Fan To Writer Part 1: Turn Fun into a Book?

Welcome to the first part of Fan to Writer, in which writer, editor, and conference organizer Spencer Ellsworth leads us through the various steps on the path to pro writer. From having fun with stories to making pro sales and even some money on your writing, come with us on this road.

Part 1: Turn Fun into a Book?

Fan to Writer, Stage One. Go!

And the first rule for qualifying at this stage…

You’re not a writer. At least, you don’t think of yourself as one.

Maybe you wrote stuff in high school or college: poetry, plays, a short story or two. But you haven’t really toyed with a story for a long time. Perhaps you got a literature degree and looked at the creative writing majors across the hall with envy. Maybe you run a D&D campaign that is a lot of fun and it’s your sole creative outlet. Maybe you even write some fanfic when you’re feeling adventurous.

You like reading and have an active imagination.

Caveat: anyone who writes fan fiction is indeed a writer. That is a valid form of writing and some of the best stuff I have ever read is fanfic. (Transformers fans HAVE to read James Roberts’ Eugenesis.) However, since this series is focused on becoming a professional working writer, we’re going to include “writing your own original characters” as part of the leap.

You let yourself dream on occasion or you tell your friends, “This D&D campaign would make a great book,” or “I wish this fanfic could be a real novel.” It’s fun for you to write about your favorite show going places it couldn’t go: The Doctor of Doctor Who as a vengeful samurai, maybe. A gay vengeful samurai, even. Maybe you’re gay and Japanese and wish you could see more of yourself in science fiction. Or disabled, or trans, or any unrepresented group in Western media, with its focus on white straight beefcakes. You want to read something no one’s written yet.

Well, why not try writing it?

Like so many passions in life—gardening, music, long-distance running—you are the thing once you do the thing. A gardener gardens. A musician makes music. A runner runs. Anyone who writes is a writer and anyone writing their own original work, with some imagination and hard work, has a good chance of seeing it in print.

Now, you’ll immediately run into the big roadblock: writing is not very conducive to a busy schedule. It requires you to be alone, seriously concentrating, in unforgiving blocks of time.

You must use those blocks of time to write even if the laundry’s piled up and the dishwasher needs to be run again.


How to find that time?

You could try NaNoWriMo—a fun, no-pressure blast of words in a month, with get-together write-ins to help you find time. You’ll find plenty of friends willing to try the month of mad words with you. Although much is made of the 50,000-word goal, few people remember that for someone who doesn’t usually write at all 10,000 words, 20,000 words, or even the halfway point of 25,000 words—that’s a lot!

Are you intimidated by even 10,000 words?

Let’s see if we can get you started. Ask your idea some questions and answer those questions.

Let’s take your gay, vengeful samurai time traveler. Why vengeful? He’s chasing the man who killed his best friend across time. How does he time-travel? It’s got to be something as characteristically samurai as a police box is British. A magical—time katana? Sure. It cuts holes in the time stream, let’s say.

What else? People love romance. Does romance complicate things? He gets distracted by the very sexy Sherlock Holmes in the Victorian period. Oooh, that’s fun.

All that has to take up around 10,000 words. Simple goal.

You may already know what kind of writer you are: someone who likes to plan or someone who likes to fly by the seat of their pants.

This may be because when you’ve written things like term papers in the past, you outlined, laying out the bulk of the story before starting. Or, if your process has always been more intuitive, you know you’ve always just sat down and gone until you stopped. In either case, you can deduce from interrogating your story that in the first scene your samurai’s buddy will be murdered. In the second scene, maybe we’ll see the aftermath—the funeral—and a long hike into the mountains where he finds a dead time traveler and the time-cutting katana. Seems like a natural progression.

You have a goal for your first few weeks of writing: get to the point where he picks up a time sword, cuts the air, and gets a whiff of coal-stinky Victorian England.

What then?

Well, by then you may have hit a little slump, so you can have the sexy detour with Sherlock Holmes. A shameful amount of pro writers throw some sex in when it’s getting boring. No judgment here!

Go from there, asking the questions: “What happens next?” and “Why?” and “How does this get my character closer to their goal, while not making things too easy for them?”

Where did the time traveler come from? How did his friend’s killer flee in time? How’s Sherlock feel about a one-night stand and has he deduced his mysterious lover’s identity?

If that all sounds intimidating, start smaller with short prompt sessions, half-hour timed writing, or producing something like flash fiction or prose poems. See prompts in Further Reading. If you like short, stay with short, and write little scenelets and jokes. If you find you keep having bigger ideas, you’re probably a natural novelist, and NaNoWriMo may be your speed.

Oh, you’ll get stuck in places, but you’ll start to work out, in time, how to get unstuck. List seven different ways a scene could go. Leave brackets like this: [Insert graceful transition here] and skip ahead.

Another caveat and another method: You can take a fanfic story and “file the serial numbers off” to make it your own whole-cloth creation. My novel A Red Peace may, uh, have started its life as something that rhymes with Schmar Schmores. Just make sure to change it enough that it supports other new stories in that world, not the original.

And in time… it’s done, it’s alive, it’s yours. You asked the questions, put in the time, wrote the dirty, the clean, the exciting and the expository bits. It’s there on your desk, glowing with promise.

In our next exciting installment, what to do with an actual draft? What role do writers’ groups, paid editors, conferences and workshops play?

Further Reading: 500+ Prompts to Inspire You Right Now, Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?, NaNoWriMo: How It Works


Spencer Ellsworth

Spencer Ellsworth has been writing since he learned how. He is the author of The Great Faerie Strike, out in August 2019 from Broken Eye Books, and the Starfire Trilogy of space opera novels from Tor. He lives in Bellingham, WA, with his wife and three children, writes, edits and works at a small tribal college, and would really like a war mammoth if you’ve got one lying around.