I was emailing back and forth with a friend earlier this month, and as frequently happens, our discussion turned to writing. She teaches writing at a University and we both have aspirations to write mystery novels. We’d talked about NaNoWriMo and she asked if she could see what I had for my project so far, so I sent off the first couple chapters. She responded that my chapters seemed pretty polished, especially for a first draft, and wanted to know my secret. Did I outline? Had I planned out the story in great detail before I started writing? I answered that no, there was not usually a great deal of advance planning for me. I am a pantser. I generally go in with an idea of who these people are, what the big problem is, and I have an idea (sometimes a fairly vague one) what the conclusion will be. My secret, if I have one, is practice, and what I practiced on for several years was fanfiction.
Yes, I said fanfiction. I spent several years writing fanfiction. It was actually what got me back in to writing after several years hiatus. I learned a lot doing it too. Before I wrote fanfic, I didn’t know how to make chapters. I just wrote one huge long narrative. I learned how to put out a polished chapter in a short period of time (whether all those chapters always added up to a good story is another matter). I got my first real feedback as a writer from my fanfic. I made several online friends as well, and did my first NaNoWriMo with them. Most of us are still in touch. Some of them are still writing fanfic. One is a published author who continues to write fanfic on the side. Another has pretty much stopped writing altogether. A third blasted through NaNoWriMo this year, finishing an original fiction project in 20 days.
After I emailed my friend back, I started talking to my husband about my fanfic. It’s still out there, and I still get reviews on it from time to time. Reviews are generally something to enjoy, as most times readers who don’t care for the story just stop reading rather than commenting, but when I get these kinds words, I don’t feel happy. I feel guilty. My husband asked me why and the only answer I could come up with was that I felt that I should be focusing on my original fiction. Fanfiction was fun, but it doesn’t help me pursue my ultimate goal of having an original novel published. My husband, astute man that he is, asked me what I wanted to get out of my writing. What am I trying to create when I write? The answer, for me, is to write a story that will entertain a reader, something he or she can get lost in and enjoy. Saying that out loud made me stop to think. I did do that with my fanfiction. I created a story which entertained, and people enjoyed reading it. They enjoyed it enough to tell me so, which says something. At least, I like to think it does.
The upshot of all this is that I think it’s time I stopped feeling guilty about having written fanfiction. It was a wonderful learning experience. I made new friends. And I put out stories which entertained and gave enjoyment. None of that is something to feel ashamed about.