There is no such thing as a born writer.
I’d like to join Seema in debunking this myth, though I believe the myth goes
the other way. How many times have I heard that all writers started out as bad
writers, that everyone has badfic in their closet, that any writer can improve
herself, that any writer, if she works hard enough, can grow up to be
I just don’t buy it. Yes, it’s the American Dream, fandom style - anybody
can grow up to be President, or a doctor, or a millionaire. It’s a myth. Perhaps
it’s an important cultural myth of fandom without which our society would decay
into an on-line equivalent of lynch mobs and looters. Maybe without this myth
young fans could never be convinced to spellcheck and get a beta. Yet it’s just
more meta-fanfiction, just like “there is a D/7 fandom” or
“Resolutions was a great episode.” Myth, all of it.
I’ve seen a few examples of closet badfic from writers who claim to
Know Better Now™, and to tell the truth, they weren’t all that bad.
Ninety percent of
fanfic on Fanfiction.net is worse than the worst My Past Life As A
Badficcer™ fic I’ve
seen. Nor is FFN the only bit of evidence that Myth #1 is a myth. When I
consider the writers I’ve read since we all started, I don’t see a
significant improvement in their writing.
What I do see in both myself and most writers I enjoy is
fluctuation. You have good days and bad days, cheezy fics and award-winners.
Or if you have a muse, the muse comes and the muse goes. Even LMB
has astounding novels and merely superior novels, not necessarily in any order.
[The following sudden
transition is in no way a comparison of myself to LMB.] I wrote my most
popular fic almost two years ago, when I’d been writing for exactly six months.
Have I been steadily getting worse since then? I hope not. I’ve
spend a lot of time over some stories, and others I’ve tossed off quickly,
but that also fails to correlate with quality in any way I can see.
It’s not only good writers I fail to see improving - the bad ones don’t seem
to be getting any better, either. How many of us can honestly say we give a bad
writer a second chance, say, a year later, because by then they will have
improved? And yet, I doubt the problem is that bad writers have decided not
to improve themselves. I prefer to think they’re giving it their best effort,
writing what they think is a good sort of fic. A lot of the issue is taste, not
skill, and taste is not something that necessarily improves with
Do you still believe your fic is getting better and better every day? One
possible explanation for the myth is that the improvement a writer sees in
herself has little to do with what an average reader uses to judge fic. For
instance, J/C fans who read my first J/C fic and my last one would hardly notice
that I couldn’t write B’Elanna or Tuvok when I started, but I could later on. They
would just think B’Elanna didn’t have a big role in my first fic. Or, writers who
feel they’ve improved by broadening their horizons into slash or smut haven’t
improved in the eyes of their slash or smut fans, because those fans never
knew the writer before she entered that subgenre. In any event, diversification
is not what comes to mind when the finger wags about Working Hard.
One’s faults in the area of grammar and spelling should be
covered up by a good beta reader - so while the author may know that she’s
finally mastered the difference between their, they’re and there, the reader
may never notice. Only the beta benefits.
But I’m beating around the bush. The truth is, I believe there is such a thing
as a born writer. I believe if the story just comes to you out of nowhere, you’re
a born writer. I believe if you read too much Jane Austen and start thinking
in Regency English, you have the ear of a born writer.
I believe, given a better secondary education than is usually displayed
on FFN, a born writer can write pretty good fanfic without any preliminary
Suffering For Her Art or Working Hard to Improve Herself.
I’m not saying that an Unborn Writer can’t strive to improve herself
and become a better writer. I’m sure it happens sometimes.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be Hard Work for everyone.
If people had warned me ahead of time that it took
hard work to write fan fiction, that the first stuff I wrote would be horrid, and that
maybe someday, in a few years, I would be Vastly Improved, I probably would
have run screaming the other way. I need another job like I need another
fandom. Fortunately, at the time I didn’t know
anyone who Knew Better™, so I just started typing away.
Maybe I enjoy writing too much to think of it as work.
Everyone sounds so…matronly to me when they wag their fingers and say
there’s no easy way. I won’t wag back saying there’s
no hard way. I won’t even fake an Italian accent and say we
can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way…
I will, however, say the muse made it all seem so easy.