For beginning writers, writing can be a pretty lonely business. We’re no strangers to having our budding career belittled, even by close friends and family who think writing is just a “hobby” and that we have too much time on our hands. Word on the street is, this doesn’t change much even after you’re published. And it’s pretty friggin’ disheartening.
Despite being yet unpublished, I consider writing my second job.
Working my shifts at the library, I get feedback from my coworkers, boss, and patrons that’ll cheer me up and make me feel like I’m growing professionally. A patron might thank me for helping them find several books for their research, or my boss might simply say, “Hey, great job today! Keep up the good work!”
But unless you’re in a writing group or you have close friends who are also writers AND who don’t mind exchanging work with one another, then it’s hard to get this same feedback as a writer. Writing a novel takes months, and chances are the first several submissions a writer makes will get rejected. It’s so hard to maintain confidence in your writing when you don’t have someone cheering you on along the way. All too often, unpublished writers will reach a point in their manuscript where they feel silly and/or worthless. They’ll be tempted to give up and throw away all their hard work.
Many writers are also introverts. The thought of sharing work is intimidating. Writing groups might be overwhelming. Or maybe you simply don’t have access to a writing group; maybe you live in a small town that offers no writing activities, maybe you’re too busy working your second job, or maybe you don’t have reliable transportation to make it to weekly meetings. Maybe you can’t afford workshops or college classes on writing. Maybe you’re still a young writer — a teen or even a child — and your school doesn’t have a writing club. Or maybe you’re just too shy to join one quite yet.
Plus it’s often difficult to find a good writing group. My professors shared various horror stories of writing groups that they had joined, only to find that the members were unreliable, uninformed, or just not serious about writing and publishing. Some members saw writing as a fun hobby, while others had no idea how to give or take tips and criticisms. I’ve never joined a face-to-face writing group, but I have been in online ones, and I find that the case is often the same in a digital environment.
So not every writer has access to feedback through writing groups.
And even if we submit something to publishers or literary magazines — say, a poem or short story — getting professional feedback from those editors is unlikely. Chances are, the editor will send a letter saying the work doesn’t quite fit what they’re looking for. Rarely will they offer constructive criticism — because that’s not their job.
It’s hard not having that same professional reassurance that you might get in any other job.
My personal solution to this issue? Two words: Fan fiction.
I’ve written in the defense of fan fiction a few times now, and today I want to write a little bit more about why I personally love it, especially when I’m looking to find some serious feedback about the quality of my writing.
I understand the argument that writing fan fiction takes time away from writing original fiction, and of course I believe that if you want to publish your own fiction then you should set time aside to write that instead of fan fiction. But in healthy, occasional doses, fan fiction is a miracle to the budding, unpublished writer.
Now, maybe the thought of sharing ANY of your work is daunting, even if you share it online. But one great thing about fan fiction is that, most of the time, it is clear that the writer loves the characters and the setting they’re writing about, and similarly, the readers love those characters and that setting as well. So if you post a fan fiction on Ao3 or Tumblr or any other website loaded with fan fiction, SOMEONE is bound to read it.
And I can assure you that, many times, those readers will like the work. Yes, even if it is imperfect. They might leave a kudos or reblog it or even leave a comment, either saying they liked it or even sometimes giving you a little constructive criticism. (Hint hint to fan fic readers: If you offer some feedback in your comments, the fic author will LOVE YOU FOREVER!) Most of these comments will be pretty nice and encouraging; I have been posting fan fiction for years now and have never once received any discouraging, horrible feedback.
I’ve also made a few writer friends through fandoms who can offer me proper moral support as I work on my original fiction. When they read my fan fiction, they know what aspects of my writing to focus on to let me know whether I’m improving or not.
So when I start feeling down about my original work, I take a break for a few days to craft a quick fan fiction. Not only does it help me get the creativity flowing again, but it also boosts my confidence once I post it and start seeing those kudos come in. “Someone out there likes my writing,” I realize, and then I can plunge back into my original fiction feeling better about myself. And when someone offers constructive criticism, I feel even better, because I know what to keep an eye out for in my future projects and how to improve my writing overall.
If you’re stuck, I would highly recommend giving fan fiction a try even if you’re shy about sharing your work. After all, if you want to publish professionally someday, you’re going to have to overcome your shyness eventually! Of course, don’t let writing fan fiction interfere with your original fiction writing time. But it’s definitely a great way to get a metaphorical/digital pat-on-the-back during the long and tedious task of writing an original novel.