I’m a professional writer, and I’ve been through a number of classes and seminars on writing, so I can say this with absolute certainty: fandom is not a master class.
Other people have pointed that out, usually as a way to discredit fanfic writers. However I’d like to posit that the fact “fandom is not a master class” is simply immaterial. Who cares? If you want a master class, go pay for it with your money, sweat, and tears (and you will, you will).
No, the value in writing fanfic for fandom isn’t that it hones writer’s skills to a sharpened blade, but that it actually gets writers to write:
- It encourages people who might not otherwise even try to write to open a blank page and start typing
- It gives inexperienced writers the immediate feedback they crave (and need)
- It gives all writers access to betas (editors) for free
- It provides a built-in writers’ community that is focused on positive encouragement
- It allows writers to contrast and compare their work to others in what amounts to a controlled setting (everyone is writing the same characters; what makes your story different?)
- It spreads the joy of sharing the written word
- It teaches writers how to look critically at a story, if they’ve never done so before
- It helps build up a tough hide to rejection/criticism
Very rarely is a fandom a sink-or-swim type of environment. Yes, wank and politics abounds, and are to be avoided, but I think in general the majority of fandoms try to be welcoming, fair, and fun. It is absolutely the best environment for new and inexperienced writers. I know that even as a pro writer, when I returned to fandom in 2007 and started posting my stories in communities on LJ, the feedback I got really helped me hone my fiction-writing skills. Was it a master class? No, nor did I want it to be. I didn’t need it to be; what I needed was a group of friends to encourage me to keep going.
You can’t make it to the hard-core, break-your-soul master classes if you don’t start somewhere. Fandom can be likened to training wheels, I suppose, but I think fandom is more like boot camp, or that first semester at college: it breaks you down and builds you up and gives you the skills you need to make it to the next level.
Isn’t that enough? Hell, isn’t that fantastic?