Symbiosis: My Readers and Me

This year has been a nightmare, and there’s only been a few things that have carried me through.  One is, of course, Sarah and my family and friends out here in Minnesota keeping me going.  Another is music, particularly the TCWC and Encore.  A third is CONvergence, which is now an enormous, life-affirming time-suck of working with awesome people to make sure we are providing and protecting a community and a space which is welcoming and safe and fun and kind and respectful for all, particularly those who really, really need it.

But the fourth is writing, both what I’ve been producing and what’s been going up online.

For this year’s writing, I’m a little behind on my yearly goals, I’ll be honest, but I should make the absolute minimum I require of myself.  By the end of Oct 31st, I need to finish enough to have 47 chapters/oneshots/installments to go up each week next year.  (Then I get to spend November on Yuletide and editing the original novel and adding a chapter to the work currently being posted because it needs a little more than it has.  I have no idea if I’ll write at all in December, or, if so, what.)  More on this after the end of October when I’m hopefully done.

The flip side of writing, though, the part where I wrote it last year but am unveiling it this year, that has been awesome.  I have developed a whole Monday night ritual of putting off posting the next chapter for about an hour because I get nervous, then slamming my laptop open and proceeding to agonize about authors notes and final edits before I publish the update to both fanfiction.net and AO3.  And then I respond to any outstanding comments or reviews.

Two or three years ago, I decided I would respond to comments and reviews left on my stories, and for the most part, I’ve done well.  Even a “I liked this, thanks!” gets a reply from me.  It may only be a few lines, or it may be paragraphs.  But I try very hard to respond to the people who take the time to tell me they liked my work.

(This is sometimes funny on my end, when the same person reviews 3 or 4 chapters all at once and I respond to each review one at a time, or when the reader who translates my stories into Spanish leaves a review and I have to dredge my lingering Spanish up out of my brain to respond in kind — they are very, very nice about my stumbling written Spanish and always offer me hugs.)

The current work that’s been going up since the first week of February has garnered rather a lot of commentary.  Not necessarily dozens of different people, but a group of dedicated readers who respond sometimes at length to every single chapter, sometimes leaving 2 or 3 comments just because what they have to say is longer than the review box.  These readers have made and commissioned art for me, have written their own AUs and crack!fics based off my story as it unfolds, and have tossed speculation back and forth amongst themselves about what is really happening and what I’m going to do next.

What was just my story has become a gathering place, apparently, a little ecosystem feeding off the environment I’ve set down, and growing all on its own.

So after the chapter goes up on Mondays, I tend to have several different people who deserve answers, considered responses and not just “Yay thanks!” on my part for all the effort they’re putting in.  These wonderful, enthusiastic, kind people are taking their precious time to heap love and interest and speculation and emotion on my stories.  The very least I can do is respond in kind.  So that takes far longer than actually posting the chapters themselves.

And then I end up having to yell at my phone, because it ALWAYS happens that I’ll JUST have finished clearing all my comments and reviews from the last week when I get one from somebody who just read the new chapter.  And I thought I was DONE but now I have to go back in and reply AGAIN to someone, sometimes with them having reacted with many, many exclamation points, and it is always funny.

And I can’t stop grinning until bedtime, and sometimes until I actually fall asleep.

Because this dedicated group of fans, of readers, of friends — they are reading and reviewing and I can almost feel the collective OMG of them taking in and responding to what I post each week.  And it just…it fills me up.  No matter how bad a Monday has been, I go to bed happy because I put something into the world that gave something to them, and they gave it back.

There is an Avengers fic on AO3 I really like by Scifigrl45 named “The Act of Creation Will Be Your Salvation” and that title sums me up pretty well.  Music, writing, even building a family out of friends and a convention community out of nerds — this is what I have to give the world.  I have this drive to take a piece of myself and put it into the ether to be found by anyone who needs it.  And doing so, producing writing and offering it to those who need it, or producing music, or working for CONvergence, it fills me back up again.  It is an exchange of energy and love and spirit, and it makes us all better when we share in it.

I’ve written so many stories that don’t get read by more than one or two people, but they are just as necessary because sometimes they are there for that one person who really, really needs it.  Just as there are stories I really, really needed and still need sometimes.

It is everything on those Monday nights to put my story, my heart, my gift into the world, and know that it has made a difference.  Even if for just one person or just one moment.  It is everything.

The way I understand myself, my job is to stand at the edge of shadow, to hold it back from anyone who seeks shelter behind me, and to find something to bring some light to shine forward.  Just as I was a scared kid when I first discovered fanfiction or CONvergence and, through them, managed to hang on, I know there are other scared kids out there.  So I protect them when they come to me, be it to read my stories or attend CONvergence or share Thanksgiving at my table.  I stand up against the shadow.  I keep the storm back.  And I find a flashlight or a lantern from inside myself and push that to shine into the dark.  So the next scared kid can find their way, too.

Every one of my 114 stories would be worth it, all taken together, if they gave just one person that moment of light.  And they have done far more than that.

I have received comments and reviews from people who were struggling to remember to breathe all day long, fighting depression and worse with all their flagging strength, who said they felt better for reading my stories.  I had a year-long exchange with someone who took my chapters with her to her chemo appointments, and the novels I unfolded for her helped her cope with her battle to survive.  I have formed friendships with people I’ve never met which result in much giggling — but also which open up an avenue between us so that neither of us needs to ever feel that we are truly alone in the world.

Because we aren’t.  Max and Don and Blair and Quatre and all the rest have given us to one another.

When I do someday publish something that isn’t fanfic, it’s going to be because so many people have given me so much to get here.  Because these fans, readers, reviewers, friends made me believe I had something to offer, light worth shining, and gave me their own when mine went dim.  Writing is, at its best, a symbiotic relationship between author and reader, a circle of creation and inspiration and admiration.  I would have written those 114 stories just for myself, but it makes it so much more worthwhile to know I also write them all for every single person who has ever found and read and loved them.

(And every single person who read them and loved them and needed them but never left a comment, either — I don’t have to know them to know they’re there.)

So, to you, my wonderful, inspiring, soul-affirming friends and fans and fellow fic-nerds, thank you.  Thank you for everything.  And thank you on behalf of every author who was lifted by you.  The world needs a million more of you.

And for myself, for you, because of my heart, because of yours, I will never stop telling my stories.

Which really are my stories.

But they all belong to you.

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