V: Shame Laid Bare
So basically there’s two big reasons why I don’t like talking about how much I really do like writing fanfic.
The first one is because, although I talk a good game about keeping things in perspective and according hobbies their proper place in the grand scheme of thing and maintaining balance and all of that, I sometimes fall a little short in following my own advice. I have never spent time on fanfic at the expense of real deadlines at work, or devoting attention to my wife or my son or truly necessary housework or anything like that. Having established that, I will say that I do spend a lot of time on it, and that’s just counting the actual writing process; I spend a mind-blowingly inordinate amount of time thinking about it. I cannot honestly claim that it’s just a lark for me, something I do when I’m dead bored or fleetingly inspired. It’s more or less always there as mental background noise, and even when I turn the volume way, way down so I can focus on something else, it’s still on to fill the silence when things inevitably quiet down.
See, I didn’t just get sucked into a comicbook fanfic community loosely defined by a bunch of people reading each other’s work. I got sucked into a community where groups of writers band together to essentially form their own versions of the Big Two comicbook publishers. I found a niche for myself as the Green Lantern guy (sorry, should have warned you to hold on to your hats before dropping that stunner) which meant not just writing a story here or there that happens to star Green Lantern, but acting as if I were writing prose versions of monthly comics, where every story I wrote was a continuation of everything that had gone before, basically on and on without end, while another guy did the same for Batman and another did the same for Superman, and so on, with all of our stories theoretically taking place concurrently and able to influence one another, just like in the real DC Comics.
And on the one hand, that’s an interesting and challenging project to be a part of and it kind of raises the imaginary stakes of the performance that each story I write represents, but on the other hand it takes the jaw-dropping geekiness that fanfic starts out with and atomic-rockets it to the next level. It also means that in addition to writing stories and thinking about what other stories I’m gonna write and reading other people’s stories (all of which, not for nothing, starts to feel all the more obligatory when it’s part of a group effort) I also spend even more time e-mailing the other people who are part of the group so I can coordinate things with them. AND, because everyone else in the group is as big a comicbook obsessive geek as I am (if not moreso! It is possible!) and because each story I write not only builds off what I’ve already written but also builds off everything DC Comics had themselves published before I started pretending their characters were mine, that means I have to accommodate and be sure not to contradict impossibly vast swaths of canon, which in turn means I spend yet more time clicking around on the internet. Doing research on old obscure comics. So that my personal amateur stories starring comic book characters will have that much more verisimilitude to the source material. Is that, in and of itself, fun for me? Clearly it totally is, or I wouldn’t do it (or not only do it but have gotten addicted to it). Fun notwithstanding, is it embarrassing that this is something I expend so much time and energy on? Yep. My face burns a little even just typing this.
Which is kind of a segue into big reason number two. Since I am someone who bitches all the time about how there just aren’t enough hours in the day, or days in the month, it is doubly shameful to admit to something I know without a doubt I already spend a disproportionate amount of time on. I can rationalize it all day, with all the same arguments I touched on yesterday, and say that I gravitate towards it because it’s simultaneously fun and undemanding, and I could be more productive but productivity is often more demanding and less fun, sooo …
Further complicating the whole matter is the fact that writing fanfic is in a weird way a mockery of my dreams. Suppose I were out of shape and watched too much tv. (Feel free to mentally eliminate the subjunctive since this is far from contrary to the truth.) You could make the argument that, while it’s all well and good that I love tv and derive great pleasure from watching it, I should take better care of myself and maybe work out at the gym some. And if I have the time to watch hours of tv, clearly I have the time to work out. But, fair or not, I could argue against that. Now suppose further that on certain evenings I cleared my schedule, changed into gym-appropriate attire, got in the car, and drove myself to the gym … then spent an hour hanging out at the front desk of the gym watching tv with the kid swiping membership cards. And then came home without working out. SO CLOSE! COME ON!
I think of fanfic like that sometimes, because I really do want to write. I want to publish a novel before I die. I wouldn’t mind selling a few original short stories between now and then, either. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t think much of his own writing ability and scratches out fanfic just for love of the characters. I do it because it scratches that itch. Sitting at a computer, opening a Word doc, stringing together words and sentences into paragraphs and dialogue and character development and narrative arcs, clearly I can find the time and energy to do all these things which is like, GAH, 90% of the way to writing my own stuff free and clear? 95%? But almost every time I go the easier way, and that is humiliating. Ten, eleven years ago it was the easy fix I needed to give myself a mental vacation from bad-bad times. And I could even say it was practice, sharpening certain skills in a risk-free, reward-rich environment. And I don’t regret any of that, I’ve even made a couple of genuine online-only friends in the deal. But now, life is good, and I’ve written like 750,000 words of fanfic in the past decade and I still get a lot of the same geeky joy out of it but I feel like I either need to cut back on it or do more original writing to counterbalance it. I need to take more risks and be a little less comfortable.
I think that might have been a subconscious reason for starting this blog, so that I could have a daily writing outlet that wasn’t just further entrenching my fanfic addiction. Of course blogging has its own comforting limits and inherent easiness as well, and I think I’m starting to feel that too, which might be why I’m bringing things full circle and finally marathon-blogging about fanfic. So maybe changes are starting to rumble underfoot. One never knows. What I do know is that at least now, when my quotidian geeking-outs include ventures into the fanfic realm (as they’re bound to now and then, even if I suddenly and drastically cut way back), I can make passing reference to them here and feel like it’ll be placed in the proper context. Except of course for the people who skipped this week once it started piling horrifically high and deep – they’ll still be totally baffled.