I was thinking about one of my trunked projects, Crown of Druthal, as well as the process of novel midwifery that has brought Banshee to the point where it is now (i.e., a rough draft in progress that I feel relatively good about).
And I came to realize that the problems with Crown and the earlier versions of Banshee (which bear almost no resemblance to the current project) was that neither one was really a story. Sure, they had characters, they had setting, they had events happening... but neither one added up to a cohesive whole.
I was essentially writing a fun time hanging out with characters I liked in a setting I liked, and not doing much but enjoying doing that.
And that, dear readers, is essentially what fanfic is.
Mind you, I'm not saying fanfic is bad-- if you enjoy doing it, have at it. But you are quite limited in what you can do with it once you've written it. You can, essentially, share it with the fan community, and the degree that it can be enjoyed is based on the size of that fandom. No one who isn't already a fan is going to care in the slightest.
So if you're writing fanfic of a thing that only exists in your head, how many fans are out there?
So, if you find yourself caught in that rut, how do you break out of it?
For me, it was a process of figuring out an actual story, tied to a central character (or characters). The central character came first, of course, but then figuring out what their story was brought in secondary characters as needed.
And that was a key place where I had gone wrong with Crown and early versions of Banshee. In both cases, I had come up with a wide, sprawling cast. Both involved ships (one at sea, one in space), so I had worked out who ALL the key people on the ship were, what their jobs were, how they all related to each other... but that had nothing to with any specific story. They were just there, giving me a deep bench of characters to pull from in any given situation, without any organic reason to have them all.
And in the long run, that won't give you a compelling story that will hook anyone who isn't you.
A small plug for fellow agency-brother. Glynn Stewart's Starship Mage series has launched on e-books. The first one just came out, and the next one is due in March of 2014. Go check it out!