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Writing

I'm paraphrasing a couple of different reader questions that I've gotten in the last couple of weeks on the same subject -- won't it hurt your writing to write inferior things, things that aren't artistic? Isn't it prostituting your talent to write tie ins? Isn't it wasting your time to write fanfic? Shouldn't you only write "good" books if you want to be good/famous? Shouldn't you stick to accepted literary forms if you want to be top notch?

Let's take this apart. First, good and famous are not the same things. Many writers are very good without ever being famous, and many famous writers are not very good. Secondly, good and critically acclaimed are not the same things. Being critically acclaimed means garnering the approval of a very narrow spectrum of professional critics, and has nothing to do with actually being socially significant or changing people's lives. Star Wars was panned by the critics when it came out, and it's changed the lives of literally billions of people and given us an entire cultural mythology! People from one end of the world to the other know who Darth Vader is, and what it means to "give in to the Dark Side."

So my question in return is, what is it that you want? To be famous? To be critically acclaimed? To be socially significant? To change people's lives? To give them pleasure? To get people to think about perspectives they may never have considered before? To be read in a century? To be discussed in college classes next year? To be rich? To be loved? The roads to these different places are very different roads. You will need a completely different strategy depending on which place you want to go. Figure out where you're going and then execute that plan.

But lastly, I will say this -- no artist or musician, no painter or craftsperson, ever got worse from practicing. You don't have a finite number of words inside you. You will not "squander" your talent by using it, any more than a concert pianist must be sure never to play the piano except on stage! The more you write the better you will get. Whatever you write.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
aishabintjamil
Mar. 24th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)
I know a lot of people who write fanfic but for me it just doesn't work. I realized reading this that I think that's because my motivations for doing that and for writing are very different.

I guess you might say I've done a bit of fanfic in terms of story telling - I did a *lot* of crossover stories in my head as a teenager mixing some of my favorite books together in highly improbable ways. It was fun, but I never wrote it down. There was never any incentive to do that because it was something I did for me. I didn't have any impetus to share.

That impetus to share is a big motivator for me in terms of writing original fiction. My satisfaction comes as much from sharing it with people as from creating it. I know fanfic gets shared widely, but it's always on sufferance. The owner of the characters may send you or the site you posted it on a letter from a lawyer telling you to stop sharing it, and they'll be within their rights, and take away a big chunk of my joy in having written the piece. That's why I stick to original characters.
jo_graham
Mar. 24th, 2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
And to each their own! I find different kinds of satisfaction in different kinds of writing. I think where we're different is that I don't write primarily to share. I write because I want to tell this story, and even if nobody reads it I'll still write it. So even if I write a story and I show it to three people under friendslock, it's done what I wanted it for -- I've had the pleasure of writing it. Whether or not it's widely read is immaterial.

Which I suppose is true of my professional work as well. If I want to write a book, I'll write it. If it has no market with a big publisher, so what? I'm happy for it to go to small press or ebook if it's the story I want to write. And maybe 500 people will buy it rather than 20,000, but that's ok with me. It's still worth writing because of the pleasure I get in doing it.
mescott
Mar. 24th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
But lastly, I will say this -- no artist or musician, no painter or craftsperson, ever got worse from practicing. You don't have a finite number of words inside you.

I agree with everything you say, but especially this! Real life has kept me from writing every day, and I can feel myself getting rusty. It's harder to make the words flow, harder to find that center from which I write. Once the current busy-ness is past, I'll get it back, but - it makes me cranky not to have it!

Nor do I think one has a finite number of stories - you grow, you change, you find new stories, new universes. It's a matter of being open to them, being willing to go there, to take a chance on something different.
jo_graham
Mar. 24th, 2012 04:24 pm (UTC)
Yes exactly! And yes, the stories are different at different times in your life, but one is supposed to grow. One is supposed to change.
lc59
Mar. 24th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
The first time I wrote a piece of fanfic it was my intention to only to do it once because it always seemed like 'cheating' to use characters/scenarios that someone else had created. I was annoyed with myself for quite awhile. Then I started finding out just how many 'real' published authors had done fanfic and I also started realizing that really, writing is writing, whether you're using YOUR own original characters or someone else's...it's all practice. Plus using characters that I actually enjoyed writing about kept me writing so I actually finished pieces...something I'd rarely done before because I usually got bored with the characters/story before it was finished.
And it's been a huge boost to my writing confidence to not only have readers "favourite"-ing me or my stories but to receive awards for my stories too.

Edited at 2012-03-24 04:10 pm (UTC)
jo_graham
Mar. 24th, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC)
I think writing fanfic is like playing covers. Would you say that a musician was no good if they played Beatles covers? Would you say a kid was no good if they learned to play guitar covering the songs of others rather than writing their own music?

Isn't that how we learn in every other field besides writing? When you take piano lessons, they don't sit you down at the keyboard and say, "Here's a piano. Compose something deathless!" You start by playing exercises. You play simple pieces by other composers. You work up to more and more complicated pieces. You don't start off writing a sonata!

Of course we learn by playing covers, by learning the rhythms and patterns of work we admire! And if today Billy Joel covers a Beatles song, is he lowering himself?
lc59
Mar. 24th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
OHH...what a completely logical and valid way of looking at it...yes, having taken music lessons myself, it would've been completely ridiculous for my teacher to expect me to compose my own piece of work from which to practice.
That being said though I do understand the writers who have publicly stated that they don't want their work used as fodder for fanfic...they've worked hard(and I know how hard it is to create compelling characters) creating and nurturing the characters and the way they act from scatch. To have someone then come along and twist the characters to do things that aren't actually in 'their' nature would be as offensive as having a stranger walk into one's own family and say 'yes, the people who live here are fine but but I'd like them better if they acted this way instead."
kahva
Mar. 25th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
First, good and famous are not the same things. Many writers are very good without ever being famous, and many famous writers are not very good.

But lastly, I will say this -- no artist or musician, no painter or craftsperson, ever got worse from practicing. You don't have a finite number of words inside you. You will not "squander" your talent by using it, any more than a concert pianist must be sure never to play the piano except on stage! The more you write the better you will get. Whatever you write.


Amen and hallelujah to all of this! :)
jo_graham
Mar. 31st, 2012 11:28 am (UTC)
Thank you!
kinetikat
Apr. 2nd, 2012 01:12 pm (UTC)
I haven't written a thing (professionally) for over six years following a tsunami of personal circumstances that I won't bore you with - and it was getting into the Stargate Atlantis ebooks and then fanfic just a couple of months ago that reignited my writing 'spark'. As somebody said above, writing is writing. I'm waking up and going to sleep now with that itch in my keyboard fingers, and that hasn't happened in a long time!
jo_graham
Apr. 2nd, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
Yay! I'm glad you're writing, and I hope it brings you enormous pleasure. I think you have to write the stories that want to be told, wherever they come from, and that there's no bad in that, whether it's professional or not.
kinetikat
Apr. 3rd, 2012 06:39 am (UTC)
Thank you, it does! If I can say this without sounding like Austin Powers, I got my mojo back. Hooray!

*But lastly, I will say this -- no artist or musician, no painter or craftsperson, ever got worse from practicing. You don't have a finite number of words inside you.*

I used to have such trouble with this! I read Julia Cameron's very wondrous book 'The Right to Write', wherein she extols the virtues of journalling a certain number of words a day before you even think of doing any 'writing-writing', and I found it took so long to get to the requisite number of words, a huge chunk of my day was gone on what I perceived as worthless rambling. It was a combination of things - I don't write ultra-fast; a productive day for me is two to three single-spaced pages of A4, so it took a torturous amount of time to get to my journalling word-count goal - also the constant tick-tock awareness of time slipping away while I worked on something 'irrelevant' set my teeth on edge the whole time and probably did nothing for the fluency of what I produced - and lastly, I defy anybody to produce much of quality while being pestered by assorted babies and small children (which I was at the time).
Theoretically, I knew that the whole thing was an exercise in becoming fluent, an exercise in priming the pump so that I could access my authorly mojo at will; but for me, it just didn't work, for all the reasons above! When I was journalling, I wanted to be writing the story I was currently working on - I think I did feel that I was 'wasting' words on such a seemingly pointless exercise, words and time that could have been better spent on the 'real' work in hand.
Interesting how clearly stuff flags up when you wrestle it into written-down words, isn't it? 'Real', 'wasting', 'irrelevant', 'worthless rambling'... LOL... oh dear, coming in loud and clear!
Having now said all that, I don't think journalling is for everyone, and it just doesn't work for me as a writing tool - not, these days, because of the babies (they grew up into teens who know better than to try to talk to their mother when she's head down in a computer); not because I think any more that it's worthless rambling - I know it's not, all articulated feeling and observation is grist to our mill in some way; but simply because it's too time-consuming for me. I used to beat myself up a lot because I didn't produce vast reams of writing at a sitting. Now, I just figure that, as with hair, everyone has their own natural optimum length! Mine happens to be shortish (the writing, not the hair), but that fact can be managed and mitigated by cultivating good work habits... my ongoing project, LOL.
jo_graham
Apr. 4th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC)
I've never been any good at journaling, I confess! I know many writers swear by it, but I've never been able to do it. I get bored after a few days and put it off indefinitely. :(
kinetikat
Apr. 4th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
Yuh, just becomes another chore, doesn't it? And I've never been good at making myself do those...
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )