I remember Not Writing two things when I was a kid. The first was a story about a planet that broke into three pieces after the middle piece decided they only wanted to speak French (I was 11 and Quebec was threatening to split from Canada). The second was a Boxcar Children story where Benny and Henry were conspicuously absent while Jessie, Violet, Aunt Jane and Watch solved a murder. This probably tells you almost everything about me that you need to know. I didn’t physically write fanfiction until University, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t play it. For hours at a time. I was Lucy. I was Colleen. I was Heidi (this included, by the way, eating cheese and Mennonite summer sausage and drinking a bowl of goat’s milk for breakfast every day, even though the taste of the milk made me gag, because that’s what Heidi did.) But I never wrote any of it down.
I didn’t realize that fanfiction was something people did until late in high school when a friend told me about ff.net. I read Voyager and X-Men: Evolution, for the most part, but it wasn’t until I was actually living in residence at Laurier that I discovered CSI fanfiction, and my world expanded considerably. My first story, an absolutely TERRIBLE story about Greg’s unrequited crush on Sarah (seriously, it’s ever SONG!fic), was posted on October 18, 2002. Nearly a decade later, I’ve posted five and a half HUNDRED THOUSAND words to that site. Much of it is not good. Some of it is kind of awesome. All of it has been part of the best learning and “on the job” training experience I’ve ever had.
I mention this because at some point in the life of every writer (published or no, fandom trained or no), you get the question “Which writers have influenced you the most?”, and my answer is inherently complicated by the path I took to get here. Fortunately, I happen to love lists and qualifying criteria, so I’ve actually got something workable (if long…).
There are writers who made me read, and there are writers who made me write. There is almost no overlap between those two groups, which I think is interesting, but is probably due to the fact that the writers who made me read are all “legacy” authors, while the writers who made me write are mostly people I talk to every day.
I’m going to leave aside the second category for next week, and today I’m going to talk about my “big six”: the list of writers whose works shaped my childhood and cemented my love of reading.
Marion Zimmer Bradley
I’m pretty sure that list is a variation on everyone else’s, and that is for a good reason. Those six writers are kind of awesome. I met Lewis and Tolkien when I was five, and they showed me how to do something so big it nearly defies description. I met Eddings and McCaffrey and Bradley the summer I was eight, and they showed me that my imagination was pretty much limitless. And even though L’Engle was forced on me by my mother in grade six or so, once I got over my natural contrariness at being made to read something, I realized that her books have almost single-handedly shaped my morals and values.
The single most contributory book from those early days, however, is David Eddings’ “The Rivan Codex”. Both Tolkien (obviously) and McCaffrey (less famously) have published “world building” books, which is what “The Rivan Codex” is, but Eddings goes one step further than they did. Rather than merely giving the reader more backstory, Eddings includes an introduction that explains why he did each thing. I don’t remember much about the back half of “The Rivan Codex”, but I can quote the first few dozen pages almost verbatim.
Eddings says a bunch of things* that I have been hearing in variation since I really got serious about committing words to paper.
The first is “This is how we did it”, which is the most important, I think, because it reminds us all that no one process is perfect. There are some things that just don’t work for me, and some things that work very well.
The second is “Write every day. If you’re good, you can have half a day off for Christmas. Write a million words. And then burn them.” Obviously, I didn’t do that, but I think the spirit of the advice is there: I write in my head almost all the time, and instead of burning my words, I put them up on the internet so that other people can tell me how I’m doing.
The third is “When I discovered I was a writer – note, I didn’t say when I decided I wanted to be a writer, if you are, you’ll write. You’ll write when it’s good, a high like nothing dope can achieve and lows that are worse than anything you can imagine.”** And that, that is the BIG TRUTH of my life. I never planned to be a writer. Heck, I spent a good portion of time trying not to be a writer. But I am. And I will still be one if I never make a cent off of what I do.
Some days I am more okay with that than others. I still have to find a job, of course, and because I am a chronic overachiever, I still want to work on grad school applications. And I really do like to make cakes, so it’s not like writing is my only creative outlet. But I’m a writer, in my soul, because that’s how I was made. There’s been some talk lately online about whether the term “aspiring writer” is something we unpublished writers should call ourselves. I’m a fan of the term, and will continue to call myself an “aspiring writer” until someone else calls me an “inspiring writer”, whether that takes me one book or ten. Then I’ll know I’m on to something and keep ploughing on.
*He also taught me a bunch of other very unprofound things, like the mechanics of a running gag and how to tell the same story four times over 16 books and still have people like you.
**That last one is paraphrased since I don’t have the book handy, but that’s pretty much what he says.