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

The Art of Criticism

And the grace to receive it.

I believe wholly in the workshop model, in the scathing bravery of criticism, in the investigative eyes of my colleagues.

Work doesn’t progress without the eyes of its audience. But the audience is not limited to post-publication bodies. It should include your fellow writers and artists. It should never be limited in its scope.

I teach Writing and Rhetoric to a group of bright undergraduates. They were horrified when I asked them to begin critiquing their peers’ work. But I believe in the power of transforming your work with the help of fresh eye; so, as teachers have done since the dawn of time, I made them do it anyway. I wrote some of their thesis statements on the board and we whittled them into their best form.

Criticism doesn’t have to be bad, I tell them. In fact, it shouldn’t be. It should never exist to reduce another person or their work. Criticism should be given with care. It should expose the weaknesses of a piece but also explore its strengths. I instructed my students to say things like, “I don’t think this sentence is working” rather than “this is awful.”

Being a good critic requires a sense of self, a sense of the receiver, and the ability to depart from your own emotion in order to more objectively analyze the work. Of course, subjectivity will never be gone from the process. However, it’s not your job to attack an aesthetic or a genre. It’s your job as the critic to figure out if the piece is working at maximum efficiency.

Stay away from, “I didn’t like this piece” or “I loved this piece.” Instead say, “This piece really worked because of x, y, z.” But don’t be afraid to tell the author what isn’t working.

Defensive authors exist, surely. As I live and breathe there are more jerks in the world than there are kind people. Resistance against well-meaning criticism is a sign of narcissism, poor listening, or simply naivety. The most productive workshops come from the kind of relationship where author and critic wholly support one another in the endeavor. It is a privilege to read another person’s work. It is a privilege to hear the opinions of your contemporaries.

Mostly importantly, criticism rounds out your sensibility; it creates a better writer, a better reader. Both giving and receiving criticism is a vital part of the authorial work cycle. My own writing would be nothing without it.

 

 

Image via Flickr, Will: September 14, 2011