There is a popular saying which goes something like this: Once it’s on the internet, it’s on the internet forever. I happen to know this isn’t true; in 2008 my main online journal, Copperbadge on LiveJournal, was hacked and completely erased. Five years of journal entries and their comments were deleted. Using various caching services I managed to reconstruct about 80% of the journal posts, but some were gone forever, and most of the comments were as well.
One of the fortunate things I had done before this took place was to shift all of my fanfic, including fanfic that had been posted on my main journal, to a separate archive on a second LiveJournal account, Sam_Storyteller (this archive is now housed under the same name at Dreamwidth). So all my fanfic was preserved. I say this is fortunate, but in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure it was.
My archive houses work that began in 2003 and runs up to the current day; I just posted a story there last week, and will be posting a few more in the coming weeks. I’ve been adding these stories to my Archive Of Our Own account (I can be found at AO3 under the username Copperbadge), because it offers features like better tagging systems and the ability to download the stories as PDF files.
The problem I’m coming up against, now that I’ve added most of the stuff I’m really proud of, is what to do with the stuff that I’m…less than proud of. There are various reasons for not wanting to add certain stories. Some, by my standards now, are not very well written, though most hold up surprisingly well to the test of time. Some just don’t seem to be that entertaining. Some are so short I don’t feel I ought to bother.
And the question becomes, what do I do with these stories? I’m not especially sentimental about my work in the general sense; I’d be happy to remove them from all archives everywhere. On the other hand, it seems wrong to keep them on one archive and not on another. I know in the past I’ve gone looking for stories I really liked only to find the account deleted or the story locked, and I don’t want to deprive anyone of a story they like, even if I no longer think it’s very good. We all have different tastes, after all.
In a larger sense, there’s a question of completism, and of owning the work I did which was less, for whatever reason, than the work I do now. Is it correct to erase what I’m no longer fond of or proud of?
This is a question professionally published writers face, to be sure. Writers have tried to disown their work, or have publicly said they hated something quite popular with the reading public. Sometimes a story comes out of a trauma or a situation that the writer would prefer to keep in the past, and the story haunts them with the memory. Sometimes they just don’t think it’s any good. Once in a while it’s a question of shifting ideology; Maurine Watkins, who wrote the play that inspired Chicago, later became a born-again Christian and spent years paying fees to prevent the production of the play because she felt guilty about making money from the stories of real-life murders. Anne Rice has never renounced any of her books, but questions about her views on her past work have arisen in the course of her public struggles with her faith.
My own dilemmas are less dramatic. I’m proud of my original work and I only put my name to work I feel is the best I could possibly do — which happily means that even if I find in later years it’s not very good, I know I was doing my best at the time. With fanfic, it’s different. Some stories I wrote just to entertain friends, or on stupid ideas that in retrospect don’t work as well as I thought they would.
I don’t really have an answer yet. For professionally published writers, the story is out there, and they can’t just pretend it isn’t. For me, I have to work out whether I want to continue to claim this work, or quietly tuck it away, or simply not move it over to the new archive, letting it languish in the convoluted navigational web of the current one.
How do you solve a problem like a Fall Out Boy/Heroes crossover? I’m still working on that one.