Don’t ever let anyone tell you transformative work is a waste of time.
Honest to god I am so sick of hearing from people that “fanfiction isn’t real writing” and “headcanons are stupid; what’s canon is canon and you can’t change that” and “why are you looking so deep into it so what if there’s subtext it doesn’t mean anything” so I’m gonna tell a story:
When I did theatre in high school, one of the plays we did was Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It’s one of the great American classics; every high school theatre program has probably done it several times, every actor has been in it, read it, seen it, or at least heard of it at some point in their lives. It’s a pretty well known and established piece of literature. So. For those of you who are not familiar with the piece, there is a character called the Stage Manager who serves as a narrator, to provide background information about Grover’s Corners and its inhabitants and to keep the story moving. This character interacts very little with the other characters and speaks in long monologues, some taking up several pages of the script. When my director decided to produce the play, he figured that the Stage Manager had too many lines for a high school actor to memorize, so he split the role into two. The aim was to cast one boy and one girl and to divide the lines up evenly between them. Aside from the fact that there would now be two actors narrating instead of one, nothing would change.
Then, once the rehearsal process began, we started to play. The actors developed a dynamic together that couldn’t be ignored, and somewhere along the line we began to throw around the idea of the two of them being actual characters, rather than some unknown, omniscient being on the stage. We dug deep into the monologues–lines that Wilder had written for no purpose other than to provide information about a fictional town–and found moments that revealed who our stage managers were in the narrative. Eventually we decided on the two of them being a married couple who had lived in the town. We found opportunities for them to turn their narration into a banter, and for them to reveal the love they held for each other and for their town. When we got to the third act of the play, which is set in a graveyard where many of the characters from the previous two acts are buried, we decided to cement this idea with an action that was not written in the script. The play was done in an interpretive manner, so the graveyard was created by having actors sitting on the floor, representing their own gravestones. At the very end of the play, the two stage managers looked at each other, held hands, then sat down together on the stage floor. The narrative was complete; the stage managers were a married couple who had lived and died in Grover’s Corners, and were telling a story that had happened in the town.
The point is, we took a text written in 1938 and put our own unique spin on it based on the transformative thinking skills of everyone involved. We essentially took a headcanon and turned it into a story told entirely in subtext that fit within the canon of the play without changing a single word of the script. We analyzed the text for things that weren’t there, we created meta from those monologues and used it for our canon-compliant fanfic of the play, which we put on stage and called Our Town. The story we told about the stage managers wasn’t there until we pulled it from the text, put there unintentionally by Thornton Wilder and brought to life by a group of imaginative high schoolers.
So yeah, if you want to be a professional writer, you will eventually have to learn to create characters and settings and plots on your own; but aside from that, creating transformative work can give you a unique set of skills that you can use in any situation. Lots of people who try to accept transformative work as valid will treat it like a stepping stone to “real writing,” but they ignore the merits of transformative work alone. Whether you make fanart or fanfic or fanvid, whether you write detailed meta or short headcanons, you are learning to think analytically and creatively. Transformative work is defined as looking at something and imagining it a different way, and that mindset, that way of thinking is important pretty much anywhere you go in life.
So if anyone tells you transformative work is a waste of time, give them a play and ask them to tell a story that’s not in the script. They couldn’t do it, but I bet you could.