For too long now, there has been a weird taboo around the concept of fan fiction. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, fan fiction is basically exactly what it sounds like: fiction written by fans based on popular works, including books, movies, television shows, or any other form of media. There are plenty of places people go to for write and read content on the web, including Internet staple Fanfiction.net (basically a third parent to me growing up), Tumblr, LiveJournal, and the relatively new Archive of Our Own.
I started writing fan fiction when I was 11 years old, predictably based on Charmed, because I reserve the right to bring Chris Halliwell back from the dead however illogically I please. And even though I was only 11, I still had the common sense to keep my mouth shut about it. Writing fan fiction was considered the ultimate in weird, and I only felt progressively more embarrassed as I got older and realized that it wasn't just a "phase," but in fact something that I still enjoy doing well into my twenties. The peak of my humiliation came in discovering that my parents had access to my username and work the entire time — but here's the thing: The world didn't explode. In fact, my parents encouraged me to keep writing, and in all honesty, if I hadn't had that growing up, I probably would never have pursued writing as passionately as I do today.
Which is why I am understandably annoyed that fan fiction gets such a bad rap. Yes, it has spawned quite a few...interesting things, including E.L. James's Twilight-based Fifty Shades Of Grey , a One Direction fan fiction that at one time had the potential to hit the big screen, and a Katy Perry pizza delivery fan fiction inspired by one of our very own Bustle writers (which I highly recommend, but be warned that if you read it, you will need to order pizza immediately.)
It wasn't until the middle of college that fan fiction lost enough of its stigma for me to be pretty forthright about it. It helped that I met a lot of other writers in college, some of whom also enjoyed a healthy dose of fan fiction. It was there that I finally came into my own and stopped making excuses about it whenever someone happened to see there was a notification from "fanfiction.net" in my inbox. Still, every now and then all fan fiction connoisseurs get the reactions that I feared so much in junior high, but only roll my eyes at now:
1. "Fan fiction is just for people too lazy to write their own work."
I take so much offense to this. Mostly because the majority fan fiction writers totally do write their own fiction work, myself included, but that's not even my point.
Yes, it is extremely convenient that we don't have to world-build when we start a new story, but that doesn't mean a lot of intense research doesn't go into what we write. The authors I most respect and try to emulate are the ones who have clearly read up on their topics, whether it's post-revolutionary France or the bowels of the Star Trek wiki pages. We take this stuff seriously.
And when did any form of writing get deemed "lazy"? We're actively creating something, whether or not it will be widely consumed or appreciated. We're testing ourselves as writers all the time, trying to see if we can keep the original author's characters true to themselves, or if we can find ways to surprise and intrigue readers who are into the same fandoms we are. That is the polar opposite of lazy!
2. "Oh, you write fan fiction? So basically you write a bunch of porn and stuff."
Before Fifty Shades was even a thing, this was an assumption I heard often. It's true that there is plenty of adult fan fiction material online, and there's nothing wrong with that. For the most part, it is clearly marked, so for any readers who start out young like I did, it's pretty hard to accidentally stumble on. And are we really going to sit around and shame writers for writing about sex? We don't bat an eye when it's in a published novel, but for some reason people wig out when it's free on the internet.
But growing up, this was a weird accusation to have thrown at me. For Pete's sake, I was 12 the first time someone brought this up. I didn't really even know what he was talking about, and I was embarrassed into silence for the next eight years. At that age, I clearly was not on there to write or read porn. A lot of us are on there to create works with genuine plots.
And yes, occasionally those works with plots have sex in them, because surprise! Sex is a part of life. Yeesh.
3. "Don't you want to write fiction that can actually make money?"
Yeah, and I will someday. But people who write fan fiction don't do it for the money. We do it for the community, and for the chance to connect with writers and readers who are as ridiculously passionate about something as we are. When an obsession runs this deep and your friends and family know nothing about the topic, you have to find some other way to spill out all the insanity inside you, or else it's going to start leaking into every day conversations (and I'm pretty sure nobody wants to hear me rant about the misrepresentation of female characters in comic book movies for the seventieth time at the dinner table.)
That being said, the winds are shifting. We might get paid for writing fan fiction one day if we play our cards just right. Because even though we don't do it for the money, I'm never gonna say no to a little extra cash.
4. "It just seems like a waste of time to me."
This is going to sound bonkers, but last year I went on vacation thousands of miles from home, and standing in line in front of me to get a snorkel happened to be a young adult fiction author whose work I had read and admired. I wouldn't have recognized her, except she saw me holding The Fault in Our Stars and struck up a conversation with me about how she had met John Green a few times (cue me freaking out) and when she introduced herself, I realized that I'd read her books, too.
She asked me if I wrote, and when I mentioned that I wrote fan fiction as well as my own fiction work, she seemed very disappointed, and told me flat out that it was a "waste of my time."
I know she meant well, and was trying to encourage me to work on my own stuff (and I am, I swear), but still, hearing it from someone I respected was hurtful, not to mention wrong. I grew into myself as a writer on those sites. How many people can see a huge gallery of work they've written that spans over a decade of their lives? Looking back, I can see my progress year after year, and appreciate every single reviewer, commenter, and fellow author who reached out with suggestions or encouragement when I needed it most. I have a community. I have people. Nobody can ever tell me that that was a waste of my time.
5. "But you don't do weird stuff like ship two guy characters together, right?"
THIS IS 2014. It's embarrassing that we live in a society so unprogressive that people think it's "weird" to explore sexualities between characters of the same gender, or any kind of sexuality, for that matter. I refuse to answer this question regardless of what characters I ship, because I feel like it comes from a place of ignorance.
6. "Can I have your username??"
HAH. No. For fan fiction writers, giving someone your username requires the kind of shared closeness that I only have with people I'm not embarrassed to pee in front of with the door open.
I may no longer be ashamed of the fanficking habit, but that doesn't mean that it isn't on some level very private and personal. Fan fiction writers more than anything value their anonymity. We wouldn't share ninety percent of our stories if we weren't comforted by the fact that nobody on the site actually knows who we are in daily life. I will occasionally share my username with fellow fan fiction writers I know well, but that's about it.
That being said, if anybody who actually reads my fan fiction is reading this post right now: I swear the next chapter will be up by the weekend, and thank you for your infinite patience.
Images: NBC; Giphy(4)