Shady Thoughts: "Why Do You Waste Your Time Writing This Stuff?"
|Title:||Shady Thoughts: "Why Do You Waste Your Time Writing This Stuff?"|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Shady Thoughts: "Why Do You Waste Your Time Writing This Stuff?" is a 1983 essay by Roberta Stuemke.
Some Topics Discussed
- fanfiction as creative expression
- the value of transformative works
- fandom and gift culture, fandom and profit
From the Essay
I should have known. After my first piece of fan fiction was published, it became inevitable. Sooner or later, someone had to ask me, "Why do you waste your time writing this stuff?"
That's a hard question to answer; it's also an ambiguous one. It could be interpreted as "Why do you write?" as soon as someone comes up with a good answer to that one, please send it to "Journal of American Psychology." The question has been debated as long as people have been telling stories.
Another possible interpretation is "Why do you write stuff," meaning fan fiction. Many readers and movie-goers privately fantasize about further adventures of their favorite heroes; one of the factors that sets SF fans apart from mundanes is that we tend to actively do something with our fantasies. As a fan's main interests and talents go, so, too, go his or her materializations of fantasy. Artists paint and draw, musicians compose and perform filksongs, and writers write. Put a group of Star Wars fans together, and their conversation may well run into such heavy topics as "Who is the Other?", "Is Darth telling the truth?", and "Well, what do you think about that certain paragraph in"Han Solo at Star's End"?I'm a writer. I not only discuss these weighty questions with fannish friends, I write stories using my own particular — and sometimes peculiar — answers. It's a compulsion; I can't help myself. Maybe I'm masochistic, considering that I spend hours agonizing over how other fans are going to respond to my personal theories.
Then, there is the full question: "Why do you waste your time writing this stuff?" With a complimentary tone, one could take it to mean "You write so well, why don't you write original stuff that could get professionally published; you'd get paid, and you'd have a wider audience." Nice. I like that part of the sentiment — thank you very much. But I wrote this stuff under a kind of compulsion, remember, and part of that compulsion is to share what I've written, however much I may cringe at the thought. How can I share it without having it published, and where else but in a fanzine can it published? Pro markets for such things are strictly limited and often tough to break into. Anyway, thank you, questioner, for liking my stories and assuming I can write other stuff.
Now, for a more serious interpretation, the insulting one, with the emphasis on "Why do you waste your time." How arrogant! What right has anyone to define what constitutes a waste of my time to me? My writing fan fiction is no more a waste of time than making costumes, writing filksongs, or attending conventions, for that matter. What worries me about this interpretation is the unspoken sentiment that, if you aren't making money at it, you're wasting your time. That's a dangerous thought. What ever happened to good, healthy amateurism, guys? Or just plain recreation?
Finally, there's the painful interpretation, mainly, "Why do you waste your time writing this stuff when you can't write well enough to do it?" Okay, everyone's entitled to an opinion, and there are times — many times — when I absolutely hate what I've written. But, if a story had been printed in a fanzine, at least one person -- the editor — believed it to be good enough to warrant furhter exposure. At that point, all a writer can really do it hope that the editor is right, and that the readers will be kind enough to give a valid criticism. The above questions, however, do not constitute a valid criticism. Why, does this complaintant think the story was a waste of time, either for me to write it or the reader to read it? Was is the plot? The characters? the style of writing? What?!? The only way a writer can learn is for the readers to tell what and why they liked or didn't like about it. I get so involved in what I write that I usually can't tell if one of my stories is good, bad, or indifferent. I need -- and value — good criticism. People with opinions should use the LoC columns; I read them avidly, and I know other writers and editors who value them as well.In conclusion: hey, folks, it's really great to have a fellow fan come up to me at a convention and say something about my stories. At least then I know someone outside my circle of friends has seen fit to read them. But, please, be a little more precise. Say what you mean; don't leave the interpretations so open that I can't tell if it's a philosophical question, a compliment, an insult, or genuine criticism. That way, I'll know how to react, and we could end up friendly acquaintances rather than alienated strangers.
The editor of Starshadow included her comments directly after Stuemke's essay:
What [many people] object to is my choice of subject matter. "Gosh, you write so well -- why do you waste all that time writing Star Wars fiction? Why don't you write something original, so you can get it published professionally? So you can make money?" Maybe it's their personal concern for the state of my finances, but I rather doubt it.
I have been actively involved in fandom for eight years. In that time, I have seen enough of this subculture of ours to determine a number of general characteristics about fans. Their interests are wide-ranging in scope, their minds often open, their intelligence and perception above average. They are natural-born debaters and natural-born crusaders. Many also have an annoying tendency to be presumptuous snobs, of a sort, the kind who believe it their fannish birthright to be a critic -- and I don't mean the term in its intelligent, complementary sense -- of anything and everything that somehow falls within the border of SF land. I have had my works lambasted by progressive-thinking feminist fans who never even read them; I have seen entire groups made pariah by other groups who have decreed their interests "childish"; I have watched the Fannish Family I entered those eight years ago take a turn I do not like and cannot stomach for much longer. When my own friends begin to turn against me, I know something's gone seriously awry.
Okay, I'll admit, I've seen certain groupie-sorts become persistent to the point of obnoxious, but not all of them have been fans of the media. The disease is present on both sides. No area of fandom has remained untouched, and the spread of the virus is sad to see. It's slowly strangling and killing something that was once a noble effort, something was proud to be part of. I'm not proud anymore.
Perhaps that's why I turned to writing fan fiction, and becoming a fan publisher. Somewhere, I nurture a fledgling belief that, here in the pages of Shadowstar, I can preserve for replanting at some future time the open-minded flexibility that I once loved in fandom. Maybe I'm wrong, and the effort is futile, but I refuse to believed it until I finally am forced to surrender the dream to the grave.Until them, I intent to keep writing -- and yes, I intend to continue printing -- fan fiction, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Pern, or what have you. There are more than enough pro-'zines and publishers to sate the tastes of those who want nothing but original fiction; there are few sources of good fan fiction. Shadowstar -- and hopefully myself -- will strive to be one of them.