“The work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It’s going to take you a while.”
– Ira Glass
Once upon a time, I said that although some people use fanfiction as “practice” on the road to writing something publishable, that isn’t why I do it. While that is still true, it is also true that at the time I wrote that, what I had no way of knowing is that, even though I was proud of the writer I’d become this past year, playing in the words and worlds of fanfiction, some part of me still lacked the confidence to build my own story, completely from scratch.
Over the summer, I used my Mass Effect 3 Shepard and Kaidan story as a NaNoWriMo test run, just to see if it was even remotely possible that I could write one story that lasted for 50,000 words. At the time, I couldn’t. I hit something like 47,000, in just over 30 days.
Now, just four months later, I’ve grown, a lot, as a writer and as a person. The NaNoWriMo story I’m creating now is an interesting blend of fanfiction and complete-creation-from-scratch, an absolutely new ball game for me, different from anything I’ve ever done before. It started as a Star Wars story. I guess, technically, it still is, but the thing is, the story, the core story, doesn’t have to be. The story comes from me. I have the framework of a world, but, unlike that Mass Effect story, unlike even the Dragon Age stuff that got me into this game, where I wound up veeeeery far “off book,” I have no landmarks. Nothing “has to” happen. Mostly because Star Wars is not a closed universe. It is too large to be contained.
And as I sit here now, with 45,748 words (and counting), created from nothing, I find I like it better this way.
I am confident enough now to believe that the power and magic of completely free creation exists in me, and I think that I am ready to step out beyond the boundaries of fanfiction and make something absolutely new. I still won’t do it because I want to become a published author, but I know now that I could. What NaNoWriMo has taught me, the whole point of NaNoWriMo, is that you don’t need any special credentials to be a writer. Having gone to film school and gotten a B.F.A. actually gives me more “credential” than many. But I think that film school also shut me down, with constant judgement even after, two years in, I realized that working in film really wasn’t for me anyway (or maybe it is, again, now that I’ve remembered why I wanted it in the first place).
The road I’ve walked in the past ten years since graduating high school is long and meandering, and I haven’t settled yet, not even close. But what I have discovered is that what’s been driving me all those years even though I couldn’t describe it or put it into words (ironically), is the need to tell stories. That’s why I fit in so well in a preschool classroom, where creativity and spontaneity and dramatic play are still valued as important, an expected and in fact, necessary, part of every day. Even when it doesn’t always feel that way, in today’s educational world of standardization.
I need to use the imaginary to figure out the real. I always have. I read a lot. I write a lot. I play a lot. I tell stories a lot.
Maybe I’ll sell a book someday, maybe I won’t. I have no way of knowing yet what the future holds for me: I started NaNoWriMo two hours after saying I wasn’t going to do it this year. So two hours from now, or four months from now, or next year… who the heck knows? I know that, no matter what else does or does not happen, these voices in my head will never stop talking, urging me to tell stories, to make stuff. That’s the voice that sent me to film school, and the voice that pushed me into gaming (character creation 101), and the voice that told me to respond to other writers and gamers and teachers and blog. Just put my thoughts out there, and who cares what anybody else says about it? That if you’re honest, if you do what you love and believe in, it’s worth it. People will respond to the passion you put into what you make.
That’s the voice of creation. That’s the lesson of NaNoWriMo, even more than learning how to fit in write time (Wait Time is Write Time: November is the perfect month to have your car repaired!) and become more productive in your professional life.
Just make stuff.
The open universe is waiting.