Fanfics and Message Boards as Modes of Writing

I wrote this article two years ago, but in the September 2016 edition of The Writer’s Chronicle, I was comforted by the realization that I’m not alone. I’m not the only person to find comfort in writing fanfiction (and roleplaying on message boards). What I experienced as an adolescent was not a singular occurrence. I want to advocate for the participation in these activities, because not everyone gets the opportunity to set aside their life to become a writer. However, everyone should have the ability to explore the benefits of writing and collaboration, and we should be allowed to let our imaginations work beyond the consumer norm.

I am aware of how silly it sounds to say that posting writing online or writing romance fanfiction about my favorite characters has made me a better writer. After all, E. L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey as a fanfic based off of the Twilight series, and you’d be pressed to find many literary scholars who advocate for James as a “good” writer.

The truth is, most of the fanfics we write should never see the light of day. But that doesn’t mean that writing them isn’t fundamental to our development. The ability to portray other people’s characters is an excellent way to exercise your writing skills.

I started out my writing career as a hopeful prepubescent child with no concept of literature other than what I had read in books. A friend of mine and I decided that the stories we read had more potential than what was on the page, and we began what I consider to be the most essential fuel to my fire: roleplaying. At recess, we would sit and write a line each of the story to each other, often focusing on one or two characters that we wanted to portray from our favorite stories. That grew into a story of our own, and from that, we discovered message boards. (Well, she discovered it, and I quickly followed.)

I’m no longer part of the community, but message boards (forums) used to be for those wanting to come together to write a collective story. The websites were usually laid out by locations within the story; you could post a message wherever your particular character was. Most often, you were asked to write in third person limited, past tense, and to only portray the character that you have chosen. (There were of course variations of this.) Your character operated within this realm of locations and around other members participating in the whole plot. All of this is the creative writing past-time called roleplaying.

When I was roleplaying on message boards, I was writing thousands of words a day. Anyone who writes knows that it’s difficult sometimes to even churn out 100 good, polished words of story in one day. But because other people were contributing to the plot and the story, because I was forced to think fast in situations I had only some control over, and because I was obligated to respond to a post I had become a part of, I was writing like the world was going to end tomorrow. And I never had more muse than during this period of my life.

By time the end of high school came around, I no longer had free time to spend writing on message boards. My inspiration suffered, among many other things that suffer when you learn to become a functioning adult. I almost never wrote, and I was miserable. I asked myself, what happened to the fire of my youth? I wasn’t very old. Why was the flame of my inspiration burning out so soon? (So very dramatic.)

I realized that I wasn’t feeding my creative soul anymore. And yes, I know that also sounds ridiculous. But I wasn’t. I was limiting myself to my homework and my jobs. I wasn’t allowing my mind to flow free anymore, and I didn’t have an outlet where I could get the feedback I needed.

So that’s just it: I needed feedback. I needed a community of writers who were as dedicated to the craft as I was, and I’d had that in part with my roleplaying community.

It was time to get serious about my writing. And that’s where Devise Literary came from. By writing about writing, reaching out to the writing community, and providing an outlet for other writers to share their opinions and allow their minds to grow, I have opened the flood gates back up.

Maybe Faulkner didn’t have the internet at his disposal to reach out to other writers. But we do, and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Message boards, fanfics, and blogs were absolutely necessary for me to become a more disciplined and prolific writer. In some ways, I miss being part of that community. But at the same time, I’ve moved on to a group of intelligent colleagues who push me to be worthy of your audience.

Image Copyrighted by Moyan Brenn

Be Your Best Writing Self

After attending several readings of authors (among them Bonnie Jo Campbell and other award winners), I’ve learned that the majority of writers in my life are hungry for the answer to an elusive question: when is the most productive time to write?

The answer is usually: it depends!

If I were answering this question, I’d say the exact same thing. But it was one man who gave myself and my colleagues a real answer, a solid, tangible thing to grasp onto. His name was Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son and winner of the Nation Book Award. After an outstanding verbal performance of his short fiction, Johnson was asked what habits make the most productive writer.

He paused. He thought. And then he descended over a group of eager minds like a fabled savior.

Johnson said something the effect that when he was first writing, he would log the times, dates, and words that he’d write. He’d note everything in order to discover a pattern – all collected in a document as simple as Microsoft Excel. We were in awe, having expected the same answer we’d gotten many times – it just depends. In a way, this was the same answer, but told in a way that had opened our eyes.

It really does depend. But Adam Johnson’s advice is to find your own pattern and then to exploit the moments where you are most productive.

As we sat, staring at the mighty words of a mighty man hanging in the air, he continued. He said that when he tracks his word count every day – particularly the amount of words that he writes and that actually make it into a final draft – the days of missing writing are like missing teeth. They’re unsightly and leave you feeling bereft.

Motivation drives the success. There is no other way but to finish. Finishing needs productivity. After so many years of haphazard, thoughtless advice, Johnson has awakened us all.

Perhaps this is something we could have thought of on our own. But with all the ideas swirling inside us, wrapping up into our daily functions until are we nothing but decaying artists, it’s difficult to always know the way.

The Disappearance of Seth

This week in my literary quest to become a better person, or at least a better-read person, I’m visiting an author by the name of Kazim Ali.

On my bookshelves, Mr. Ali comes after one of the better modern authors, Sherman Alexie. I have a few of Alexie’s books, and I particularly recommend his short story collection Ten Little Indians. One of Alexie’s biggest strengths is his wide range of interests—he doesn’t just stick with short stories or adult novels; he has written screenplays and young adult fiction as well. Also, his technique is brilliant. He’s a writer who will make you laugh and care and think about the world—how unfair and how beautiful it can be. Yes, I recommend Sherman Alexie.

Another thing I should explain up front is why I’m reviewing a second book by Etruscan Press within two weeks (yes, the infamous Zarathustra Must Die was put out by them, too). Trust me, Etruscan Press is not paying me to review their books (I don’t know if they have the budget for things like that). The explanation is: a few years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, I won a one-page story contest for a great journal called the Penguin Review (shout out to their former editor, Tom Pugh), and part of the prize was the near-complete collection of Etruscan Press books published up until that point. Most of what EP puts out is poetry, but they’ve done quite a few novels, too. My whole point is, this is not the last time I will be reviewing one of their books.

I’m not saying that Etruscan Press puts out poor-quality books; I like their books, for the most part (last week’s selection aside). They are small and relatively obscure, but I think we need more publishers like them. Why? They don’t compromise. I get the sense that most of EP’s authors are full-time professors who, because of the fickle nature of modern universities, have to keep publishing, or else they perish. These writers don’t care about sales, but they do care about putting out a good product, according to their exacting, sometimes quirky standards. That’s honorable. I would love to have that option someday. EP realizes that literature is about more than entertainment—sometimes it’s about trying to wrap your mind around the things in life that are hard to understand.

Speaking about things that are hard to understand, let’s get down to this week’s book. The Disappearance of Seth is everything I was just talking about—uncompromising, hard to follow, daring you to try to understand it. And it still manages to be successful, being easy to read at the same time as being hard to follow. How does that happen? I have a theory: Ali is a poet, first and foremost—he writes like a poet, in clipped, beautiful phrases that sometimes don’t even make it to the level of sentences. He uses odd punctuation and weird tense shifts, and they actually work, most of the time. My theory is that Ali’s book is easy to read because he uses small, beautiful sentences and his section breaks push the momentum—this book is designed to keep pushing you forward, even if what you’re reading doesn’t become clear all at once, or at all.

unnamedMomentum is key in this book, because the plot is not linear, and it’s also key because of the subject. Seth is about 9/11. For something so heavy and humorless as 9/11, we need the pace to be quick, otherwise we bog down in our own sorrow and personal memories. Ali does a good job of keeping us moving, even though it’s tough for anyone to read a book about something as politically loaded as 9/11 in the way it was intended. And are we too far away from that day to remember it in all its rawness? I guess what I’m asking is, can this still be an effective book? If this were just a book about something as broad as 9/11, I don’t think it could, but it is about more than that—it is personal. The “Seth” of the book’s title makes it personal.

Our main character, Seth, has died in the Twin Towers, or so the other characters think. Seth is the thread that connects all of the book’s characters together, and really the only thread that connects the book together. The other characters reflect on how he has touched their lives, and what he meant to them, and how he has changed them. The book becomes a meditation on loss and how trauma affects us, and it becomes a meditation on the things we cannot say—how we handle grief. As such, it’s a beautiful story, if unclear at times, and the way that the death is only indirectly approached echoes how we try to avoid coming to terms with loss in our own lives.

Seth is thoughtful, deep, and potent, and Ali writes his characters’ thoughts so well that their reflections become the biggest emphasis of the book. These are thoroughly developed characters, never feeling anything less than real.

That is not to say that this book does not have flaws, because it does. Ali’s use of odd punctuation and tense changes mostly work, but sometimes this technique just comes across as though he needs an editor. Need an example? “He stops by a dusty car parked at the curb and fumbled with his map, trying to unfold it” (p. 175). Most of the time I try to leave technical issues like this alone, but in Seth it happens too frequently to ignore. Trying to figure out Ali’s reasoning in these cases distracts from the rest of the book, especially when these slip-ups do not look like artistic decisions as much as they do mistakes.

Another flaw in the book is the “twist” at the end, which I won’t reveal, in case you decide to read it. Good literature, I’ve found, does not need twists to make it interesting—the writing is interesting enough. This twist is not deep enough to change the meaning of the story, and it feels a bit tacked on.

Other than those problems, however, I gladly recommend The Disappearance of Seth. It’s for you if you enjoy difficult texts that reward your effort. It’s also for you if you want beautiful, koan-like paragraphs that you can really sink your mental teeth into.


Ali, Kazim. The Disappearance of Seth. Etruscan Press, 2009. 197 pages.

Each week Drew Wade will attempt to read and review a book by an author who’s new to him, and then he’ll tell you if it’s worth your time or not.

Where you publish and why

Where your work is published matters. Period. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong.

With the prominence of media and self-publishing as options, it can be daunting to know exactly where to publish your work. There are a few easy rules to remember.
Discover Magazine April 2014

Self Publishing

This is when you pay for your book to be printed on paper and bound together into a book. This is also when you pay to have your text published in an online form such as an eBook. Any form of publishing which you do not pay to appear on the page yourself is not self publishing.

1. Don’t self publish if you intend to be the next Stephen King.

2. Self publishing can be done by anyone anywhere.

3. No publisher means little or no marketing. It also means poor distribution.

4. No agent could mean no one to guide your writing to the proper form.

5. No editor means that you may produce a piece of work with several errors.

6. Paying for your own work to be printed isn’t a career.

7. Be wary. Self publishing is for those who want a personal accomplishment not a professional one.

Online Publishing

1. This included blogs, website, etc.

2. Publishing online without a strong company behind you (like Time) can be risky.

3. Anything online can be immediately distributed.

4. Serious offers may not want to publish your work if they know it is already online somewhere.

5. Online publishing is a great way to get your opinion out. It is also a great way to break into journalism or to become a critic.

Publishing Houses

1.These exist for a reason. Because they are a business and have made money for a very long time.

2. Publishers have the funding to market your work.

3. They also have the funding to pay you.

4. This is the route most commercial authors go – with an agent sometimes included.

5. They have professional editing services.

6. They are willing to work with you to craft your work if you are already someone they feel has promise.

7. Their interest is an investment in you.

8. Having a finished piece is best to present to a publisher.


This isn’t a publishing avenue, but agents are important.

1. They have special relationships with publishers.

2. They understand the legal aspects of a contract – or they’re supposed to at least.

3. They only make money if you make money – and if they ask for anything otherwise, walk away.


English Departments Fail

It’s not a secret that the humanities is always in line for termination. Arguments have been made on both sides for and against this. Being a part of this world, whether as an undergraduate, graduate, or faculty member means having an argument at the ready about why anyone should bother with your field and others like it.

It took four years of participating in an English department to understand fully what about my curriculum need major revision. Aside from committee meetings and job security, the curriculum of a department is its most important asset. A successful set of classes means that we get to keep our department funded, and professors who are not contracted through the university long-term get to keep their jobs. It also means a slew of other things, but I won’t bore you with those details. Essentially, departments are like offices within a company, all of whom are responsible for their own production of revenue. More students equals more money. More money makes a happy university.

An interesting, results-oriented, and modern curriculum may be the answer to everything. English departments fail when they become irrelevant. Curriculum focus on analysis of canon-text which includes mostly outdated materials. Every English major is exposed to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wordsworth, and others – as the list goes on. Recognizing the literary canon is an asset in the literary community, but too much focus on the materials of the canon leaves little room for new thought and productivity. Shakespeare is wonderful. One of my favorite pieces of all time is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Shakespeare has been analyzed to death.

Graduate departments aren’t what they used to be. Have fun obtaining a Ph.D. in anything before the year 1800. The point of a Ph.D. is to make a careful analysis of text with your own original point of view. Then you must produce a book-length text of your own from this analysis that is based on an original argument. It can be a daunting task to unearth original ideas, but if you can do it, bravo.

I’m not sure if anyone told you this, but being a student of English has nothing to do with reading old texts. An English student is an investigator, a philosopher, and a writer. Being able to be those three things means you have a better chance of finding a job in a literary field.

An English program should be centered on analysis of modern texts that utilize literary theory of all kind. The best class I have ever attend, and the one that I got the most out of, was the class that taught me how to analyze and write a paper. It’s disgusting that it took me four years to know how to write a thesis or a good paper. That should be the goal of the department from day one. You shouldn’t even be allowed to exist until you’ve learned how to identify and write a compelling argument. The modern texts I’ve discussed are a great outlet for this. A newer text creates a more productive discussion, and it creates relevance for both the field and the texts being read.

With changes to a curriculum that includes a more updated approach, we can turn to our opponents and say, “How can you be rid of those ushering you into a new era of media study?” All media – printed text, video, music – is considered text we study now. None of it is off-limits to our analysis. We won’t fade into obscurity. Rather, we will be the critics of our age, and perhaps the written word and the English department won’t die with this new generation.