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12 November 2013 @ 10:40 am
[Rant] In Defense of Bad Writing  
A long time ago, I had a lot to say in rants about how people were DOING IT WRONG and should NOT WRITE THIS WAY but rather THIS OTHER WAY. (And, if I'm gonna be honest, those rants are all still there, just waiting for me to type them. Let me tell you about the Should You Use the Pluperfect? flowchart I made the other day. Or not, because honestly, TFV, nobody wants to hear that.) I was all, "People! Write better!"

Sorry, past me -- you were wrong. What I should have been saying was, "People! Write more! (Even if it's really bad!)"

Because, yes, I still think the word sensitized needs to be left to lie fallow for a decade. Where it can maybe cavort with its friend, lave. I still sometimes want to ban thesauruses. I still feel like maybe those weeping cocks should see a doctor, or perhaps a therapist.

But these days, I also think we're lucky to have those stories. I probably won't be reading them, but I'm happy they exist, for three reasons.

Writing is good. People are writing! For fun! Good news! Seriously, if I had spent more time writing down the hideously painful Mary Sue fan fiction I dreamed up when I was a wee teen, I might have spent less time on, you know, drugs and sucking the cocks of random strangers without protection. I'm always happy to see someone making better choices than I made.

Maybe you're now saying, "Okay, fine, but do they have to post those Mary Sue stories where I can see them?" If so, you're being a dick. Cut it out. The Archive of Our Own is not the Archive of Just What You Want to Read. It's the Archive of Fanworks. Is it a fanwork? Then it belongs there! And if you're incapable of scrolling past something, it's not that the Mary Sue writers are in the wrong place, it's that you are. (Also, I'm sorry, but I don't know where would be the right place for you. Everywhere is going to have stuff you don't like, because tastes are individual and all that. Maybe the internet just isn't for you.)

Crap is important. Sturgeon's law is right, but it misses the point. Ninety percent of everything has to be shit. That's how you get the 10% that's good.

Your favorite writers, fan fiction, published fiction, published fan fiction, whatever -- they didn't start out writing that way. There was a time when they wrote unspeakably awful crap. Writing unspeakably awful crap is how you learn to write only moderately awful crap, and then eventually maybe decent stuff, and then, if you're lucky, actually good things. There are not two classes of people, those who are good writers and those who are bad writers, so that all you have to do to have only great stuff is scare away all the bad writers. There are people who used to write bad stuff, and there are people who are currently writing bad stuff, and there's a lot of crossover between the two. Some of the second category will one day be the first category. (Also, tomorrow some of the first category will move back to the second. No one hits it out of ballpark every time.) If you want to read new good stuff tomorrow, encourage the people writing bad stuff today. (And also maybe help them get betas. Betas are great.)

And, no, those people don't have to hide their work away until it gets better. They can share it with anyone who wants to read it. If they want to post it, they should. Wanting to is reason enough. (Although if you want another reason -- posting is how community happens. Which is how things like betas happen. People who share their work get better faster.)

Crap is a sign of life. New bad stories are a sign that this genre -- fan fiction, the genre I adore the most - is alive and well. Bad stories mean new people are trying to write in it, and people are trying to do new things with it, and maybe new people are joining the audience, too. When only the best and most popular are writing in a genre, it's on its deathbed. (See: Westerns and Louis L'Amour.) I want this genre to be here forever, because I want to read it forever. So I'm happy that teenagers are posting Mary Sue stories to the Archive of Our Own.

Does that mean you have to be happy? Nope. I can't make you do anything. (I can think you're wrong, but hey, being wrong on the internet is a time-honored tradition among our people.) But when you start making fun of a writer and bullying her in the comments of her story, simply because she's writing something you think is bad and embarrassing, well, that's when I say: shut the fuck up or get the fuck out. Because she's not a problem. She's just doing what we're all doing -- having fun, playing with words, throwing something out there on the internet to see if other people like it.

But you. You're trying to stop someone from having fun. You're trying to shame people into not writing anymore. And that, folks -- that is the definition of shitty behavior. (Mary Sue fantasies, on the other hand, are just the definition of human behavior.) It's bad for people, it's bad for the future, and it's bad for the genre. So you're a problem.

Please go away, problems, and let all of us write out our ids out in peace.

(And, yes, this was triggered by one specific story and some of the responses it's getting on the AO3. But it applies to all of them, all the fan fiction we don't like out there. Okay, I'm done.)

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: [rant]
aeroport_art: GRAPE!!aeroport_art on November 12th, 2013 07:02 pm (UTC)
tried to eat the safe banana: !thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Still Waiting For My Jetpack: typewriterazewewish on November 12th, 2013 07:34 pm (UTC)
I totally agree - there is an audience for EVERYTHING, no matter how bad. That's the beauty of the human race.

Although I would add a caveat to this: People who share their work get better faster to say, people who WANT to get better, get better. Speaking as someone who betas a lot, I can only do so much for writers who don't want to hear constructive crit & who aren't interested in honing their craft. Which is fine, that's their choice, but it's an important distinction. And it applies to all walks of life. :)
tried to eat the safe banana: .thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
This is absolutely true. Some people don't want to get better. (And some people don't know their work is bad; they're unskilled and unaware of it -- they don't have the baseline competency to evaluate their own work.) But, hey, they're doing fandom their way, and that's, as you say, fine. Just, yeah, you don't necessarily want to beta for them.
lamardeuse: Lewis/Hathawaylamardeuse on November 12th, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
tried to eat the safe banana: Andthefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
The Gauche in the Machine: Writing (sex)china_shop on November 12th, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC)
Yes. I'd also add One person's crap is another person's catnip. Because yes.

*cheers you on*
tried to eat the safe banana: !thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
Truest fact, for sure.

Thank you!
AQ aka Syredronning: chris_pine_laughingsyredronning on November 12th, 2013 09:29 pm (UTC)
*thumbs up****!
tried to eat the safe banana: .thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
snailsnailbones on November 12th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC)
*applauding like crazy*
tried to eat the safe banana: Andthefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Moony McMoonsomethe_moonmoth on November 12th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
WORD. May I reproduce this on my Tumblr (with links to source, of course)?
tried to eat the safe banana: !thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 04:01 am (UTC)
I went ahead and put it on Tumblr, since a couple people asked me to. Feel free to reproduce or reblog at will (with links, etc.)!
LGbirdzilla on November 12th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)

Anecdata to support your second point--I recently found an old, old website full of writing by one of my current favorite fanfic writers, in a fandom that is old and dated by current Internet standards but which I just recently found and fell in love with. I was so excited. A favorite author! A favorite fandom! It would be fantastic!

It... it was not fantastic.

And at first, I was disappointed. But you know? When I thought about it, when I read through all that old un-fantastic fanfic, I could see improvement in line with the date stamps. Slight, a little better each time, but improvement. And I sat there and I went, "This stuff that she wrote then, that I was disappointed in because it was not what I thought of when I thought of Favorite Author... this is what made her into Favorite Author. I can see it, right here! The beginning of her evolution! Writing all of this mediocre-to-painful fanfic is what made her into the awesome writer she is today."

She needed to write that stuff first! Everyone needs to write that stuff first! And if she'd written it and people had shouted at her to get it off the face of the Internet, would I have Favorite Author's wonderful prose today? Probably not!
tried to eat the safe banana: .thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)
Oh man, I have so done that. Some of my favorite writers are brave souls who keep ALL THE FAN FICTION THEY'VE EVER WRITTEN on their website or on AO3, and WOW their earliest stuff is not good. But that's okay, and that's how it works. (And kudos to them for keeping that stuff up so we can all see how it works.) They got better!

And I'm so grateful to all the people who helped them get that way.
keerawakeerawa on November 12th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
tried to eat the safe banana: Andthefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)
lacking in glittertawg on November 13th, 2013 03:50 am (UTC)
Is there any chance this post is on tumblr? Because I can think of a few friends who need to see it - both people who have been bullied and need the affirmation that doing their thing is exactly the point of fannish spaces, and a few people who maybe need to learn that fandom participation isn't invite-only (well, I guess it is in some places. But I never get the invite, so I assume they're boring).
tried to eat the safe banana: !thefourthvine on November 13th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
It wasn't, but now it is. Reblog or whatever at will. Yay for many platforms!
lacking in glittertawg on November 13th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC)
Thank you!
null: hanson - everything in life I learned frunperfectwolf on November 13th, 2013 04:24 am (UTC)
Oh man. Anyone who says their shit doesn't stink needs to take another whiff. I write well now-mostly-after 7 years of college after a bunch of AP HS classes and writing A LOT for 17 years in fandom. But my fic back in 1998? Was.... well, the fic an 11 year old would write, and also in the Redwall fandom. And my fic in 2003? was written like I was in HS and had ideas on style. The only reason I got better was because I wrote so much fic. I wrote so, so, so many words. In 2007 I wrote 72 stories. If each of those averaged, say, 2k, thats 140,000 words (some were that small. There are a few waaaay longer, tho). THATS A LOT OF WORDS. And even if I still can't remember that an Alot is not real and alright isn't a state of mind 90% of the time (lets not talk about without vs with out), I still write better because I wrote -- a lot-- and posted it and got reviews and had my work beta'd.

And sure, there is Tamora Pierce fic I won't be moving from ff.n to ao3, because.... well, because. And my first HP fics were... something else for sure. But I can't hate any of the fics I wrote, because they brought me to where I am!

That said, I also do not want to read the new OFC fics that have popped into Hockey fandom, because they scare me, and there is definitely a line I draw when reading fic. And I can't even tell you what it is, because it's a lot of different things. Word choice, spelling, grammar, tenses.... first person.

And I have beta'd for some really bad fics. And I have told people, after I beta'd, and they IGNORED ALL MY SUGGESTIONS, that I didn't want my name on their fic. And I felt bad, but if you ask someone to read something over and help make it better and then you choose to not read any of their comments, you can't get better! Or you might, but sooooo much slower than you would otherwise.

As much as my higher education helped with my writing, I think my fandom beta's helped more, and I think they worked faster and more efficiently. They also had a lot better reasoning for why they changed things--prof's would tell me 'that's how it is', fandom beta's would pull up essays and explain if you asked.

Like you said, crap is good. Even if I'm not gonna be reading it, I love to see that there is a new generation of kids out there getting into fandom and writing. LITERACY IS GOOD! READING IS GOOD! WRITING IS GOOD! And they get to do it on the power of broadband, and not know the pain that was message boards on dialup and OneList and webpages timing out while you were making dinner. (And also, 'get off the internet, I need to make a phone call!')

They also won't get to raise their fandom-selves on gems like this:


(my hanson expage fansite got like, 1k hits a month. BNF, baby, BNF!)
like a shooting star it fades: hanson: 1440 hours in my dayshewasred on December 1st, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
Drive by high five for the Hanson reference and icon :)
Tanrientanrien on November 13th, 2013 07:23 am (UTC)
Great post and message, thanks for writing that!

(As much as I want to tag it to some kind of AO3 elitist culture, from the responses here and the dreamwidth post, I guess it has always happened, also elsewhere before. What annoys me most about the case you refer to, is, that the story is not even that bad. o_O Just exchange some pronouns and names and it would get absolutely no negative and a few nice responses... In this case, in my opinion, it's less about "allowing" the author to write badly, but rather about sexism against what's called "Mary Sues".)
Polyhymniaof_polyhymnia on November 13th, 2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
Hi, I'm an awkward lurker...

I totally agree with all of this. I think an important extra note is that tastes of readers change as well. (Though this is more relevant for things like style and less for things like spelling.) Like, all of the fic I read back in high school - some of it I still think was good, and some of it I would not read now. But then, I LOVED it! And there's always somebody loving that kind of fic, because there are always new readers entering as well as new writers.
slashpileslashpile on November 18th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
I <3 you and this rant.
filkferengifilkferengi on November 18th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
This rant rocks! I'm so glad AO3 & other fanfic sites are there.

Also, I miss your Earthling updates. If you're still doing them, is there a filter I can be on?
like a shooting star it fades: hanson: 1440 hours in my dayshewasred on December 1st, 2013 09:17 pm (UTC)
Stumbled upon this linked on a thing, and I realize I'm a few weeks too late and not in the fandom anyway, but I agree so much. Someone in my own fandom recently asked how I managed not to be jaded like so many other authors who say it's all been done before and thus don't read any new fic. My simple response that it hasn't all been done, and if no one encourages new authors, it will never be done!