I started writing when I was eight years old, and I never really stopped. That said, I don’t like sharing my work. It’s a failing of mine that I don’t take criticism well (one which I’m trying to work on) and so I generally only shared my writing with family and close friends. In grade seven, our teacher made us enter just about every writing contest imaginable, and one of my poems won third prize (worth $10), although I don’t remember now which prize it was.
I think that I might have been more willing to share my work online as a teen if venues like fanfiction.net (and other sites that are more teen-specific) and other sites had been more prevalent, and if Web 2.0 had been around at all. There is something that feels safer about putting up one’s work online, either anonymously or not. It is relatively simple to do and is a form of self-publishing. Instead of sending my poems off to a journal, I can post them on a blog and they can be immediately viewed. [Shameless self-promotion: see my Notes from Katia blog for some of my non-school writing.] Whether or not anyone reads them, no one had to review or approve my writing in order for it to appear on the web. Not only do writers (both aspiring and hobbyist) get a chance to share and showcase their work, but many sites offer reviews from readers. Fanfiction.net allows for a writer to get feedback as they are writing their story. Other sites allow for writers to get critiqued by more experienced writers.
I admit to reading fan-fiction, although I haven’t published any myself. While I prefer to work with original stories and wish that other writers would as well, I understand that many young writers want to practice with what they already know. The closest that I came to fan-fiction as a teen was when I made up an original story set on the Titanic, shortly after the 1997 film came out, and incorporated many of the story elements from the film. What I feel that fan-fiction does for writers, however, is cheat them of creating their own story, world, and characters. It’s one thing to take plot elements or character archetypes and make your own story out of them, but quite another to take someone else’s work wholesale and then manipulate it for your own creation. I think there is a very good reason that professional writers are hired to write novels for existing franchises! Working with someone else’s material is hard. There is an art to taking an existing fictional universe and tweaking it with just enough originality that it is enjoyable. Good fan-fiction may have lots of originality, but that originality is incorporated into the story in such a way that a reader should not notice. It should feel like the original author(s) of the work wrote it.
I see a lot of stories on fanfiction.net that are marginally related to the existing story. Usually, the author of the story makes it clear that this is an ‘original story’ and they are just borrowing the framework. I don’t agree with this: if you want to write an original story set on the Titanic, don’t call it “fan-fiction” based on the film.
Writing is a wonderful technique for self-expression, particularly for teens and young adults who are feeling marginalized or who are looking to establish their identity. I also think that it makes a great hobby. As much as I would love to publish my work, I would rather have the attitude that writing is my hobby, so that if I do get published, it is an added bonus. I do not think that writing is only a hobby — professional writers are truly professional. Of all the teenagers on the Internet publishing or posting their works, most of them will not become professional writers. That said, I do hope that they continue to write and develop their craft.
Web 2.0 is a great way of sharing one’s work in such a way that writing can remain a hobby and still be given public attention. Much like any other group of hobbyists, amateur writers can discuss their craft, share ideas, advise each other, and be entertained or educated by the works themselves. This sharing can also be done semi-anonymously, which is especially good for young people who are feeling vulnerable about their work. Forums can be great for this, both ones that are teen-specific and those that are more general. Being an amateur writer is not as glamourous as being a star responsible for the latest bestseller, but it can be rewarding, and it is a talent unto itself.