April is for Camp Nanowrimo and a Short Essay on Fanfiction

Some of you may have heard of Nanowrimo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. This is a worldwide thing that people, including myself, do for all of November. Basically, you write a 50k (or more) novel in one month (November). I’ve done Nano over the years (2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014). My first two years I wrote partial novels that were 50k but will probably never be finished (that’s for the best) and the remaining years I wrote fanfiction (yes, fanfiction and no, you don’t get to know the fandoms). Last year J, a very good friend of mine (and a partner in writing crime, of which I have two, both of whom are lovely amazing people) asked me if I was going to do Camp Nano. I had no idea what that was — it turns out that it’s sort of like a mini Nanowrimo.

Camp Nanowrimo takes place twice a year, once in April and once in July — and you basically pick your own word count (10k or more) and writing something (a novel, like in November, or something else). I completed both Camp Nano sessions last year (writing two 10k+ fanfics) as well as regular Nanowrimo. When J asked me if I was doing Camp Nano this year, I said sure, why not and tried to think about what fanfic I wanted to write. Except, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to try writing some original fiction again. So, I’ve started (though, as of my writing this, on April 7th, I’ve written only 1891 words of my 20k).

I’d forgotten, though, how hard original fiction is. Now that I’ve outed myself as a fanfic writing (and technically I’ve been writing fanfic since 1997, if not earlier — before I knew what fanfic was), I’ll talk about that a little.

A quick google of fanfic gives you a link to a popular website for posting stories (I don’t post there) as well as definitions of fanfiction and some articles. A lot of articles you read about fanfic dismiss it as a waste of time, a bastion of poor writing or something that teenage girls write their fantasies. I would agree that it is probably all three of those things — but none of them are actually bad. Fanfic is no more a waste of time (writing or reading) than original fiction, nonfiction or watching TV. But it is a way to waste time, you can lose the same amount of time reading that 77k fanfic that you would if you were watching a couple of episodes of a TV show or reading a novel. And, to be fair, you’d probably get the same amount of pleasure out of any of those things (I am speaking from personal experience).

I will grant you that there’s a lot of poorly written fanfiction, but as someone who has read a lot of books and a lot of book reviews for her job, I can categorically tell you that there is also a lot of poor writing in the published and writing-for-money book world as well. Just because someone is written for fun doesn’t mean it’s naturally going to be shitty and just because someone was paid to write something doesn’t mean it’s naturally going to be good. There’s good fanfic and bad fanfic and good novels and bad novels and you get the idea.

For the last point, that it’s just teenage girls? Well … we all have to start somewhere. If you want to understand the value of fanfic, just think about the fact that there are several truly fantastic fiction authors who also write fanfiction. They do it because it’s fun, because it’s a good way to write outside of your own head/verse and because, well, they want to. I’m not going to talk about all the fanfic that’s authorized or what makes something fanfiction or not — or if fanfic is okay (it is). If you want about it, Bookshop’s excellent LJ post is what you’re looking for as well as this great Daily Dot post dispelling of fanfic myths.

Which returns us to the point of this — why do I write fanfiction and why is writing original fiction so hard (but not too hard, mind you). Well, people write for many reasons and all of them are valid. But I write because it’s fun and because it’s sometimes easier to write in a world that already exists — the characters are already there, the setting’s there and you just have to write whatever you want. But what I especially love about writing fanfiction is taking characters that already exist (and that are already familiar to readers) and dumping them in what we (lovingly) call an alternative universe.

But just because I love writing fanfic doesn’t mean I don’t want to write original fiction. I would love to be able to write novels for a living (with a little fanfiction on the side), but first I actually have to finish something. And this month’s Camp Nano is my attempt to start something I want to see through to the end. I’ve already enlisted the help of my sister (she’s very good at proofreading), but now I just have to keep writing. Which is, of course, that hard part I keep talking about.

Wordbuilding is hard. You have to create your own world, characters, everything. You’re not playing in someone else’s world (as fun as that is, though). You’re creating your own world, not taking something that exists and tweaking it (see: all those Sherlock Holmes remakes that we love). This is hard! It’s fun, but it’s hard. But without all my experience writing fanfiction, it would be that much harder to get started with my own attempt at a novel. Not everyone works this way, but I believe that all writing is good experience, no matter how poor someone else thinks that writing is.

By the time you read this post, I’ll be almost done with this novel, or at least close to 20k. Let’s hope that’s the case!

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