There is one very specific aspect of what’s going down in fandom right now that just boggles my mind, and that is very simply that even if I put aside my personal opinion on issues of the fandom-mainstream fourth wall and/or appropriate creator-fandom interactions, one of the first things I ever learned in my first writing class was that what I write does not belong to me.
So it was 2003, right? I was fifteen years old, almost sixteen, and I was taking an intensive fiction-writing class during the summer, for funsies, like the gigantic nerd I was (am). My class was given a new short-story assignment each week, and at the end of the week we each made enough copies of our story for the entire class and spent a full day editing and critiquing.
When it was my turn to have my story raked across the coals — and I think it’s worth noting, just so you understand that fifteen-year-old-me had uncommonly strong feelings about what she’d written, that my first short story was an extremely painful account of how my dad had died less than six months earlier, thinly disguised as fiction — this is what I, like every other teenager in my class, had to do:
I sat in a circle made up of professor, T.A., and about fifteen people my age (some of whom I liked and/or respected, and some of whom I sincerely believed had the reading comprehension and original thinking ability of banana slugs), and let those seventeen separate people talk to me and to each other about what I’d written. They went through this story that plugged directly into my heart (and which, by the way, nobody knew had any basis in reality), and talked about my grammar, my word choice, my plot arc, the humanity of my characters, how believable the story was, the subtext they read there, their speculations about what I’d been trying to say, and their recommendations for improvement…
…and I wasn’t allowed to say anything unless somebody asked me a direct question. No arguing. No corrections.
That was really fucking hard, okay? Aside from being hella humbling, it was excruciating. I had people telling me they didn’t really buy that the main character would act that way; or that such-and-such sequence of events didn’t make sense, narratively speaking; or that they really liked such-and-so antagonist; or that they found this symbolism unnecessarily convoluted or that subtext evocative. And it was my job, as a writer who had completed a text and given it away, to listen to what they were saying and take notes of my own and keep my mouth shut, even as part of my brain was shrieking stuff like, OF COURSE THE MAIN CHARACTER WOULD ACT THAT WAY BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I ACTUALLY DID! THAT IS THE ORDER THINGS ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN! THAT PERSON MADE MY LIFE A LIVING HELL AND I THINK IT’S FUCKING SICK THAT YOU LIKE THEM! I DIDN’T PUT ANY SYMBOLISM OR SUBTEXT IN THIS STORY, IT IS LITERAL AS FUCK!
But I did it, okay, and I got exactly what I wanted, which was a) some goddamn catharsis, b) what would eventually become a pretty fucking baller short story and c) to learn as much as I could about my own weaknesses and strengths as a writer.
Once you have written something and somebody else has read it or had it read to them or performed it or seen it performed, that thing does not belong to you anymore. This is Writing 101, guys. This is Creative Anything 101. This is SO BASIC. People will ask questions you think are irrelevant; they’ll fixate on details you threw in there on a whim; they’ll berate the characters you love and overidentify with and put the most effort into portraying, and they’ll love the characters you created as villains or cannon fodder. They’ll miss what you thought was the most beautiful part of your story, or the most important part. They’ll see symbolism that you think is bullshit and subtext that goes directly against what you intended to get across. They’ll see some oppressive bullshit you sure as fuck didn’t mean to put in there. They may even imagine things about you and what you were thinking and what you were trying to say. They will MAKE SHIT UP. And here’s the thing: they won’t be wrong.
It is not a good writer’s business to wade into a discussion of something they’ve created to ~correct~ people. Once you are done writing something, it stands on its own whether you want it to or not. You don’t get to get mad at your beta and/or your audience for not reacting exactly the way you wanted. If you find yourself feeling like you have to explain or correct something after someone’s made their own analysis of it, your first reaction doesn’t need to be “they probably read it wrong” but could possibly stand to be “maybe I wrote it wrong”. What you find yourself wanting to add or correct in the discussion is something that should have spoken for itself in the text. By all means, answer questions when they are put to you directly! But you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) chase down every copy of your text in the whole world and correct the notes people have made in the margins. That would be ridiculous.
So aside from the fact that I think that creators walking into fandom and throwing their weight around re: fans’ opinions of dialogue, characterization, plot arc, the actors’ talent, or anybody’s overall intentions is bullying, disrespectful, and almost sublimely missing the point of what fandom is, it’s also a fucking neon green sign of hubris, immaturity, and POOR AUTHORSHIP.