On Swinging Both Ways: Fannish and Pro

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Title: On Swinging Both Ways: Fannish and Pro
Creator: Kass
Date(s): June 4, 2002
Medium: online
Topic: Fan Fiction, Original Characters, Filing Off the Serial Numbers, BNFs
External Links: On Swinging Both Ways: Fannish and Pro, Archived version
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On Swinging Both Ways: Fannish and Pro is an essay by Kass.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


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?
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.