The Unfinished Fic

July 31, 2015 § 1 Comment

Every day my to-do list gets bigger.

I have multiple jobs, many articles to write, and 181 episodes of The X-Files left to watch. But in my brain two very small voices take shape, knocking on the door that hides the treasure: all the headcanon and conflict and kisses that have yet to be recorded and released into the wild of the Internet.

Yes, I started a fanfic a few months ago that I never continued. It’s possible that I’ve begun more fics than I’ve ever finished, and I’ve started to wonder what that says about me. Does it mean I’m a BAMFy lady who’s got too much to conquer? Or does it mean I’m a coward who can’t finish what I’ve started?

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There are many reasons why we abandon fanfiction that we write, whether our readers realize it or not. Maybe when we die we’ll have to wrap them all up in fic-writing purgatory before we ascend to fangirl heaven (where we star in all our favorite shows and our hair is SO SHINY THOUGH). Here are a few possibilities why you never finished that angsty multi-chapter roller coaster, and what they can help you learn about yourself.

1. You outgrew the characters. 

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All relationships take work, and if you neglect fictional folks for a while you might find yourself falling out of love with them. But fangirls also mature and grow as humans, and they may find that that old Glee ship no longer seems appealing to them. I’ve often wondered myself how one ship can be my be-all and end-all, and then a few months later seem so. . .blegh. You can blame it on the writers for out of character plot, but ultimately there’s nothing wrong with outgrowing a pairing.

What this says about you:  You’re a maturing lady who doesn’t have to apologize for wanting to ship a more mature pairing. GO FIND THOSE MIDDLE AGED REPRESSED IDIOTS.

2. You weren’t ready to be vulnerable. 

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Oh god, this one is so me. *hides face* Fiction writing is hard because it often feels more revealing about ourselves than writing nonfiction does. And putting those vulnerable moments in your story is hard work, especially when you’re not anonymous and your friends are going to read it. I’m not talking about sex, per say, because not all good fic has to be M-rated. Sometimes there is just a scene or a moment of conflict or even joy that we just can’t seem to write. We blame it on lack of experience with certain plot points, but deep down the next chapter just feels like it might reveal too much about ourselves, our struggles, and our deepest fears and dreams. So we stop, and our readers wonder what the hell happened.

What this says about you: Maybe you’re not quite ready to have a reader see what’s hard to write. Try pushing forward and finishing the chapter without showing it to them. Think of it as more of a therapeutic exercise. Then if you’re proud of what you’ve written, maybe you’ll have the courage to share. Or you can keep it just for you.

3. There was too much pressure from your readers. 

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Reviews. We say that writing fic isn’t about the praise, but I call BS. Because fic readers are always in search for MOAR (especially for less popular OTPs), chances are they’re going to love your work whether it’s Pulitzer worthy or not. Who doesn’t love a low praise bar? The problem is that as a story continues, the pressure builds to either keep the story going forever or to construct an ending that everyone will like. So it’s easier to just hang up your hat, start a different fic, or disappear from the Internets.

What this says about you: You care too much about what other people think. Being focused on praise and approval and not the story itself is only going to make you anxious. To shift the focus, try writing an entire multi-chapter story before you start posting chapters. That way your fic will reflect your true intentions and imagination more than the pull of the demanding reader.

4. You no longer needed the crutch. 

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Sometimes we write fic just for fun, and sometimes we need it to get us through a difficult patch in our lives. Maybe you retreat into a story when you’re home with your crazy family for Thanksgiving or after a nasty breakup. The fic crutch isn’t unhealthy as long as you’re taking care of yourself with additional strategies, and a good hurt/comfort or fluffy fic can be just the trick. But you may find that your resilient unicorn self has bounced back faster than you can resolve the plot, and your readers still want the goods.

What this says about you: You are quick to retreat into the imaginary when things get rough. This is both a coping mechanism but also a symptom of possible depression. Keep writing fic, but also pay attention to the urges, because they signal that maybe you need some extra support and healthy habits to help you through the tricky plot points in your own life.

Ultimately, it’s important to be kind to yourself when you examine the junk yard of abandoned fanfiction. You can see what you want to pick back up and refurbish, or you can pay attention to the new direction your imagination is taking you. When fic becomes work, we’ve lost the point entirely. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two about ourselves along the way. Fic is the toy we pull down from the attic to play with time and time again, but it’s also a mirror that reflects how far you’ve come and how far you could go. So don’t be afraid to take a peek.

The Divergent Fangirl

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Divergent. It’s more than just a B-list Young Adult series. It’s a way of being.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the test where they give a paperclip to a kindergartener and an adult. When you ask the kindergartener how many different things you can do with the paperclip, they can generate hundreds of answers. When you ask the adult, they struggle to think of more than 5.

At some point in our educational history we rolled over and just started accepting what we were taught. We flipped to the back of the book for the answer rather than generating our own solutions. And when it comes to fangirling, many of us treat it the same way.

So let’s have a test, shall we? Suppose I hand you this screencap.

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What do you do with a screencap? Maybe you reblog it, or maybe you make it your desktop background. Maybe you cry about it. That’s what you do with it right? Right?

What if I saw this screencap as a visual metaphor for me being torn between the negative and the BAMFy voice inside my head? I might list my negative thoughts and counter them with positive ones.

Or maybe I see a woman who’s put together and I pick my clothes out for work tomorrow, so I’m not rapidly hobo-garbing myself when I run out the door. CBS might own the rights to the cap, but I own the rights to my imagination and what it can do for me.

If we could transport our brains back to our kindergarten level of curiosity, and see a television episode or a BAMF quote or a gif like true divergent thinkers, like true divergent fangirls, there is literally no end to the possibilities.

This week I want to encourage you to be creative. Make  your fangirl creys work for you. Sit down, pen to paper, and generate crazy, creative methods to connect your fangirl passions to your dreams.

To learn more about divergent thinking, you can listen to creativity expert Ken Robinson’s TED talk on divergent thinking.

Tougher than Fiction: Why Habits Are Hard to Break

October 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Today I asked some of you on twitter to tell me what some of your worst fangirl habits were. Here are some of the responses:

  • Watching TV instead of doing my work. 
  • Daydreaming about my OTP when out with friends. Also excusing myself early to be back online. 
  • Compulsively reloading tumblr and tracked tags I know damn well have no new content. 
  • Letting post TV hangovers affect my work life the next day. 

If this sounds like you, you’re nbeat youot alone! The fangirl brain, or any brain, loves to conserve energy. So if we do anything over and over again, that action will eventually shift to autopilot. Our behaviors tag along behind where we choose to place our attention, so it’s no wonder that we get stuck. What hope is there for us to ever any of our personal goals or change our daily habits?

As fangirls, we see transformation happen over and over again in our favorite TV shows, books, and movies.  A villain is confronted with the error of his ways, and he starts leading a better life.  An addict hits rock bottom and has nowhere to go but up.  Half of an OTP realizes she’s been shutting people out her entire life and finally reaches for love. Change is romantic, sudden, and powerful, isn’t it?

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Wrong! In real life, change is slow, small, and often a struggle. So if you think staring at a BAMF screencap, reading an inspirational quote, or guilting yourself into a different behavior is enough to do the heavy lifting, think again.

Learning new behaviors takes practice.  Just like writing really good smutfic takes time, patience, and poor vocabulary choices. So if you want to start living a different kind of life, here are a few tips for you. Luckily the fangirl already has most of these skills at her disposal!

Step 1. Reroute those neurons. Think about the change you want to make. Write it down in a journal. Write it on a piece of paper and stick it in your sock drawer. Write it on a screencap of Lana Parrilla and save it on your desktop. Tell yourself what’s going to happen. For example, “When I feel like not going to bed on time, I’m going to turn off my computer.” Say it again. Say it in the mirror. Text it to a friend. Write a letter to your grandma for godsakes, who doesn’t love mail?

Step 2. Headcitswinningtimeanon that shit. Imagine how you’re going to do this. Think about all the crap that’s going to stand in your way and how you’re going to fly over those hurdles like a motherfucking BAMF and how wonderful it’s going to feel. Visualizing yourself bobbing and weaving around the temptations of life is powerful.

Step 3. Simulate creys. Put yourself in situations (safe ones!) where you need to enact the behavior. Go through the motions, and pay attention to how it makes you feel. Keep practicing, and keep repeating steps 1 and 2.

To try this out, I suggest you pick a small change, like not checking your tumblr activity compulsively or making your bed every day. Remember, character transformation may be more romantic in fiction, but it’s way BAMFier in the real world. So have at it, lady.

 

 

Professor Fangirl: What TV Can Teach Psychology

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest in Thought Catalog.

When I teach graduate courses to therapists in training, I start every class by going around the room and asking each student the most fundamental relationship-building question I can fathom.

“What’s your favorite TV show?”

I get a flurry of arching eyebrows. They were expecting the “What did you do on your summer vacation?” question. Or the agonizing “two truths and a lie” charade we’re all forced to play at one point of another. But no professor has ever planted a seedling of a relationship with this query.

Yep, that’s me. Professor Fangirl. I may be a PhD student and a mental health writer, but my students will never know that when I get home at night, I surf Tumblr and fawn over my favorite fictional characters. They don’t know that I’ve written fan fiction, or that I run an advice website that helps fans work through their own obsessions. I can even make gifs. So cool, right?

This chunk of me stays tucked away in the nearest phone booth most of the time. But time and time again I discover that fiction, particularly television, is a beautiful starting point for big-picture thinking. For thinking about our therapy clients’ lives as well as our own stories.

Read the rest here.

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