How Fanfiction Saved My Writing Life
After finishing my bachelor’s degree I was burned out on writing. I had been in a writing pressure cooker for three and a half years, and after assembling and defending an honors thesis my final semester, I was wiped out. When I looked at my post-graduate life, my first thought was that I needed a break from writing. I planned to take a month away to let my brain rest and refuel, but that month stretched into a year because when I tried to get back to writing, I couldn’t do it.
As an undergraduate I was trained to write “literary” fiction, which boiled down to contemporary realistic fiction. I don’t recall if anyone directly told us not to write genre fiction, but I graduated with the perception of what I was “supposed” to be writing, which wasn’t science fiction. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t like writing contemporary realistic fiction (and therefore was terrible at writing it); I couldn’t shake this feeling that if I started writing science fiction, I’d be letting down my professors. They taught me how to be a better writer! Didn’t I owe it to them to write what would make them proud?
What I did instead of writing was start watching Stargate: SG-1. The premise of the show (which is contemporary sci-fi), is that there is a portal that takes SG-1 to explore other planets, most of which are based on various ancient Earth cultures. The show has world building every week, great interpersonal relationships between the four-man titular team, and concrete good vs. evil themes that get more complicated and gray as the ten-year series develops. Plus, Daniel Jackson is a linguist-anthropologist who is very pretty.
I quickly moved from watching the show to scoping out fandom online. I picked up friends, and, through them, joined a challenge community where a moderator would post a weekly challenge and participants could respond with art or fanfiction. Fanfiction, I thought, I’ve done this before. I hadn’t written much fanfiction prior to my immersion in literary fiction, but I wasn’t a stranger, so I gave it a shot and wrote my first SG-1 fanfic. The response was mild, but the experience opened my eyes to what I had been missing while writing literary fiction.
Writing fanfiction is an expression of love. Fan writers write because they love something enough to want to add to it. Writing about characters and worlds that I loved was my first step to falling in love with writing again. It was a slow build. My first years writing fanfiction I posted only a few stories, but then I started posting 40,000–60,000 words a year. I started incorporating my own worlds and characters, and once I was doing that much original creation, it was easy for me to find my way back to writing wholly original works.
Writing fanfiction taught me a lot about writing science fiction. I had a better grasp of world building because I had emulated SG-1 encountering new worlds and what obstacles and biases they had met. I learned how to pace a novel because I signed up for a Big Bang challenge to write a 40,000-word story. I learned to love what I was writing, how to balance projects with a day job, how to finish a story, and how to move on to the next thing. These are not easy lessons to learn, but through the process of writing fanfiction—over years—I got a taste for what all of these things meant.
Fanfiction was never my end goal, but I’m grateful for the years I spent wading in the waters of fandom. I learned so much from writing fanfiction (and I actually made several connections that have helped me in my journey to traditionally publish). While fanfiction doesn’t have to be a stop on every writer’s developmental roadmap, for me it was a reminder of why I was writing in the first place. As helpful as an MFA has been toward my development, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without having written fanfiction.
I’m pretty darn glad you started writing fanfic. I’m glad *I* started writing fanfic.
I’m going to go have a cry over it now.
I really think fanfic is underrated concerning what it can do for writers. Having someone else read your work—strangers—and offer support or feedback can be a huge stepping stone between writers being confident enough to share their work. Plus, look at all the friends you can make along the way.