Writers’ block: the bane of anyone who tries to write. Some days, you just–can’t! It happens for a lot of reasons. Often, it’s because I’ve hit a plot issue, don’t know how to fix it, and start avoiding my story because I don’t know what to do with it. Before I know it, I’ve lost momentum and even when I solve the plot issue, it’s like I can’t remember how to write anything.
Writers’ block also happens when you feel discouraged about your writing; everything that comes out seems stupid. Or you were making good progress, then you were sick for a week, and when you return to it, you can’t remember how you were doing it before. Sometimes, I’m just too caught up in the need to make things perfect, and since I’m not perfect, I write three lines, despair, and quit.
The best thing I know for it is to write fanfiction. You know how you can be full after dinner, then someone brings out a cake and you realize your “dessert side” is still hungry? Fanfiction is a thing I can write when I can’t write anything else. I haven’t been able to write lately, but I wrote 36,000 words of fanfic in the same time period because . . . well, it’s different.
Reasons fanfic is easier to write:
I can just be bad at it.
There’s some amazing fanfic in the world, but there’s also some absolutely terrible stuff. It’s nice to realize I can never write a line worse than “Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee.” There is no standard I have to reach. Sometimes I write badly on purpose. Because hey, it’s fanfic! I can go way over the top and make it ridiculous!
To my intense embarrassment, sometimes when I do that it accidentally turns out good instead. Because I have a bad habit of underwriting for fear of sounding ridiculous, and when I overwrite on purpose it sometimes manages to land on good.
But even if it’s not good. Everyone deserves to be able to make bad art. Creating is part of being human; it isn’t reserved for only those who are masters already.
It’s low stakes.
I know I’m never going to have to pitch this to anybody. It’s not for money. It’s not a job. If, five years from now, I decide it’s embarrassing, I can simply disavow the whole thing. It’s not under my real name after all!
The community is only positive.
Archive of Our Own has a lovely way of doing things where you only ever get positive feedback (kudos). No star ratings, which are never that enlightening anyway. I don’t have to worry about criticism, because I never receive any. But sometimes I get a very nice comment where someone says my writing is meaningful to them. My writing! Meaningful!
This is especially vital when you’re querying. While you’re checking for rejections, you can check for kudos at the same time. It’s that little reminder that just because the industry doesn’t love you back yet, doesn’t mean no one enjoys your voice.
I can have more fun.
Fanfic is free of the expectation that the plot has to be hopping along, that there has to be conflict, or that sex scenes have to be relevant to the plot. In fanfic, you can write all your characters sitting around eating lunch and bantering. The couple that gets together at the end of the movie–you can just write them living happily ever after, buying each other flowers and drinking coffee. You can skip the action parts altogether and just write the sexy parts. No one will mind! In fact they may like it better!
I used to worry this would train me to be a bad writer. But it’s certainly better for my writing than the writing I do for my job is. That trains me to be straightforward and bland. And since I have the tendency to rush past the fun bits for fear of being self-gratifying and boring everyone, it might honestly balance me out.
I can focus on character
In general, I prefer to create my own characters. But writing fanfic gets me focused on the concept of character. How do different characters talk, what behavior is plausible for them? Since I didn’t create the character, I can’t simply decide that it is. I have to see what will feel believable to other fans.
And, since the plot is already written in most cases, I don’t have to juggle different skills at once. I’m just focusing on character development or building nice scenes. Most of my fics are short, so I can just dash out a scene that seems nice and move on.
So, for all these reasons, I think aspiring authors should write fanfic. More and more published authors these days admit that they do. It’s a low-stakes training ground for skills you use as a novelist or short story author. And it’s heckin fun.
Writers’ block is a miserable condition. Fanfic can be a great way to get back in the swing and rediscover the joy in writing.