An incident happened to me on Christmas Day that's brought an old battle of mine rising to the surface of my mind.
I won't go into too much detail save to say that someone anonymously posted a handful of flames** on a fan fiction story that I posted. Normally this kind of thing wouldn't bother me, because you typically get lots of "trolls" who will come across your work and seem to get a sadistic pleasure from making you upset. But this particular person I knew, so it was surprising to say the least to see them do that.
Not wanting to cause unnecessary drama, I quickly removed the story to destroy the comments. This was done in immediate reaction to the comments posted and had I known what I know now, I wouldn't have been so quick to remove it. A friend informed me about some new features I wasn't aware of. Apparently you can get rid of anonymous reviews without deleting the story in the process. It used to be (some 5 years ago) that wasn't possible, but the site itself where I post has seen many upgrades in their technology.
Bearing that in mind, to the subject at hand.
Saying the word "fan" tends to drive up a bunch of images in a person's mind - watch the "Nerd" on Robot Chicken and you'll see what I mean. And add on the "fiction" part and you can say goodbye to any hope of gaining any shred of dignity from the average Joe on the street. Or is that really true?
Granted most stories that fans write are not very good. I don't need to explain how easy it is for fans to come together on the Internet. People usually tend to flock to others who share common interests. Based on the growing availability of the Internet, you have a mix of ages, grade levels, class status and culture. So, of course, there are going to be people who have not had the opportunity to take writing classes or for some reason or another, just aren't skilled at writing. But even Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain had to work to become skilled in their trade and they started off with the alphabet just like everyone else.
On the other side of the coin you have people who write fan fiction that are superbly good - and who some fans would argue are just as good as what's on TV or better. Considering what makes it to TV and film these days, it's probably a correct assumption. There's also the tiny percentage of people who get paid to write what fans typically refer to as "canon" stories. I can point directly to the immensely popular Star Trek and Star Wars franchises which have many series of novels dedicated to furthering the main story lines. They must be selling well because they continue to make more. So what do you call that then? It certainly isn't the same fan fiction you see posted on the web, but it's not exactly well known either. You also have the artists and writers who (due to the retro comeback of many old movies) get to work on projects they had once enjoyed merely as fans. Then suddenly they become "official".
So probably at this point you're nodding (or shaking) your head now going, "Okay Joanie, I see what you're saying here, but what's the big deal you mentioned earlier?"
Well, bearing what I said in mind, for a person to become professional is it necessary to cut all ties to what they enjoy, which includes the creation of art and writing that is primarily of homage or in honor of something they enjoy?
At first my gut reaction was, "Heck yes! Get rid of everything! Leave no trace!" A part of me wants to pander to that kind of fear, thinking that if I try to "act professional" that people will respect me. If I get rid of everything no one will be able to point and label me as "rabid fan girl". They'll have nothing to point at.
I've discovered something though, and mainly it was while wandering around (of all places!) at Comic Con '08. Meeting artists and taking a peek at what they were drawing surprised me. I saw Marvel artists sketching D.C. characters, I saw animators doodling video game characters. I was confused. But these guys are "professionals" I said to myself. Why are they doing fan art? But that's when I figured it out.
They were drawing on their free time, doing whatever they wanted. But when it came to looking at their professional portfolios and prints, it was all their original or hired work. It was separated. Even when I was working at Disney Interactive and got a peek at some of what was going on the creative side of things, I saw the same thing. A clear line of separation. But there was a difference between how they were handling it and how I had been. They weren't afraid. They were confident about both halves of their creativity.
In animation writing, you also have the "spec" script, where you submit a script written for another show already in production to showcase your skills to take existing characters and create new material for them. Wait a minute. Sounds familiar n'est-ce pas? Good fan-fiction accomplishes the same task, keeping the spirit of the show going with new adventures for the cast.
I'd like to know how other people feel about this. Because this is what I've decided:
Creation in itself is a gift. Whether it's something brand new or a new version of something already out there. If someone finds joy in it, it was worth the creation process. There is a difference between your personal work and your professional work. But that doesn't mean that because you choose to be professional that your personal tastes have to fly out the window. Neither does it mean you go parading it around or stamping your fandom on your resume. It's your personal taste.
That being said, what about posting fan art and fan-fiction? Well, I see the pros doing it constantly on their blogs and places where they interact on the internet. No they usually don't include it in their portfolios unless it's an outstanding piece of work that showcases their skills. That's the answer for you right there. Every professional has the ability to look at a piece of their work and determine if it would be a good addition to their portfolio. If not, it can still be posted somewhere if they so choose to share it.
As for me? Well I took down my DeviantArt work, though more so because I didn't care for what was on there anymore. I still have all of it on my computer so I can look back at it a few years down the line. But right now I'm back to writing full-time again. It's what I love and it's what I do given a keyboard and a blank computer screen. For a long time, I had forgotten the sheer joy that comes with writing. The ability to start with the white space of a new document and to fill it with imagination and adventure.
I will continue to post on FanFiction.net and I won't hide who I am on there, because it brings me happiness in more ways than I can describe. But I won't go advertisting it here. I'm writing a novel after all and that's what I'd really like to promote. Because this blog is special. It is professional. It is separated. And that's how it will stay.
** For those of you not familiar with writing and forums on the Internet, when someone "flames" you it basically means they posted an offensive statement about the person they were attempting to critique, focusing on personal attacks instead of objective help.