Dear Story Nurse,
A friend and I are co-authors, and we’ve been telling mutual stories forever and a day (long before we learned what fanfic was, or that other people did what we were doing but actually wrote it down and shared it with other people). And now we’re trying to transition into writing original fiction for publication. But we keep getting stuck; partly just the two of us not being the best at motivation, but also because we can’t seem to decide what we want to write or who our audience is (things that are kind of built-in with fanfic).
Do you have any recommendations for getting started on our own (probably fantasy, maybe sci-fi, maybe urban fantasy, yes, indecisiveness is a problem) writing? Recommendations for how to think differently about audience so we don’t fall in the same old rut?
—I guess it can’t be AAAAAAIUGH (she/her)
This is a big change, and it’s no surprise that you’re feeling a little ambivalent and uncertain about it. You’re asking me about how, but my questions back to you are about why. If you can grab hold of why you’re focusing on writing original fiction and confirm that you really do want to be doing it, a lot of these pieces will fall into place.
Indecisiveness can often point to absent or unclear motivation. Why did you decide to make this change in how you write? Does writing fanfic feel unfulfilling in some way? What itch are you hoping to scratch that your current writing for fun just doesn’t do?
To quote Scootaloo from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, “Finding your special purpose doesn’t have to be about being good at something. It’s about feeling good about something—inside.” What feels good to you about writing, and specifically about the idea of writing for publication? Is there a particular story or type of story you want to get out into the world? Are you hungry for recognition and fans? Do you want to make money?
Indecisiveness can also point to ambivalence or reluctance. Is something about this change stressing you out? Do the challenges of writing original fiction for publication feel like they outweigh the possible benefits? Are you desperately trying to plan out your entire career before you’ve written a word? What are your fears and anxieties about this move?
Fanfic may feel like it has the training wheels on when it comes to decision-making, but you still have to decide which fandoms you want to write in and what you want to write. You can do the same with original fiction. What grabbed you about the last characters you wrote? Create similar characters for your original work. What genres and plots were you drawn to? Write similar plots in similar genres. Writing original fiction doesn’t erase your fan writing; it builds on it. You’ve learned so much about yourselves as writers that you can apply here.
As I wrote to another fanfic writer trying to make the leap to original fiction, you will have to develop some new processes and methods, and that’s always a challenge. But a lot does carry over. And you had those beginner fumbles with fanfic too, and got past them.
Let yourself be a beginner at this, albeit one with some relevant experience and skills. Play around and have fun! Experiment and learn what works for you. If you don’t know what genre you want to write in, write an outline or a 1000-word story for each of them and see whether one of them grabs you and says WRITE ME. Poke at a character generator or a plot generator until something comes up that feels interesting and gives you ideas. Don’t worry about audience for now. The first audience you need to please is you. Everything else will follow from there.
You’re not the only fanfic writer who wants to write original work, so take a peek at fanfic exchanges that have original work as an option and see how tropes and genre conventions can bridge the gap. For character inspiration, look through the wonderfully creative original fiction nominations for the Chocolate Box exchange if you like having a central pairing, or the Trick or Treat exchange if you prefer to focus on a single character. (To find them, open “No Media” and then “Original Work”.) There are also fanfic-style character, plot, and ship generators here. If you miss the structure and deadlines and community of fanfic exchanges, try the Original Works Exchange (OWO).
Important things to remember:
- Fanfic and original fiction aren’t in competition. Plenty of people do both!
- All original work is as much in conversation with other works as fanfic is.
- “Should” is a major source of writer’s block; if you’re resistant to writing original fiction because you feel like it’s what you should be doing but it’s not what you want to be doing, get unstuck from “should” and follow your heart.
Regardless of how you write or what you write, as long as what you’re writing is bringing you joy, you’re on the right track. Keep going, and happy writing!