This essay was originally posted in the community Meta_Writer in 2009.
I have been writing fanfic for as long as I remember. I mean that literally: one of my earliest memories is being about three years old, lying in bed, and pretending my toes were Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. They were trying to perform an experiment with my sheets. (Where I got Dr. Frankenstein and Igor I can only blame on having older brothers.)
I made up stories about my favorite movies and TV shows from childhood onward, from Star Wars: A New Hope to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Seeing movies, in many ways, taught me how to tell stories: to use Star Wars as an example, when my father took me to see it I kept asking him questions: “Why is he doing that? Who is that? What’s going to happen?” and he’d tell me just to keep watching. (In my defense, I was six.) So I’d keep watching, and I’d start to understand all the whos and whys and whats. This happened a lot during my childhood, until I got to the point where I didn’t need to ask questions even if I hadn’t seen the entire film. Even now I can tune in a movie I’ve never seen before about halfway through and figure out what’s going on without too much trouble.
But I always wanted to be a participant in these universes: I always wanted to add something to the story, even if it was just in my own head.
Which, until 1996, it was.
In 1995 my brother introduced me to X-Files internet forums, and I followed links to other sites, and from there I learned that other people did the same thing I did with shows they loved–not only that, but that it also had a name. Fan fiction.
It was a glorious day.
I started posting X-Files fanfic in late 1996, directly to the Gossamer archive. After a few months, a reccer wondered if I had a site of my own, so I bought some books on HTML and learned how to build one. I’ve had a website continuously since then, under a few different names and several different domains.
More than the many ins and outs of websites, though, posting fanfic taught me something wonderful: how to be a better storyteller. I’d taken classes in both high school and college, and while some of them had taught me about characterization or crafting a plot or using exercises, I didn’t feel any of them particularly made me a better writer. Fanfic did: fanfic honed my style, taught me how to plot tightly, how to write characters who were compelling and interesting.
I have fanfic to thank for my first novel. In 2004 I started playing a roleplay game here on Livejournal, which in this format is a kind of collaborative storytelling; and this particular game is fandom-based, so we all play characters from fiction. I was thinking about my character and his partner one day while grocery shopping and wondered what they’d be like in a real world situation like that; and then thought, You know, that would be a great story to tell. I thought about it for months, wrote it for 2005 Nanowrimo, rewrote it from beginning to end (only two scenes survived from rough draft to final) and submitted it for publication in 2006. It was published in 2007 as Chiaroscuro.
I still write fanfiction and roleplay; it’s about half-and-half lately with original work. I’ve written two big works this year: the first a novella for my publisher, the second a fandom challenge. They both were a lot of fun to write and they both make me happy and proud. (One is a little more audacious than the other: with fanfic it’s much easier to make something happen just because I can.)
I’ve yet to decide if my fanfic is an advertisement for my original work or if my original work is an advertisement for my fanfic. I mention my fanfic on my author blog though I rarely link to a story directly; though when I have a new publication out I advertise it on my fic blog, and I know I’ve made a few sales that way. I point people to the fic blog for free samples: there’s ten-plus years of writing there, what better way to see what I’m capable of?
I can’t say at this point that one is more important than the other. Fic is like going on vacation at times, a way to be silly and self-indulgent; at other times like running sprints, a way to stretch my muscles.
I do know this for certain: without the friendships I’ve made through fandom and fanfic, I never would have had the faith in myself or the support system I needed in order to write, edit, and submit.
I believe that fanfic is like most things in life: what you get out of it is what you put into it, and I don’t regret a single word. I never would have gotten here without it.