OTW Guest Post: OldToadWoman

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

OldToadWoman is a large ball of anxiety and weird ideas (and possibly toads) that resolves into a human shape and manages to type out fan fiction from time to time. Find her works on her Dreamwidth.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

I don’t know whether it was a teacher lecturing me on plagiarism or a classmate teasing me about making up silly stories based on a TV show, but I somehow knew I wasn’t allowed to write fanfiction before I even knew what fanfiction was.

I stumbled into science fiction fandom in college and it was just a magical encounter. You’re allowed to write stories and share them with other fans without having to worry about them not being “good enough” to publish, and it’s okay if they’re based on TV shows and movies that already exist? Yes, please!

Unfortunately, I was very short-sighted and jumped into fandom posting under my real name. I can’t really talk about my first fandom without basically doxxing myself. Even though I was submitting to zines under my real name, it never occurred to me that what I wrote back then would leak out beyond that small fandom and end up documented on the Internet forever* [stay tuned: There’s a happy ending to this one]. One woman in our fandom used a pseudonym and we all thought she was a bit pretentious and now I realize she was the only smart one. Of course, at the time I was writing pretty innocuous fluff. I had no idea that someday I’d be writing explicit fiction that my boss might not approve of.

Once if you searched my real name online, my fandom activities came up on the first page of Google. By then, I was working for a very conservative company and I remember feeling absolutely panicked. It’s all faded away now as I’ve successfully been living under a rock long enough.

I grew embarrassed by my writing and just quit entirely. Enough time went by and I convinced myself that everything I’d done in my early days of fandom was garbage.

You’re best known for your Supernatural fanfiction, but you also make fanart and dabble in a number of other fandoms. What motivates you to start a project in a new fandom?

I keep coming back to Supernatural because I’m vain and it’s the most popular. I’ve received hundreds of comments on my Supernatural stories while most of the other fandoms are just crickets chirping. When I get a plot idea for one of those other fandoms, it usually means it was an idea that was brewing for a while. I know hardly anyone will read it, but I want to write it anyway.

I’m not sure where some of those ideas come from though. Sometimes a scene will just pop into my head out of nowhere and the story grows out of it. I wrote a M*A*S*H story after a friend suggested it and I thought, “No, I can’t write for that fandom because…” and I thought of all these reasons why it would be hard to write. Then I got an idea anyway but I told myself “no” and reiterated all the reasons it would be difficult, if not impossible, to write it. Then I sat down and wrote a 5,000-word first draft in a single sitting. (I tend toward comedy and most ideas start with “wouldn’t it be funny if…” but a few, like that one, veer into horror and start “wouldn’t it be awful if…”)

Then there are all those stories that I think will be easy to write and I still haven’t finished them because I just got stuck.

How has your style as a writer and as an artist evolved over time?

The most obvious difference is length. My early stuff (the stuff you won’t find on AO3 and which I officially disavow all knowledge of) was incredibly short, mainly just vignettes, disconnected scenes, too much unfinished stuff. The fiction I have on AO3 is of much more varied length (drabbles all the way up to 127,707 words) and it’s all finished. I’ve learned my lesson with works-in-progress and don’t post those publicly anymore. Aside from the sin of posting stories that I never finished, young-me wasn’t as bad a writer as I had remembered. I re-read a few of those stories recently and they really weren’t half bad, even the mistakes were the kind of thing I still catch myself doing occasionally.

The other big change is that now I write smut. Not all the time, most of my stories are still gen. But I remember when I swore I wouldn’t ever write a sex scene, not because I disapproved, but because I didn’t think I was capable. I had it in my head that a sex scene had to be perfect and sexy and romantic, and I wasn’t the kind of writer who could pull that off. And then I got this idea for a sex scene that was funny and awkward and slightly gross and their timing was out of sync, and the story just worked. That was my breakthrough. I can’t write good sex, but I can write awkward and funny sex and that’s okay.

As for art, the biggest change is that I spend more time on each piece before I give up on it. (Well, usually. I’ve been giving up a lot lately.) The eraser is your friend.

What have you found to be your biggest challenge in your creative pursuits?

My own brain. When I’m actively working on a project, especially in the early stages of a new idea, I’m swept up in the enthusiasm of it. But if anything distracts me… I can be derailed for months or years or forever. I can be in the middle of what feels like the most brilliant story I’ve ever written and then get the flu for three days and come back and think, “Well, this is garbage. Why did I think anyone would ever want to read that?” A lot of stuff gets shoved on the back burner because I can’t bring myself to even re-read it to figure out where I left off. I have the same slumps with my art. I went months without being able to draw anything that I didn’t think was hideous this winter, but I know that’s mainly seasonal depression and I’m gradually finding inspiration again with the warmer weather.

How did you hear about the OTW or its projects?

I’m really only familiar with AO3 and Fanlore. I had friends who were posting to AO3 and recommended it, but this was during my fandom hiatus and I wasn’t planning to write anything, I was just occasionally reading other people’s stories there. Eventually, I got it into my head to write a new story. I’d been kicking the idea around for a long time without ever writing it “because I don’t write anymore” and the plot bunny finally won and I wrote it. I had to get a friend to show me how to post and kind of hold my hand through the process because I was so unsure of myself. I’ve been posting there ever since.

I can’t remember where I heard about Fanlore, but I remember it instantly carrying the dread of, “Oh, please, please, please, tell me I’m not on there under my real name… well, crap.” Young-me was soooooo stupid. Google has forgotten about me. Fanlore hasn’t. It doesn’t even link to anything embarrassing, just lists of fanzines I contributed to, but I still cringe over it. [This is the happy ending! Fanlore worked with me and removed my name from their site, so now all the old stuff is appropriately attributed to my old fannish pseud.]

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

Marathoning a series with a friend. I love watching multiple episodes of a show back to back and you notice so much more with another person to discuss things with. So many story ideas pop into my head that way.

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