck, I've got no problem with out right copying! When I went to art school, we used to copy artists' work to get a feel for their style. . .When it comes to writing, I can understand adopting a person's voice to see if you can get the rhythm of their language.

That's not what fanfic is about, though, is it. Good thing too, if you're doing Potter. I'll stomp on toes here--when it comes to style, I don't think JK Rowling's fabulous. The woman's a genius in other ways. Her plots rock.

But the ditzy little stuff--her speech tags (they're always "said" with an attached adverb) drive me up the wall. And the words "Snape snapped" make me want to howl. She takes shortcuts in writing that sometimes smack of cliche.

So if it's not the language patterns a fanfic writer, then it's the people and reality, right? Rowling's got that in spades but the books have inevitable inconsistencies. I love the books and the problems don't bother me, but if I were trying to adopt it for my own work (fanfic) I'd want to make repairs which could feel like an imposition.

Anyway, taking up someone's style or world requires a kind of research and processing that I'm willing to do with history to a certain extent, but not with other people's work.

My long-winded point is that it seems to me that writing fanfic might be harder than shoving off on your own and using only your brain and what you know as your home base. And with fanfic, the pay sux.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

dang, I wish I'd done some proofing before I sent that!

8:36 PM  

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