It has gotten to the point in my life that I probably spend more time explaining my fan fiction writing to people than I actually spend, you know, writing fan fiction. It's sad that, as a kid, with no prompting from the outside world or other fan fiction authors, I already knew that talking about writing fan fiction was social suicide. Even in 2015, when fan fiction is more prominently known than ever, I can see people getting genuinely uncomfortable with me mentioning it. "I write fan fiction" for some reason garners roughly the same reaction of someone waltzing in and announcing they ate their twin in the womb. People still have so many weird misconceptions about what fan fiction is, what kind of people write it, and it all results in lots of really awkward conversations that, frankly, fan fiction writers are super tired of having.
It took me a very long time to become someone who isn't ashamed of writing fic. I did not breathe a word of it in middle or high school, and eventually told a few close friends in college, which leads us to today. Clearly, by virtue of this article, I have stopped giving a fic about what people thing. (See what I did there?? "Fic"? LAUGH, DAMMIT). I guess I had this notion that at some point when all of my friends were adults, the weird stigma would go away, but it turns out it wasn't just friends I had to worry about.
The most recent example of fanfic weirdness comes out of the place we all least suspected it: WonderCon recently had to pull Chris Gore's "Fan Fic Theater" panel, in which he was going to read out loud actual fan fiction and make fun of it for sport. Like many fellow authors, I took to Twitter to question what the panel was for, and within thirty seconds of my incredibly civil tweet asking what was up, I'd been blocked by Chris Gore himself. (He would later call anyone who questioned him "ignorant" in the letter he released, claiming we were "harassing" him, and that he's now super disappointed in us, blah blah—sorry not sorry, bro, but I feel less bad about tweeting than ever after reading that, especially after he told us all we needed to work on our "reading comprehension". #Bye). It didn't take long for the convention to cancel the whole thing, because duh, WonderCon, you can't make fun of the very audience for your event and expect them to not get defensive about it.
Unfortunately, fan fiction writers are in a constant stream of this kind of judgment on all sides. People make weird assumptions about us and get super judge-y, and yeah, I could just keep my mouth shut about it for the rest of my life and not worry about dealing with this, but fan fiction is important to me. I will protect this wonderful, weird hobby and the beautiful, weird people who do it with me until the day I fic my last fic.
So, without further ado, here are all the things we are one hundred percent tired of explaining to the rest of the planet and will probably still have to explain in our last gasps of fandom life:
We’re not trying to "copy" anybody
Let's take a moment to dissect the term "fan fiction": It is a piece of fiction based on another piece of fiction. It is written by a fan. We put disclaimers to the header of every one of our stories. We're not out to steal the glory of another author's plot or characters; it is our admiration for them that leads us to get on and write about the characters ourselves in the first place.
We’re not trying to write the next Fifty Shades
Props to E.L. James. I never actually read the books, but as a fan fiction author, I have to feel proud of anybody whose work launched such a successful career, because I can bet you on your life that none of us, including James herself, ever writes fan fiction with the intent of it becoming wildly profitable. We write because we love it. We write because we must. I think a huge part of what makes fan fiction so singularly special is that there is no ambition in it, only passion.
We actually can totally tell when you’re making fun of us
The mockery is a lot more outright when we're young, but oh, it does not stop there. Even in the last week, I had a friend seven years older than me tag me in a mocking tweet that revealed that he and two other of my friends had been poking fun at my fan fiction behind my back. It can be even less subtle than that, though. It's the friend that feels the need to embarrass you by loudly mentioning your fan fiction in a place where they know it would make you uncomfortable; It's the people whose overly-aggressive "supportiveness" of your hobby is one faint shade away from mockery; It's the shared look between two of your non-fangirl friends when the topic comes up. Hey, guess what, assholes?! WE SEE YOU. (Also, ew. Get a life.)
We are just as vulnerable as any other writer
I think the reason people feel so comfortable mocking fan fiction authors is because we're somehow less "real" or "legitimate" than other writers in their minds, and they don't think we'll take personal offense to them mocking our work. I cannot tell you how many pieces of fan fiction I have thoroughly enjoyed writing that were then completely wrecked by someone tainting them with meanness. I can't even look back on some fics that people in my life have made fun of, and it's so unfair. I worked hard on them, I was proud of them, and I wanted to enjoy them privately and anonymously. The fact that people in my life have dug them up and used them to make fun of me in the past makes me want to go ape shit on them for it. Let it be known, "normal people": we are not immune to your mockery, and it sucks.
We totally can, and absolutely do, write non-fan fic stuff as well
Fan fiction, for many people, is just a gateway drug to all other fiction writing. We obviously have the chops to commit ourselves to long pieces of works, and the imagination to go wild with somebody else's characters. Once we come up with our own (which we frequently do), we have the same enthusiasm for our own work that we do for fan fiction.
And even if we don't—what's the big deal? We don't go up to kids on little league baseball teams and tell them there's no point in enjoying themselves if they aren't planning to make a career out of it. Fan fiction is the same thing: a fun hobby. For some reason, though, it is one that people can't seem to wrap their heads around without thinking of it as a "waste of time".
Our fan fiction is in no way a reflection of our actual lives and feelings
Honestly, I think I'd be a lot more comfortable letting people in my real life read my fan fiction if they weren't so hung up on this idea that authors are exclusively funneling their own desires into the writing. To be fair, to some degree, all writers do that. But we don't go up to non-fan fiction authors and give them a hard time about an intimate scene between their characters, whereas it is, for some reason, totally fair game to accuse a fan fiction author of living vicariously through their characters.
If you’re not a fanfic writer/reader or into fandom, your opinion is pretty unwelcome
Oh, yeah, THIS. At some point, it becomes pretty clear that if people have no interest in fandom life and aren't on the site themselves, their only real reason for finding our stuff is to find fodder to mock us for. Even if they're not on there for that sole purpose, it feels that way. We are always on the defensive under these circumstances, and really, who can blame us?
We are not all writing a bunch of sex
I will say right off the bat that there is nothing wrong with writing sex scenes in fan fiction, as long as they are properly tagged for the sake of the young'uns on the internets, and I respect the people who are bold enough to do it and doubly respect those who do it well. That being said, "fan fiction" is not a synonym for "ALL DAY ALL NIGHT PORN GUYS". Yeah, Fifty Shades and the sexually explicit One Direction fic After both became wildly popular, but they are not an accurate representation of what most fan fiction writers are actually producing. A lot of us take our plots and the research that goes into them very seriously, and work very hard to create an open and supportive community where we can learn from each other to make our works better. And a lot of us are just there for kicks and don't do any research, because the whole point of fan fiction is that it can be whatever you damn well want it to be. But not all of it is ~sexytimes~ all the time the same way our normal human lives aren't that way, ya feel?
But those of us who are writing sexual stuff are totally justified in doing it
SEX IS A THING THAT HAPPENS. ARE WE DONE BEING SEVENTH GRADERS NOW OR DO YOU WANT TO MAKE FUN OF PEOPLE'S FAN FICTION SOME MORE?!
There is enough weird sex-shaming in the world that I know that the stigma on sexual fan fiction will never ever ever die, but they shouldn't have to justify themselves at every corner. It's natural and human, and if you don't like it, don't read it—and more importantly, just leave it alone.
Lurking over our shoulders is an affront to our privacy
"Eww, gross" to every person who has ever creeped over my shoulder and reported to everyone in a 20-foot radius that I was either writing or reading fic. Worse, though, is how they get all offended that we were offended, as if by owning a computer, we were somehow inviting them to reveal a personal thing we were doing to everybody around us. I even had a cast mate in a theater production I was in open up my computer once without my permission and see the "fanfiction" folder on my e-mail, at which point he announced to everyone around us that it existed. For some reason people are just downright gleeful at "finding us out," and belittle us and make us feel small if we retaliate to them butting into our business.
Writing fic usually isn't "just a phase"
Sure, sometimes people do drift in and out of fandom, just like they drift in and out of any other hobby or interest. But most of us are in this for life. I can't tell you how many times I thought I was "done" with fan fiction, when really I just hadn't been inspired in awhile. I figured out in college and into my twenties that the desire to use it as an outlet will always be there, even though I should have figured it out long before then. Even as a kid a lot of my "peers" on fan fiction writing sites were well into adulthood. It isn't babyish, or immature, or something we'll "grow out of". It's something most of us love to do always, not just when we're young.
We totally can make fun of ourselves
Key word: Ourselves. Not other fan fiction writers. There have been plenty of times I have made myself the butt of my own jokes, particularly my 2005 Charmed-loving self, but I would never make fun of another fan fiction writer. Yet another reason why it mystifies me that people who aren't even into fandom have no trouble making fun of them, when it's something they don't have any understanding for.
This brings me to the recent shenanigans of the canceled WonderCon event. They would go on to say that it was meant to "celebrate" fan fiction, but at the time, the literal only description we were given was that they'd be reading the "weirdest and wildest fan fiction on the internet" out loud. The broski behind the panel is mad, but how could you expect us to be anything but when it looks like they're making fun of other authors? We are fiercely protective of our own and I'm not going to apologize for that. None of us should.
We don't really have to explain ourselves to you, TBH
I mean, unless we are straight up talking to you about fan fiction, there's really no need for non-fanfickers to weigh in on just about...well, any of this. We know everyone thinks we're weird. Most days, we think we're weird. But we can all coexist in the weirdness if people keep their #judgment to themselves.