I just got back from a musical conference that I attended over the weekend, which was tiring but tremendously fun. I learned a lot--and at least one thing that I think applies to fanfiction. Click on down below the break to see what dots I've been connecting.
One of the biggest problems any chorus faces is membership: all but the rarest of top-tier choirs is constantly trying to build membership, and it's common to the point of seeming universality for choruses to have trouble attracting male singers. Here in the US, at least, there's a common perception that music is a feminine pursuit (that male singers, in both choral and solo (opera, pop, country... you name it) fields tend to outdraw and outearn their female counterparts is one of the great paradoxes of our time, if you ask me). I explain this to offer context for why I went to not one, but two symposiums about drawing and retaining membership during the conference.
The biggest thing that I took away from both of those presentations was this: that the best place to find people to join your group is in the audience at your performances (after all, they've got a pre-existing interest in, or at least tolerance of, your particular style of music), but that their having heard your performance often creates a catch-22 scenario: if your group doesn't perform "well enough," then they probably won't want to sing with you even if they're interested in performing in principal, while if you perform "too well," they'll be too intimidated to join.
Well, damned if that isn't exactly the problem with getting people to write, too!
One difference, of course, is that there aren't a bunch of choir-director-equivalents roaming the literary landscape, actively recruiting would-be authors. But the double-edged sword is the same: people convince themselves that they "can't write" because either their writing isn't up to the standards of their favorite authors, or they don't even bother to try because it seems like such an unattainable goal. Yet, these same people will all to often turn up their noses at fanfiction, (non-professional) writer's workshops, and other forms of low-barrier-to-entry writing. "I may not be able to write," they'll say (some of them will, anyway; I'm quoting, here) "but at least I know it."
There are more friendly, more insidious permutations of these attitudes as well. More than once, I've had someone leave a comment on one of my stories to the effect of "reading something this amazing just makes me want to give up trying, because I know I could never top that!" and I'm far from the only person to have this experience--it's a type of comment I see with depressing regularity in FiMFic comments sections. I try to take it as a compliment, and I always hope that the commenter was just fishing for the right superlatives.
But discouraging people from writing is the exact opposite of what I--what most fanfic authors, I believe--want to do. That's the conundrum we face: quality is intimidating, while the lack thereof is a turnoff. How do you deal with that? After all, would these people be any more motivated to write if the only things they read in this fandom were the true dregs of fanfiction?
I got a lot of good ideas from the symposiums, but most of them involve active recruitment strategies. In a self-motivating field like creative writing, a lot comes down to, well, self-motivation. Environment can help (and, for as much as I occasionally like to complain, I must say that the pony fandom has been much better at fostering a positive yet critical environment than many fandoms--not perfect by any stretch, but better), but in the end, it's the individual writers who have to find something that makes them say "Hey, that was amazing! ...I bet I could do that!"