When Jen and I started writing fan fiction about Taylor Swift for Wattpad, it was kinda scary? Neither of us are fiction writers — under the pseudonym Liv Spencer, we write nonfiction. About Taylor. About Pretty Little Liars in an episode guide companion akin to the Love You to Death series. About The Mortal Instruments series. We do it passionately and wholeheartedly. But fiction? Nope.
We came up with a solid idea: one chapter per song on the album Red, telling the story of how Taylor wrote it. There would be a present-day frame — so we could work in of-the-moment details as she tours North America — and a flashback to writing the song, or to experiencing whatever moment inspired her. (Structure, it turns out, is super helpful when you’re staring at a blank page.)
We post every Friday, so it means that every week one of us has had a little Taylor narrative brewing in our minds, the song in question on repeat, possibilities for story thrown like proverbial spaghetti as we live our non-Liv lives.
And now, 14 of 16 tracks up, we’re nearing 100,000 reads. That is insane. Even more insane are the kind, warm, generous comments that Swifties leave us. A gem from this morning from KeeleyRV2:
You finally updated! :D I’ve been glued to my iPod for the past twenty out hours since the clock struck twelve this morning, waiting for you to update. I thought you were hurt or you were uninspired or or that you forgot to upload! But now that you did, I’m just ecstatic! [. . .] Oh yeah! I saw your book (the one on your profile picture) this past weekend!!!! I really wanted to buy it but I was broke! :( I fangirled so hard when I saw it, jumping up and down and seeing the book in real life. My sister looked at me weird but I didn’t care. I can’t wait to read it! (Whenever I see it again) :) anyway, you’re probably getting tired of reading this long comment! So to sum it up, I loved it AGAIN!!!!! :) you’re an amazing writer!!!!!!
That is what they call a confidence booster.
I used to be a kid too shy to talk. Like, literally, teachers and swim instructors would have meetings with my parents about how I couldn’t speak. I was a selective mute. (It’s a real thing!) In grade school, high school, university, I never wanted anyone but my teacher to read my assignments. There’s a fear of exposure — of people finding out you suck at writing, that you’re a fraud or terribly misguided for even trying — that kept me from sharing my work. I don’t know when or how exactly I decided to just get over it — I think it was a piecemeal thing, at work or publishing school being forced to share. But at some point I agreed to write a whole book that would be published and anyone could read it if they wanted to.
That turned out okay! And so has this.
All this fan-fic writing has just made me consider again the power of that Saying Yes line of thinking. Tina Fey talks about it in Bossypants, for her it came from improv classes.
The things I learned in that class became part of the way I live my life. A couple of times I’ve been called on to do things — jobs or whatever — where I’ve felt, Maybe I’m not quite ready. Maybe it’s a little early for this to happen to me. But the rules are so ingrained. “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward” has helped me to be more adventurous. It has definitely helped me be less afraid.
“We’re offering you a job here at ‘Saturday Night Live’ — can you move here within a week?”
“Ummm, yes I can.”
“You know, you haven’t been here that long, but do you want to move up and try to be one of the head writers?”
Feeling completely terrified inside, but saying, “Uhhh, yes, okay, yes, for sure.”
“Do you wanna do ‘Weekend Update’ with Jimmy?”
Petrified. “Yes, thank you, of course!”
There are limits of reason to this idea of saying yes to everything, but when I meet someone whose first instinct is “No, how can we do that? That doesn’t seem possible,” I’m always kind of taken aback. Almost anyone would say, “It’s Friday at two in the morning. We don’t have an opening political sketch. We can’t do it.” Yeah, of course you can. There’s no choice. And even if you abandon one idea for another one, saying yes allows you to move forward.
Of course there are limits. Of course there are times to say, hells no. But that spirit of saying yes and figuring out the how later, worrying about the “Can I do it?” later (or never — just do it), has served me well this summer. Our Taylor Swift fanfic isn’t going to win a Giller, or an anything, but it has shown us that (a) yes, we can write this kind of fiction, (b) on deadline, and (c) the exact audience we were hoping would love it, seems to really love it.
So what else can I do that I think I can’t only because I’ve just never tried??
Geez I am so super earnest this morning! Perhaps the combination of watching a lot of Life Hack TED Talks of late + coffee-coffee-coffee + turning 34 tomorrow.