The reputation of fanfiction is wide and wavering, ranging from complete disgust to obsessive appreciation. Those who write and read fanfiction tend to be on the latter side of the scale, reveling in the numerous benefits that such an unregulated platform has to offer. But those who dislike it are usually put off by the same thing: The complete lack of review and professional publishing. However, that’s part of why fanfiction is an immensely useful tool for new and experienced writers. While the stigma around fanfiction often leaves its users embarrassed around those who are less familiar with the wide world of fan written stories, it’s been flourishing since Captain Kirk and Mister Spock started sharing long looks on the set of Star Trek in the 60s.
I stumbled into the world of fanfiction in middle school, back in the late 2000s, and I haven’t walked away from it yet. Being a bookworm from the beginning, I was thrilled to find the unending sea of written works on fanfiction.net, especially since the stories often satisfied my cravings for certain movies, shows, or books to continue longer or delve deeper into their plots and characters. I’ve undoubtedly consumed tens of thousands of written works, ranging from short drabbles to unofficial novels. Most of them were of an acceptable quality; The format might be weird, or misspellings were annoyingly frequent, but the overall writing kept my interest. A few of them taught me unforgettable lessons. I’ve even posted works of my own, two of which I’m still updating today. In the midst of journalism classes and writing internships, I came to realize what an important function fanfiction executed in my becoming a writer: It gave me courage.
In order to fully appreciate the benefits of fanfiction, let’s walk through the writing and publishing of a work. First, you come up with an idea. Some would say that this is the hardest part of writing. With fanfiction, though, it becomes a little easier. Instead of building a setting, a group of dynamic characters, and enough conflict in their lives to sustain a whole story, you can choose to borrow these pieces from somewhere else. Similar to writing exercises, which are used by most professional creative writers, writing fanfiction gives authors a jumping board to get their creativity in motion. Within the world of fandoms, there are also frequent writing events that encourage mass participation. Usually, the events are centered around a theme (a show, character, or couple for example) and offer prompts. Sometimes these events are competitive, but often the collective goal is to share stories so everyone has more to read. Whether you choose to rewrite a scene from a show and only change the point of view or decide to take a single character and swap out everything else, the fanfiction community won’t judge. That level of freedom takes a lot of pressure off of a new writer and isn’t possible in the professional writing realm.
Now that you know what you’re going to write, you’ve gotta write it. You have complete stylistic freedom- nothing is off limits. Do you want to write about Superman falling in love with you? Do it. Maybe you’ve been experimenting with poetry and you want to write the whole story in stanzas- go for it. What if you want to try your hand at writing sexy stuff? More power to you. (Trust me, whatever you write, there’s something just as crazy already out there.) On a more serious note, one of the major allures to fanfiction since its conception is the need for proper representation. Women are the primary contributors to fanfiction, and it stems from a lack of strong female characters in media. In our current society, representation of diverse races is a prominent conversation, but in fanfiction it’s transcended the talk and started the walk- Did you know that major Harry Potter characters like Hermione are often portrayed with dark skin or hair? Unlike in the professionally published world, fanfiction allows absolute creative freedom, without the fear of rejection. This allows for more dynamic, evolved writers in the long run, even if the experiments aren’t captivating reads.
So, you’ve written your piece. As an avid reader, I hope you’ve edited and revised as well. Now comes the scary part- posting. But, is posting fanfiction so scary? You have no burden to have your work accepted by a publishing agency, which means no one is going to tell you that what you’ve written isn’t good enough. Your account is completely anonymous, so no one is going to judge you for writing content that they think you “should” be writing (based on gender, sexuality, race, etc). Depending on the platform you post on, you could even disable comments and cut out the possibility of negative feedback completely. This non-gated approach to publishing works validates writers at all stages of experience, helping to build confidence.
Finally, you wait to hear how your work has been received. I won’t pretend that hecklers don’t exist in all corners of the World Wide Web, but fanfiction communities often strive for positive, constructive criticism. Readers are encouraged to leave favs or kudos on works they love, and these numbers are reported back to the author. It shows writers that someone, somewhere has enjoyed what they’ve written, and that goes a long way in encouraging that person to continue writing. It also serves to show the writers that their work is comparable to that of others. I’m not suggesting that any writer tries to rank their work, but I speak from experience when I say that posting fanfiction helped me gauge my level of skill and strive to improve.
Traditional publishing, like many areas of our lives, tells us that our abilities and desires need to exist at a certain level of quality in order to be valid. But in reality, that’s not true. Every piece that you write is equally important, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Fanfiction allows writers to squeeze more out of each work, and gives people the inspiration to write when they can’t come up with any themselves. Because the works don’t need to be perfect in order to be accepted, fanfiction gives writers the courage to expose their writing to the public unknown. That’s why- even though some of the cringiest things I’ve read have been fanfiction- I’m proud to be a huge fangirl.