I think every writer – whether professional or amateur – goes through phases. As a teenager, I wrote fanfiction. I don’t mean to admit this in a dramatic fashion, like admitting past alcoholism or addiction. I’m not ashamed of this tidbit of my writing history – but it is definitely a practice that I never intend to return to.
That said, I also prefer not to disclose the fandom I used to write for, but it isn’t any of the easily recognizable ones. I will admit, with some measure of pride, that I am the author of the longest (English language) story in that particular section, which clocks in at over 200,000 words – though without author’s notes, it’d be a bit shorter. For context, my debut novel was under 100,000 words. I even had a couple of people draw fanart for my original characters; I still have them saved on my computer.
It might sound impressive, but as I said, it wasn’t a hugely popular topic to write for, and the community was already waning by the time I started posting. I’d missed the peak of the fandom by a couple of years, but a handful of dedicated members still hung around while I was there, sharing their stories and posting reviews. I met some wonderful people, a handful of whom I still occasionally speak to. I consider it a vital phase in my development as a writer.
Eventually, I lost interest in the fandom and couldn’t scrounge up the inspiration to finish the last entry in what was meant to be a trilogy. I still regret that I was unable to complete what I started, but whenever I go back and take a look at those old pieces (and by old, I mean nearly a decade old) I cringe a little.
My writing during that phase was so… superfluous. Admittedly, this is the issue I’ve struggled with the most that isn’t grammar/syntax related. There’s a reason one of my fanfiction stories is over 200,000 words. It’s because, as a fifteen/sixteen/seventeen year old writer, I felt the need to cram as much detail as possible into my writing, which results in bloated, overly-descriptive, repetitive passages in desperate need of a solid trimming. I ascribed to the “more is more” mentality back then; if I went back and edited my longest story, I could get it under 100,000 words and not have to slice much, if any, of the actual plot. I am still somewhat proud of my characters and the overall plot structure, but I was incredibly long-winded, verbose, and by no means a fanfiction maestro.
Every now and then, I go to my old profile and glance at my work, and am pretty astonished by how much my writing style has changed since those days. In college – the start of which coincided with the demise of my fanfiction career – my writing style underwent some significant changes due to learning new techniques in my classes, developing a more stable voice as a writer, and receiving influential feedback from my peers and teachers. I see almost zero similarity between my 2008/09 writing and now, as far as fiction goes.
The same can be said for my high school writing assignments in comparison to college work, because in college, I worked on slimming down my writing – though I do still slip into old habits, which leads to numerous, extensive editing sessions. It wasn’t always an easy change to make, but getting the right kind of feedback at this time in my life was important; when multiple sources tell you that something in your writing needs improvement, it’s imperative to take that criticism into consideration. As a result of peer assessments and creative writing classes, and some introspection, I started trying to place less emphasis on florid detail and “pretty” words, and more emphasis on clarity, character development, and flow. More focus on story and plot, not description. During this shift in the tone of my writing, I wrote the first draft of I’m With You.
When I settled the details and finally started typing I’m With You out, my style had adapted to suit the tone I wanted for the story. And, because I was learning about writing and was reading various kinds of literature during this time, my style and process evolved as I was writing. The first draft of I’m With You featured much less detail than the one that was published- there was no insight into previous instances of Remiel’s “curse” in action, no description of the different regions of Empirya, no “flashbacks” to Ciarán and Remiel’s mother or their past/their family dynamic… all in all, a lot less background into the characters. Instead of my previous tendency toward an overabundance of detail, I adopted a more extreme stance of “less is more.” Luckily, my editor was able to point out the need for more detail when the time came to polish up my draft, and I was able to flesh my manuscript out prior to publication. Now, I strive to find a balance in my writing; not too much detail, but not too little.
Even now, the project I’m currently working on has a different tone than I’m With You, but the writing contains some similarities; I feel as though I’ve retained a certain voice, while changing/adapting the way it is delivered. My 2008/09 fanfiction is nothing like my 2016 novel, and that’s okay, because I consider it an improvement – and I hope to improve even more as my writing continues, and I attempt to launch a career. Certain traits might remain the same across stories and projects, but adapting is all a part of the process, and some phases may last longer than others. Writing is an ever-changing thing – and thus, I don’t consider it a bad thing that I no longer recognize my writing style from year to year or project to project, whether it’s a 200,000 word epic fanfiction or a vaguely steampunk low-fantasy YA novel. Phases come and go, but the point is to continue to grow, and learn, be willing to listen, and embrace change as it comes – even if others won’t.