Fan v Pro

The discussion in the fanfic post got me thinking about the differences between writing to make a living, as I do, and writing solely for fun.

Many people in that thread talked about how writing fanfic was a learning experience that prepared them for becoming a professional writer. And there’s no doubt that that’s how fanfic has worked for many pros. However, the vast majority of writers of fanfic not only don’t become pros, they have no desire to do so. They write fanfic for a variety of reasons: fun, community, because writing is something they can’t not do and so on—they don’t do it as some kind of apprenticeship for becoming a “real” writer.

I know professional writers who also write fanfiction. So clearly it’s fulfilling a need that their paid writing isn’t. I also do a lot of unpaid writing. You’re reading some of it right now. Often I enjoy writing posts here more than writing novels.

Or, rather, I have a much less stressful relationship to this writing than I do to my novel writing because there’s not much riding on this blog, whereas my ability to pay my rent, buy food, stay in the profession that I love is tied up in the novels I write. Sometimes it takes awhile to push that stuff aside and just write. For me blogging is a relaxation; writing novels is an economic necessity.

Which is not to say that it can’t be fun. It can. I wouldn’t swap my job for any other job in the world. I love it. But it’s still my job and comes with all the stresses that any job has, including anxiety about losing said job.

Not everyone who spends a lot of time writing wants to be a professional writer. Frankly, I think that’s sensible. It’s very hard to make a living as a professional writer. Even if you do manage it’s just as hard to make it a sustainable career. I know lots of writers who’ve been able to support themselves for a year or two or four or ten but then demand for their work dwindle, fashion in the publishing world changes. In the 80s horror was huge, now not so much. YA’s big right now but who knows were it will be in ten years. Romance is pretty much always the biggest selling genre and yet it has the lowest advances. I know of romance writers with multiple bestselling books who only get around 20k per book.

The majority of pro novelists, who are making a living, write a book a year. Many write two or three or four a year. For many writers that’s an impossible pace to sustain and it can suck the fun right out of the writing. There are lots of reasons for not making writing your main profession. Most of the published writers I know are not full-time. Many of them claim to be happier that way.

When writing becomes your full time job it completely changes your relationship to writing. It becomes a business. You can’t wait for your muse to show up. You have to force it when you’re not in the mood. You have to meet deadlines. You have to think about whether there’s a market for what you want to write. You can’t just write whatever you feel like unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a market for what you feel like writing.

In which case you’re probably Nora Roberts. Lucky duck!


  1. Benjamin Solah on #

    I blog purely for the fun of it too and it’s much easier than writing fiction. Even when I write flash fiction for the blog, just as an exercise, that’s far easier than writing flash when I have in mind that I want to submit that story somewhere.

  2. Maria Lima on #

    >When writing becomes your full time job it completely changes your relationship to writing.<

    Writing is a 2nd full time job for me, but I also have a regular day job that pays the bills, health care, etc.

    As you said, you totally can’t wait for the muse. Deadlines loom, no matter what you’re working on and even though that really cool “other” project beckons, there’s a responsibility to finish the book contracted. That said, I totally wouldn’t do anything else…although, it would be great to be in Nora Roberts’ position. 🙂

  3. R.J. Anderson on #

    I’ve discovered after pushing myself to write more! write faster! for the last couple of years that I am really not a book-a-year writer, however much I’d like to be. I’m feeling dangerously close to burned out right now, my brain refuses to cooperate when I try to work on my “real” WiP, and yet I want to keep my writing muscles limber somehow. So I’ve been writing fanfic (not for the first time, but certainly for the first time since I went pro) and it’s been… amazingly relaxing. No more worrying about wordcounts and daily goals, yay! And yet, all that lovely feedback. What’s not to love?

  4. Debby G. on #

    One year I was contracted to write three YA novels and two chapter books. I didn’t want to write anything that year that I wasn’t getting paid for. I didn’t write my annual holiday letter. And I (don’t judge me!) kind of resented having to write an obituary for a close relative.

  5. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Don’t kid yourself, J. Nora is a drill sergeant. Writing is a job for her. She “feels” like writing because she “feels” like doing her job. She feels a vast and admirable responsibility to her readers, to her publishers, and to her work. It’s a joy to see.

    For example, for a long time some of Nora’s publishers were reissuing her backlists as “twofers” or even just slapping a new cover and new title on them and her fans were getting frustrated that they were paying money for titles they’d already bought, under new names. Now, there is a special symbol that indicates that this is a “new” Nora Roberts that has never before been in print. That way, people who want to buy backlist can buy backlist and the diehard fans know that they are not paying money for books they already own.

    It’s that kind of dedication to your fans that’s really amazing. I did a signing with Nora last summer at her husband’s bookstore in Maryland, and she looked at fans pics of their grandchildren, posed for pictures, chatted away — she’s such a role model.

  6. Cristina on #

    “When writing becomes your full time job it completely changes your relationship to writing”

    I think that’s something that happens to almost everything you do once you start doing it because you MUST, and not just because you LIKE or WANT. I love to read, yet I groan at school readings –even when I would otherwise read it on my own. Same thing with art. Or maybe that’s just me.

  7. sylvia_rachel on #

    When writing becomes your full time job it completely changes your relationship to writing.

    Or, as Mark Twain once put it (it’s in the fence-painting scene in Tom Sawyer, IIRC), “Work is whatever a body is obliged to do, and play is whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

    Or words to that effect.

  8. Yvonne Carts-Powell on #

    Two points: one about pro writing as a job, and the other about the distinction between paid and unpaid writing.

    1)I agree with you: pro writing is a job, and jobs are not always fun. It’s similar to other crafts: A hobbyist woodworker can ditch a job that no longer interests her, whereas a pro finish carpenter must (or at least should) finish the job.

    I used to work construction. But for the past 20 years,
    I’ve been a full-time pro writer (of science non-fiction magazine articles, which are considerably easier to create than novels), producing well over a 1000 published articles and the book, “The Science of Heroes”. Like carpentry, I’ve been able to fall back on writing craft skills (and good relationships with my editors) when enthusiasm fails. And it does fail, regularly.

    2) The pro versus fanfic writer distinction is misleading. (I’ve also written fanfic.) True, pro writers are paid cash while fan writers receive, at best, enthusiastic comments. But is being paid always better? Think about the last woman you saw tie a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue — do you really want to compliment her by suggesting that she’s paid for her lingual skill?

    Pro writing does offer a minimal quality barrier: someone must be willing to pay for it. But beyond that… writers improve based on good critical feedback, good editing, and a lot of practice. Neither pro nor fanfic writing are set up to provide these regularly. I’ve found excellent (and lousy) editors in both the pro and fannish worlds.

  9. Alex on #

    I’m really glad you made these points. When people try to ‘support’ fanfiction or fandom by saying that it’s really good practice for ‘real’ writing, it can feel like the biggest backhanded compliment ever. I find it really insulting, as the main message it reinforces is that fanfiction isn’t real writing. It makes me sad when people who are part of fandom say it, because they seem to be ashamed of their fannish side, which has always been a positive (and entertaining) force for me, and I wish that they felt they could embrace it instead.

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