I was emailing back and forth with a friend earlier this month, and as frequently happens, our discussion turned to writing. She teaches writing at a University and we both have aspirations to write mystery novels. We’d talked about NaNoWriMo and she asked if she could see what I had for my project so far, so I sent off the first couple chapters. She responded that my chapters seemed pretty polished, especially for a first draft, and wanted to know my secret. Did I outline? Had I planned out the story in great detail before I started writing? I answered that no, there was not usually a great deal of advance planning for me. I am a pantser. I generally go in with an idea of who these people are, what the big problem is, and I have an idea (sometimes a fairly vague one) what the conclusion will be. My secret, if I have one, is practice, and what I practiced on for several years was fanfiction.
Yes, I said fanfiction. I spent several years writing fanfiction. It was actually what got me back in to writing after several years hiatus. I learned a lot doing it too. Before I wrote fanfic, I didn’t know how to make chapters. I just wrote one huge long narrative. I learned how to put out a polished chapter in a short period of time (whether all those chapters always added up to a good story is another matter). I got my first real feedback as a writer from my fanfic. I made several online friends as well, and did my first NaNoWriMo with them. Most of us are still in touch. Some of them are still writing fanfic. One is a published author who continues to write fanfic on the side. Another has pretty much stopped writing altogether. A third blasted through NaNoWriMo this year, finishing an original fiction project in 20 days.
After I emailed my friend back, I started talking to my husband about my fanfic. It’s still out there, and I still get reviews on it from time to time. Reviews are generally something to enjoy, as most times readers who don’t care for the story just stop reading rather than commenting, but when I get these kinds words, I don’t feel happy. I feel guilty. My husband asked me why and the only answer I could come up with was that I felt that I should be focusing on my original fiction. Fanfiction was fun, but it doesn’t help me pursue my ultimate goal of having an original novel published. My husband, astute man that he is, asked me what I wanted to get out of my writing. What am I trying to create when I write? The answer, for me, is to write a story that will entertain a reader, something he or she can get lost in and enjoy. Saying that out loud made me stop to think. I did do that with my fanfiction. I created a story which entertained, and people enjoyed reading it. They enjoyed it enough to tell me so, which says something. At least, I like to think it does.
The upshot of all this is that I think it’s time I stopped feeling guilty about having written fanfiction. It was a wonderful learning experience. I made new friends. And I put out stories which entertained and gave enjoyment. None of that is something to feel ashamed about.
The workshop was incredible! The intensive session I attended on Thursday alone was worth the price of the whole event, and there were sessions after that and two more days of activities as well!
The intensive session was led by Kent Krueger. It was “Writing the Novel: The Essentials.” We worked on writing a blurb to use as a guide for our story, then moved on to talk about the importance of first lines. We drafted first lines and many people (me included) were bold enough to share. There were so many terrific lines!
From blurbs and first lines, we went on to drafting opening paragraphs. Again, there were a lot of great ones to share. I wound up with a whole new first line and first paragraph for my manuscript, and confirmed my thought that I should switch to first-person.
We played around with redrafting famous first lines to change the tone. We talked about narration and plot and the importance of having a writing routine. It was an amazing workshop.
And then the rest of the conference went on. We heard from agents about writing good queries. We learned a lot about the publishing industry from Jane Friedman (subscribe to her blog if you are thinking of trying to publish – she has great information). Brave people (not me) made pitches to agents. Some folks (me included) submitted 5 pages of a manuscript for evaluation by an author. Kent Krueger was gracious and kind and supportive and gave me good feedback on my five pages. I’ve already worked with my new opening line and paragraph, along with his suggestions, and have a much stronger first chapter of the manuscript.
Along with all the great advice from Krueger, the thing I took away from this conference was the feeling. The atmosphere was wonderfully creative and supportive and exciting! I loved that feeling. I found myself missing it and anticipating returning next year (and being brave enough to make a pitch).
That craving led me back to F2K at Writer’s Village University. I hope to find a creative atmosphere online while learning more and practicing my craft more. I’ve done F2K once before and enjoyed it (though I wasn’t able to complete the final assignment). I hope to finish all the assignments this time around, and then I hope to look into some other courses on the site. I need a writers fix!
So, I was reading a self-help book the other day and I found it helpful in an unexpected way. Not only did I find a process to use for looking at my life differently, but I also found a new way to look at my characters. Specifically, it gave me some new ideas for how to approach their motivations. It was an unexpected bonus from the book!
One of my to-dos for this year is to read more about the craft of writing. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from practice and now it’s time to roll in some “book-smarts.” I just didn’t expect some of those smarts to come from a book which wasn’t actually about writing. However, it does make sense. I’ve always wanted to figure out what makes certain people tick and my characters are no exception; it’s just a bit easier to sort them out since they’re all in my head. 🙂
The lesson here is, there are all sorts of places to learn new things which can add to your writing! Next time you’re stuck trying to figure out what makes a character tick, you might try taking a trip to the self-help section of your local library or bookstore. You may well find the answers you seek there!