The Fanfic Symposium
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On Swinging Both Ways, Fannish and Pro
by Kass

Assorted list conversations have me thinking about the fannish-vs-pro dichotomy again. As someone who writes both "pro" stuff (poetry and nonfiction) and fannish stuff Sentinel fiction so far), I bristle when people hint that one's better than the other, or that a writer must needs declare an allegiance to one over the other.

Put me in a room with high-minded literary types who denigrate fanfic, and I'll rise valiantly to its defense. Fanfiction puts narrative back in the hands of the people! It's a folkloric art! It helps us go from being passive consumers of media to active participants in creating the archetypes of our culture! It gets people, especially women, writing and discovering their creative voices! It's all postmodern and pastiche-y and is therefore very intellectually stimulating! Smart people do it! The Henry Jenkins references fly fast and furious, because I really do think fanfiction is a valid art form.

But put me on a list with someone who suggests that pro writing is emotionally void and deadline-driven, but fanfiction is meaningful because it's done in community for free...well. Then I get all livid in the other direction. What -- so someone who cooks beautiful food at home for her friends is an artist, but someone who cooks beautiful food at a restaurant for strangers is a hack, because the fact that she's getting paid makes her somehow mercenary?

And besides, fandom isn't some kind of perfect community in which stories are written as selfless gifts or received with glowing praise and open arms. This ain't utopia. Any given fandom includes at least several different communities. As does any branch of the so-called literary world.

In my experience, the more active one is in the literary world, the more it's like fandom. I'm on poetry discussion and criticism lists, just like I'm on fanfiction discussion and criticism lists. Both worlds have BNFs. Both worlds have some good writers and some bad ones, some writers who are open to criticism and some who aren't, some writers who consider themselves as part of a matrix of community and some writers who don't want to deal with their readers.

And how is having an editor demanding one's next book any different from having eager fans clamoring for sequels? Publishing houses pay, which is a point in their favor. Then again, my readership may be larger for my Sentinel smut than it will ever be for my poems. So what? None of this makes one world necessarily better than the other.

I guess I'm more sensitive to fanwriters denigrating pro/literary writing than I am to pro/literary writers denigrating fanfiction -- maybe because many of the literary writers I know aren't actually aware of fanfiction, whereas it's impossible for fen to not-be aware of the pro writing world. I've never actually heard literary types insulting fanfic, so I've never had to rise to its defense -- although I'm ready to do so at a moment's notice. In contrast,  I have heard fans knocking pro writing. Which bums me out, because it makes me feel like (since I was a "literary" writer before I found fandom) I don't belong here as much as the lifetime fen do.

Do I personally privilege one kind of writing over the other? Sometimes. Poetry was my first love, and it's still my primary writing passion, even though today I'm also writing liturgy and nonfiction and fanfiction. So yes, when my time is short, sometimes I focus on the poems, because they're nearest and dearest to my heart. But when I do that, I'm focusing on them to the exclusion of all of my other genres, not just to the exclusion of fanfiction.

Do I wish that my favorite fan-writers would write for pro publication? Sometimes. I'm a bona fide bibliophile, and I'd love to see actual books by my favorite fan authors. I'd love to see them getting recognition in that world, as they do in this one. I'd love to see what they'd come up with if they were designing their own frameworks. But that doesn't mean I want them to stop writing fanfiction; far from it! Ye gods, what would I do without their Sentinel and due South (and sometimes Stargate and sometimes Buffy and sometimes Harry Potter) stories to liven my universe? It's just that swinging both ways on this issue comes so naturally to me that I can't entirely imagine why everyone else wouldn't want to do both, too.
And yeah, sometimes I wonder whether in a world with so much injustice we're wasting valuable creative energy on fanfiction when we could be out there working to fix things -- but sometimes I wonder whether my poetry and essays are a waste of energy, too. I think that's a writer-vs-activist thing, having nothing to do with the fannish-vs-pro distinction.

If you ask me, both fanfiction and pro/literary writing are valuable and should be valued. Are different writing skills involved? Sure. Destina posted some good stuff in her blog a while back, about the complex set of muscles involved in writing good fanfiction. Yes, admittedly, some of those skills are different than the skills one might use in pro fiction, or in other "literary" genres. But different pro/literary genres also have unique skillsets. So why isn't fanfiction just considered another genre; why do so many of us seem to have a chip on our shoulders about fanfiction's supposed inferiority or superiority?

Maybe because what we're doing here is technically illegal, while poems and novels and essays and articles are protected as free speech. So either we feel guilty because we have to skulk around, or we think we're freedom fighters for flaunting stupid copyright laws.

I'm not sure the legality factor is going to change anytime soon. But I think closeting ourselves -- in either world -- doesn't help the cause. So if you're into both, speak out! Let your pen (or your keyboard) swing freely!

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