Peer Learning to Write

When it became popular to write Harry Potter fan fiction first became popular, a wonderful article was written about the benefits of young teens flocking to this creative outlet. Students who previously refused to write, or were even terrified of the writing process, were suddenly embracing every inch of it to create their stories.

They peer reviewed each other across the world, and forced each other to become better writers. These peer-improved writing skills were transferring across to the academic setting. Life was happy. (As someone who spends anywhere from two to five hours of her week peer editing for a couple of teenaged fan fiction writers, I can assure you that this trend hasn’t died out. From my extensive time reading fan fiction, though, I can also tell you that not everyone is so diligent in accepting helpful bits of advice.)

Now, there are more teens writing online, mostly maintaining personal accounts on sites like LiveJournal, Xanga, and MySpace. These teens will tell you they are blogging or keeping an online journal. What they’re really doing is keeping an online diary, and making it public. (For an interesting discussion on why keeping a journal differs from keeping a diary, please read this.)

Because it is their own thoughts they are trapping for all the world to see, they don’t feel particularly concerned with inconveniences like grammar or spelling or conventions. The need to pursue a certain level of excellence is actually shunned in some of these circles, and they’re bringing it into their writing. Yes, the worlds of keeping an online diary and writing fan fiction are colliding, with frightening results.

Where those who wrote fan fiction once sought to become better writers through peer review, they now seem to feel that any advice, regardless of how nicely it is presented, is a personal attack, and wars erupt.

In my own opinion, this seems to be a set back to the wonderful atmosphere of peer learning that fan fiction once enjoyed.

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