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Part 2 in my Fanfiction Series

The biggest lesson you can learn in writing is how to take constructive criticism.  Some people would tell you it’s ‘writing what you know’, others would tell you it’s ‘following your instinct’, but I’m here to tell you that if you can’t absorb and facilitate criticism you’re screwed.  The only way to become a better writer is to let people tell you what you’re doing wrong.  You might not like it at the time, you might think they are full of crap, but if you take a step back and use some clinical detachment from your piece you might see that they’re actually doing you a big favor.  That being said the nature of posting fanfiction lends to an environment where you can get too much criticism.  Partly because there is a level of anonymity involved with online communities, and partly because everyone is an armchair expert when it comes to something they love. 

I’m not saying that I haven’t had some excellent constructive criticism dealt my way during Ghost of You.  In fact, it was one particular reviewer who left me a very long review and criticism that changed the whole story, and that’s because he was right and thus became my editor.  But between the reviews that point out tiny errors and the reviews that question all the themes and plots of your story (to each his own I suppose) there are two groups of people who boil my blood with their reviews.  First for the tone they tend to take and second because the reviews they’re leaving don’t really matter in the end.  And I’m not talking about trolls – that’s another installment.

The first group are ‘Grammar Nazi’s’ and they try to suck the joy from your story.  Every comma, every misspelled word, every dialogue tag, every homonym, every single grammar skill that you learned in elementary school and then promptly forgot are thrown back into your face with one of the more condescending tones ever.  Grammar Nazi’s always love to point out that you either need to A) get a Beta(aka Editor) or B) get a better Beta because it’s ‘almost impossible to read this story with all these mistakes’.  I should note that these people never want to help YOU – they don’t have the time, but they certainly have the time to read your story, make notes on everything that was wrong, and then write a lengthy review about all the things wrong.  I did have a Beta on my story, sometimes more than one, but we’re all human and certainly none of us are professional editors so things are going to slip through the cracks.  Honestly, everyone on the site is writing it for fun, do I have edit my story to the point of being able to publish it just because you hate comma splices? 

But the worst offenders are the Brit-Pickers.  This phenomenon only seems to happen to me in Harry Potter stories.  I’m sure it extends out to any fandom where the story is not taking place in America in the 21st century.  The idea is that if you’re writing a Harry Potter story it should ‘sound’ decidedly British.  I’d like to point out that most of the people Brit-Picking aren’t even from England, they are just so lost in their pretend English world that they want to make your life a living hell.  So you have to learn English all over again just to write about simple things like:

 = Jumper NOT Sweater

= Lorry NOT Truck

= Biscuit NOT Cookie

= Cot NOT Crib

And for the love of GOD don’t you dare call a mum a ‘mom’ – they will literally find you and burn you alive.  I tried my best to ensure my story ‘sounded’ British.  They swore in British slang, they ate British food, they went to British places…I tried really hard to get it as authentic as I could without wasting hours of my life trying to learn the entire history of British idioms.  But it’s never good enough.  It never will be good enough because I’m not British.  I call a hospital bed a ‘cot’ because all I can think of is the horrible roll-away cots they give you in hospitals and I get review after review of people telling me, “lol – cots are for babies!”  Bitch you obviously knew he wasn’t in a CRIB, I’m sorry I missed a single word that broke the illusion of British wonderment – how very American of me.  I don’t think I’ll ever understand how an American could be so worked up about understanding exactly what I said but thinking that I used the wrong word because they live in some crazy British fantasy.

But the one that boils my blood, the one that I refuse to even acknowledge is Jello. 

Apparently, in England, they don’t have boxes that say Jello on the front of them.  Or if they do they don’t call it that – they call it jelly.  Jello was a big symbol in my story as well as an inside joke between characters, so I wasn’t going to budge.  But every time I’d get a new person reading the story it would be the same thing, “they call Jello jelly in Britian”.  It takes everything within me not to send back a scathing reply every time explaining that I don’t care if JK Rowling herself tells me that I need to change it – it’s not going to happen, you obviously know what it is, fucking leave it alone.  But I don’t.  And that’s what the second lesson in fanfiction writing is about – holding back and taking criticism gracefully while keeping artistic integrity alive. 

There will be times when you have to begrudgingly agree with the reviewer, but, there is a big difference between nitpicking and criticism.  It’s your job as a writer to take in all this information and decide who is actually giving you something useful and who is just a spiteful person that can’t write so they take it out on writers.  I’d say the majority of Grammar Nazi’s and Brit-Picker’s aren’t sharing anything they write.  It takes a lot of guts to expose yourself through writing and that’s not for everyone.  But it is really easy to point out that you…silly American…keep calling slacks pants!  *rolls eyes*

Stay strong with your artistic integrity and know that haters gonna hate – JELLO!

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Part 1 in my Fanfiction Series

I write fanfiction.  I’ll pause for you to stop laughing……Ready?  Okay good.  If you’re still reading – thank you.  I’ll be brief on the entire saga of my fanfiction origins story, because the culmination of all that happened has led me to this post right now, and that’s what I really want to talk about.  So here’s the breakdown as follows:

~Summer of the 8th grade – my sisters and friends and I decided to write a Hanson story where we were part of the crazy fun.  Yes you read that right, and yes I totally still have it, though I haven’t had the guts to read it again.  Mostly it involved the six of us writing a chapter at a time in an over-arching story about kissing and pranks.  We knew nothing of kissing, and we sucked at pranks, but it was still a lot of fun.  I realized, while writing this with my sisters, that 1) I was better at it than them and 2) Writing with a bunch of other people is incredibly frustrating.  I’d try to make the story make sense and the next chapter my sister had made one of them disappear in a time machine.  Needless to say this was not repeated the next summer.

~Freshman through Junior Year of High School – My obsession with the X-Files reached a level of such fervor that I decided I HAD to unleash my thoughts upon the internet about it.  They were bad thoughts in execution but the ideas were sound.  This was when I was introduced to the actual world of fanfiction: the forums, the sites, the writing challenges, the libraries, the rules, the complicated and confusing abbreviations that differentiated genres.  You find out quickly that if you’re looking for a Mulder/Scully story you NEVER click on ‘slash’.  And no – I won’t let you see any of them, and good luck finding them!  lol

~Senior Year of High School – One fateful day my mother thrust a book into my hands and told me, “Jennifer I know you’ve resisted me, but you really need to read this book!”  And thus the biggest obsession of my life began with Harry Potter.  The beginning pieces of fanfiction I wrote were so incredibly emo that I actually sent them to a professional shredding company so no one will ever see them – it was a dark time for me.  But slowly I cultivated my writing skills and started to produce stories that were actually alright, alright enough even to let other people see.  And then Ghost of You happened.

About three years ago I woke up one morning with an idea in my head.  I’d had a pretty amazing dream in which I was a fly on the wall at The Burrow.  (And I’m just going to warn you now – there will be a lot of Harry Potter referencing in here so brace yourself.)  I knew in that moment that I had the beginning of a story and so before I started getting ready for work that morning I sat down at my computer and jotted down the ideas that I had.  It was an interesting time, 2008, Deathly Hallows had been released already and the entire Harry Potter community was still digesting everything we’d just read.  There was especially a lot of activity from the fanfiction side of the Harry Potter fandom and it broke down into three categories:

1)      Post Hogwarts

2)      Foggy 19

3)      Next Gen

JK Rowling had left quite a bit open to interpretation and like good fanfiction writers we were more than willing to put our own spin on it.  Some people were all about Harry Potter’s kids and what would become of the children of the famous trio hence Next Gen. Plenty of people wanted to play around in the 19 years between the end of the war and the “foggy” scene in the epilogue that lets us know where everyone landed after all that turmoil.  A lot of people wanted to focus directly on the aftermath of the final chapter (not including the Epilogue) and that first year after the war – and that’s where I come in. 

I used all my spare time working on this story – literally.  I had a full-time job at the time and any moment that I wasn’t doing something for my job I was writing this story.  I was making long voice memos on my iPhone on my atrocious drive home (I still hate the 405 with a fiery passion).  I was writing into the night.  I was a woman obsessed. 

When I felt like I had enough material to show someone I swallowed my pride and showed it to one of my idols.  I had read this fantastic fanfiction story called Seeking Ginny by Casca.  (Seriously – if you need something to read click that link and get started.  It’s fantastic.)  We became friends over the years because of all my reviews of her story and she had told me that if I ever had something to look over she’d help.  So I took my idea, in all its garbled mess, and submitted it to her.  After about two days were I felt like barfing every time I opened my email, she emailed me back and told me that:

1)      I sucked at writing Harry

2)      I was pretty good at writing Ginny

3)      If I could figure out exactly what it is I wanted to accomplish with this story I’d have something worthwhile.

So I did.  I realized that the story I really wanted to tell was about the aftermath of war.  I wanted to tell a story about PTSD.  I wanted to tell the story of what happens to friends and family in the aftermath of a war.  Basically, I wanted to tell the ugly side of the story that JK always seemed to gloss over.  Sure we had a couple of books with CAPLOCKSHARRY but by the time you get to Deathly Hallows the fact that he hasn’t snapped under the weight of his life and the pressure of his destiny starts to get a little unbelievable.  THAT’S what I wanted to write.  And so I did.

It took me almost three years.  I went through four separate endings, each time thinking it was the final time I would write ‘The End’.  I blew through about 10 editors over the length of the story.  I stopped writing it for months at one point because I was stuck and so very, very tired of writing angst.  I ignored my husband for long stretches of time in this blind ambition to finish a novel I could never publish. I burned up space on my hard drive fitting all the false starts and discarded chapters as well as the drafts and drafts and drafts of each chapter.  I had a file folder filled with HP facts and timelines from the end of Deathly Hallows up through the epilogue.  I had a Weasley Family Tree – don’t judge. 

I worked on this story like it was going to make me money, like it was going to make me famous, like it was going to change my life.  And while I’m not rich and famous it did drastically change my life.  By the time I published the epilogue to Ghost of You last week I realized that while this story wasn’t going to get me on the cover of Time, or a Booker, it had made me into a writer.

I had spent most of my childhood and the entirety of my teenage years having people tell me that I was a great writer.  It always made me happy but there was this part of me that never believed them.  Maybe it was my own self-confidence issues, maybe I was being cautiously optimistic, but I didn’t really believe that people were telling me that because they actually thought it.  I thought people were telling me I was good because it was the nice thing to do.  That all changed with Ghost of You and by the end of the story I had become confidant enough in my writing to know that I am a writer and to let everyone else know it too.  You might be shaking your head right now and thinking, “Yeah but you can’t publish what you wrote.  So how exactly do you think writing some little Harry Potter story makes you a writer?” 

I thought you’d think that, so let me break down for you why writing fanfiction is one of the best ways to become a real writer…

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