Go ahead and laugh. I know fanfiction is often regarded as Real Writing’s ugly step-cousin. It’s the dregs of the written word, where art and creativity go to be brutally murdered.
If you don’t know, fanfiction is any story written in or about an existing piece of art. Like writing a new episode of Lost. Or making a new ending to Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy kills Wickham for being a total dude-bro. Or taking the case of Sex in the City and putting them in space. The options are endless.
That’s both a good and bad thing, but let’s focus on the good (because the bad will make itself known real well). Fanfiction can great place to get started. It can be the first mile marker for a dream, just finishing…something. It can be an outlet for even the smallest margin of creativity.
So here’s why I think fanfiction doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.
It’s Creative Training Wheels
As a child, you get coloring books–books where you don’t have to draw the character, just color. When you’re older, you learn how to draw from scratch. Few of us are born with the innate ability to make something from scratch. We have to learn.
Fanfiction lets you take something that already exists and make something new out of it. It takes a good amount of creativity to do it right. Sure, any of us can think up a second season of Firefly, but can you do it well?
Boundaries also help creativity. When you can only work with the tools in the Star Wars universe, you have to think outside the box. Full-fledged creative license is great, but rare in the real world. Fanfiction helps you deal with limitations.
But perhaps the best reason it flexes your creative muscles is…
Feedback and Community
With sites like fanfiction.net, other readers will let you know if your story rocks or sucks. And that’s exactly what real writers crave and need.
On one hand, it’s incredible to get encouragement from a stranger. To know someone read your words and liked them? That’s a high you don’t easily come down from.
But more importantly, it helps you deal with bad reviews. Sometimes, you need correction, especially early on. And you know what? Some people are just gonna hate, and you need to deal with that, too. Fanfiction writing helps toughen your skin. Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned.
You can also meet other writers, follow their works, and you know, read. That other thing great writers always do. Reading and writing in the same format means double the growth.
It’s Okay to Suck
“But Mike! Doesn’t most fanfiction suck?”
Yes…yes, it–yes. Yeah. It totally–so much suck–SOOO much of it–yes, yes it does.
And it’s okay if you’re part of that. When you’re starting out, you’re going to suck. That’s how you grow. My book, Ferryman, got a nice 5-star review, but that’s only because I first wrote a Legend of Dragoon fanfic that was worth NEGATIVE-5 stars. Practice makes perfect.
The best part? No one ever needs to know how bad you sucked at Fanfiction. Publishers, editors, and readers don’t count fanfiction as actual experience, so you need never tell them about your Batman/Superman Yaoi slash fiction (If you don’t know what that is, hahahaha, you will).
If all goes afoul, you can drop you fanfiction and move on without a single consequence. So if you’re going to get your suck out of the way, do it in a disposable way that doesn’t leave a nasty smear on your name.
And hey, if you turn out to be amazing, then you can connect with your reviewers and get your first following.
Your choice: milk your success or dump your failure. Win-win.
Your writing career will be miserable if you hate your own words. Writing should come from the heart, and if your heart says you want some backstory on Gunther from Friends, then you go write that backstory!
We write first and foremost because we love it. And fanfiction is just a fun way to write. Even if it gets you no points in the real world, even if nobody but you ever sees it, my gosh is it fun to write!
I’m the first to admit that art has rules, and that if something sucks, it’s no good to say otherwise. But I’m also a firm fan of enjoyment. Sometimes, it’s good to write a piece of fiction that makes no sense and will never get an award just because it makes your heart soar.
Do I think fanfiction is easily published? No, not even a little. Do I think fanfiction the highest form of art? Hardly. You’ll likely have to create something original if you ever want to be taken seriously or publish at all. Fanfiction, for most, is a training ground, and even then, transitioning into the real world is still hard, ruthless work.
So you may as well have some fun as you sail the choppy waters of fiction writing.