I am a writer. What sorts of things do I write, you wonder? Essays, mostly, but poetry, the occasional short story or blog post, fantasy and fanfiction are in the mix as well. Yes, I did indeed put fanfiction in that mix. “How unoriginal,” you might think, putting your nose up in the air. You might think this makes me a fraud, a pretend-writer, someone with nothing new to offer the world of literature.
You would be wrong. True, the basis of a fanfiction is that it is based on someone else’s work, usually using their setting, characters and even their timeline of events. That is why the original writer is given credit at the beginning of each and every post. But, in every fanfiction story I have ever read (and there have been many), the writer has offered something new, or at least different, from what the original writer presented. The characters may have the same name, but the writer behind them always makes them new. So yes, those of us who write online fanfiction can also bear the name “writer.” But is writing the only thing that makes us writers?
The internet has changed many things recently, the publishing world and the world of writing in general among those many things. Self-publishing, for example, goes far beyond just getting tired of having your manuscript rejected as some (Pat Walsh for example) might think; it goes into what it means to be a writer. With self-publishing and fanfiction, arguably a type of self-publishing, anyone can be a writer. Anyone can sit down at their computer screen, slap on a tweed jacket, play a bit of jazz music and play writer for a few moments of internet glory. So the new question, then, is what makes a good writer?
Good writing comes from a good writer, so the answer must be hiding in there somewhere. Granted, there is much subjectivity when it comes to what good writing is, but there are a few staples. Following the rules of syntax and grammar are generally grounds for whether or not the writing is good. If it is a novel or short story (fanfictions included), does it have a plot? Round characters? Proper usage of symbolism and imagery? If it is a poem, does it have intent? How well does it read? If it is an essay, is there a clear thesis? Does it get the message across? All of these are subject to debate, and they are often debated heavily when published online. The comments section of any website is usually full of “Oh, you are just so right!” alongside “You’re an idiot, that’s not how this works.” Either way, there is a discussion going on. So is good writing based on how discussion-worthy a piece is? If so, then a good writer is someone who knows how to ask just the right question in just the right way to just the right audience. That’s a lot to get right at once.
Yet millions of people on the internet think they can do that every single day. Some of them can. As much as some old-school writers might like to think that self-publishing or, God forbid, fanfiction, is not “real” writing, it is. The internet has allowed it to happen. Those who are determined enough to write are probably determined enough to get their words out there, even if “out there” only requires a click of a button. How many books that we find in stores today took their first steps on a fanficiton website? How many famous writers found their humble beginnings online in order to flesh out their prose and experiment in a public realm? The number undoubtedly rises every day, the only question that remains is, are they any good?