not language but a map

writer, reader, eater of bagels. cracking inappropriate jokes to cut tension since 1989.
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on writing and fandom!

Okay, so! I got several requests for writing advice and questions about my own fandom experience on formspring today; since those topics blend together for me, I figured it would be easier to just do a post about all of it. THINGS I SHOULD PUT OUT THERE UP FRONT: I am by no means any kind of writing expert at all, and honestly when I get a  ”What’s your advice for writers?” question I kind of stare at it and make small shocked noises that anyone would want my opinion, because, just, what. So please be advised that I do not intend to come off as one of those assholes who is feeling ~so superior~ and just wants to ~impart their wisdom~, because really, seriously, I have no wisdom. I’m just a girl on the internet who likes to make words into sentences; I make no claims of knowing what I’m talking about. What I have to say here is really an aggregate of things I’ve learned from smarter, more qualified people over the years, both in fandom and as a creative writing major. Okay? Okay. 

So! I was 14 or 15 when I discovered fanfic for the first time, when I stumbled across statelines’ rise like lions (you sons of cain). It’s a short but beautifully composed Sirius/Remus fic, more poetry than prose, with an undercurrent of warmth and tragedy and such realism, too; I never forgot it. You should totally read it! It’s only like 600 words long, and believe me, it’s well worth your while.

I started writing fic shortly afterwards, though I can’t point you guys to any of it, as I wrote it under a name that has since been purged from the internet for the good of mankind. And folks, I’ll tell you what, it was terrible, terrible fanfic. Hideously terrible fanfic; badfic of the highest order. It cringed up from the page in all its saccharine, overwritten glory, saying “Look at me, I was written by someone who does not know what she is doing at ALL.” I mean, look, I wrote fic where Sirius called Remus ‘Moonshine.’ Unironically. For real. It was, I just, it was really really bad, guys. 

That being said, I’m really glad to have written it, and I’m quite proud of it in an abstract, let’s-never-look-at-that-again kind of way. And that’s because I think of writing like a muscle, as a skill you have to constantly work at, as something to build up and tone and condition. I think you get better at writing by writing, and fandom taught me more about putting together a story than my creative writing major ever did. My fandom experience was—and still is—a massive creative writing workshop in many ways, and if I hadn’t written that terrible fanfic, I would never have learned how to write anything else. 

(This is, incidentally, a big part of why I always strive towards positive, non-judgmental fan-to-fan interaction—putting yourself and your work out there is really hard, but it is the only way to learn! I was lucky enough to find kind, gentle, honest fans to guide me along when I was starting out, and then lucky enough to score an mentorship with an incredible author in college, and THEN lucky enough to find YOU GUYS, the most awesome readers/followers in all the land, who amaze me every day with your kindness and talent and brilliance and warmth. So I try to spread the positivity and love, because I wish this same kind of ridiculous luck on everyone—I feel kind of guilty, hoarding it like this.) 

So, with all that said, this is my ridiculous, under-qualified advice on writing: write for yourself first, not for anyone else. Write because you enjoy it; if the point is getting comments/hits/what have you, it won’t ever be as good as it could be, because your heart won’t truly be behind it. Write with everything you’ve got. Develop your voice and be true to it—SPAG errors can be fixed, characterization can be tweaked, but your voice is what makes a piece *yours*. Don’t get tangled up in obsessing over little details, because you can always go back and change things. Don’t panic if you get writer’s block; at some point, everyone does. Trust that it’ll pass, and try not to worry—the more worried you are, the harder it will be to work through it. 

Know your characters better than anyone else does. Think of them as people and build them from scratch in your mind for each and for every story you write; the better you know them, the more real they’ll seem, even if you never include half of what you’ve got worked out. My mentor used to call this the tomato farm theory—if you’re writing a story about people who work on a tomato farm, you need to know how a tomato farm works. It doesn’t matter if you never mention a single thing about the inner runnings of the farm—you have to know it because your *characters* know it, and that knowledge affects how they interact with the world and each other. 

Learn to divorce yourself from your work; this is the hardest thing in the world to do, and absolutely the most valuable. Recognize that criticism of your work isn’t a criticism of you; accept that sometimes you’re going to have to cut something you love because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Tell the voice in your head saying “You suck” to sit down and shut the fuck up—know that every writer ever is grappling with that voice every single day on some level, and you are not alone. Thank everyone who offers you concrit, and think over each and every piece you receive, but don’t feel obligated to take it all—it’s your work, and your call. 

Most importantly: don’t half-ass it. Don’t cut corners. Don’t ever tell yourself you’re as good as you’re going to get—don’t *ever* think you know all there is to know. The beautiful, terrible, best and worst thing about writing is that there is no pinnacle to reach; there’s always something you could be doing better, always something new to learn. You can always grow, which, really, is great news, since the best way to learn about writing is to write; so long as you’re working at it, you’ll always be moving up. <3