As a professional writer, I often get asked why I would “waste my time” writing fanfiction rather than original work. I never quite know how to respond to that. The short answer is that, for me, it’s play or that it’s just for fun, like a baseball player tossing a ball around with his child in the yard or a ballerina going out dancing at a club with her friends. It is my way of playing with my writing talent.
I think most writers, if they’re honest, started out writing fan fiction. How many times have you seen a movie, watched a show, or read a book and wondered about some loose plot line or a different ending or even just what happened to them after the story ended? Writing that down is fan fiction. With the advent of the internet and sites such as Archive of Our Own (AO3) or Fanfiction.net, fan fiction can be shared easily.
Also, as a new writer, there’s a lot to learn—point of view, description, action, characters, setting… It’s daunting to have to come up with all that at once. It’s fun to play in another person’s world for a while. For me, I often set out to learn a specific technique, such as deep point of view, by writing fan fiction. I’ve also used it to teach me how to write certain story arcs or plots, such as sex to love romance (the inverse of the typical romance plot).
Posting my writing has led to interaction with readers and fans which I hope will be very helpful when my original work comes out. Writing and sharing my fan fiction has given me confidence in my own writing and the courage to publish my original work. It also taught me where my natural talents lie as a writer (dialogue, humor, angst) and what I will never be good at (Description!). It taught me discipline, to set deadlines and meet them, to finish my work and get it out there.
Additionally, it’s given me a writer community. I have dear friends and brainstorming buddies all over the country, connected by the wonders of the internet. We have ongoing Skype chats and a weekly “drabble night” where we gather together at the same time and enjoy writing sprints for a specified period of time.
When I decided to write this article, I asked my friends what fanfic taught them. And my dear friend, Heather, answered with this opening line, that I think encapsulates it perfectly:
Writing fanfic has taught me that I have stories and ideas worth telling.