Words for Writers: Questions From My Scarborough Museum Visit – Part 1/ 5

On Tuesday March 25, 2013 I visited the Scarborough Museum Youth Team to talk about being a writer. I got some really great questions, and with the youth team’s permission, I’m going to re-answer them there. Check back every day for a few new questions and answers.


Q: What gets you in the writing Zone?

A: Oh, starting out with a tough one. I generally do a lot of the first-draft writing during National Novel Writing Month or during my time hiding in my aunt’s cottage by the beach. I need isolation, and focus to write – I absolutely cannot write in pubs or coffee shops – and I need the mental push of not having anything else to do, or any other way to access distractions or procrastinations. I don’t even have cable TV or the internet at home!

Being away from everything but the story means that I can dive deep into the headspace (I’m told I hunch and mutter a lot while I’m writing, and I keep reaching for the tea cup even when it’s empty because I keep forgetting to get up and refill it). When I’m really into the story, I sit there for hours and hours and hours until I finally realize I have to go to the bathroom, or my stomach is growling, or it’s grown dark somehow.

I think NaNoWriMo is especially helpful because it forces accountability on me. I might otherwise wander away a few paragraphs in, or start on something else. Instead, I know I have a word count goal to hit, and that I want an entire novel finished by Christmas (usually I aim for another 30-50k in December, too). I’m trying Camp NaNo this year for the first time, which takes place in April, because I have a 35k novella that I want to tackle.


Q: Has Fanfiction inspired your writing? If so how?

A: It sounds cliché, but everything I ever learned about being a writer I learned from writing fanfiction. I learned the importance of finishing the story once you’ve begun it, of accurate and sustained characterisation, of dealing with critiques and working with betas, of handing hatters and flammers, and in promoting my work. Writing AUs taught me how to worldbuild, how to twist the familiar into something interesting and new.

The joy of fanfiction is that it is a shorthand. We the writers and readers of fanfiction walk into it knowing that we will already be speaking a common language.  To quote my own MA thesis:

“Harold Bloom argues that great literature must always struggle with the tension between originality and our expansive creative history as humans, trying to find a balance between the burden of inherited stories and creativity, what he calls the “Anxiety of Influence” (Bloom, 1973). Fan, however, embrace this burden; the patches that they select from the fabric of canon texts are chosen particularly for the information, morals, clichés, tropes, and allusions already woven into the weave of the material. This gives them the ability, like quilters, to world-build and narrative-build, to tell a story, without having to struggle with the more difficult aspects of originality or creativity. They can focus instead on the message or entertainment. To use another allegory, they are like children playing with letter blocks to spell words; the work of crafting the letters and writing the alphabet is taken care of for them, so they can concentrate instead on spelling out their messages.”


“Retelling these tales is very much like quilt work in that it helps readers and writers to (re)create their own identities and (re)create literatures, and the grand narratives of their own personal culture through the use of pre-existing narrative fabrics.”

I still read fanfiction. Why? Partially because it’s comfort food – I know exactly who the stories are about and I get to spend some time with characters and worlds I already know I love. I read a lot of new material as writer (friends books, review books, recommended or research books) and sometimes it becomes exhausting having to start from scratch with new characters and worlds all the time. Sometimes I just want my comfort reading.

I also read fanfiction because I find that fanfic writers approach the craft differently than profic writers. I know that I write differently when I’m writing profic instead of fanfic, and I like reminding myself to try to parlay one into the other. I also find fanfic writers are generally more fearless – they’re willing to try different things, or assemble their stories in new ways, or exparament with phrasing and sentence structure, or narrative structure, or worldbuilding. I get really inspired by the AUs and the experimental storytelling I see in fanfic.


 More questions tomorrow!


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JM FreyWords for Writers: Questions From My Scarborough Museum Visit – Part 1/ 5