Have a seat. There’s something important I want to talk about. I’ve been contributing to this blog for well over a year now, and I think we’ve become pretty close friends, you and I. Close enough that I feel it’s time to unburden myself of a secret I’ve carried around for a very long time.
I used to write fan fiction. There, I said it.
I know what you’re thinking. Fan fiction is written by frustrated, moon-eyed tweens while listening to angsty music. Fan fiction is a breathlessly written first draft, hastily posted in online forums for other moon-eyed fans to fawn over in ultrasonic squeals. Fan fiction is for writers who have no stories of their own to tell, and thus piggyback on other people’s work. It’s the literary equivalent of being in a cover band. It’s an embarrassing, shameful thing that no one with an ounce of self-respect should ever cop to.
That was me. I wrote fan fiction. A LOT of fan fiction. I belonged to a couple of online forums dedicated to a particular fandom of a very popular television show (which I shall not name), and I posted stories regularly. Except, I wasn’t a teenager, scribbling down stories during lunch. No, my foray into fan fiction was fairly recent. I was a full-on grown-up, with a wife and a job and a mortgage and everything.
I still have several folders on my computer containing those old stories, and I recently did a word count on them all. It turns out I cranked out a hundred thousand words over the two years I was writing most heavily. That’s a hefty sized novel, by comparison. A hundred thousand words, all playing in someone else’s sandbox. Super embarrassing, right? That was the perception I had of myself the entire time I wrote. Hardly anyone in my real life knew of my shameful hobby, for fear they’d laugh.
So why did I do it? Here are five positive things that came about as a result of my writing fan fiction:
1. Writing fan fiction rekindled my love of writing, which had lain dormant for a long time previously. I became excited about writing, to the point where I would go to sleep thinking about plot lines, and wake up excited to put those ideas on the screen. I would look for any spare moment I had during the day to write even a few words, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment every time I finished a sentence or paragraph. Writing became fun for me again.
2. Fan fiction provided me a safe environment to grow. The online communities to which I belonged were welcoming and supportive, and I soon realized the benefit of surrounding oneself with like-minded people who share common goals and interests. It’s the same sense of community I find these days with the different writing conference groups I associate with. It’s just nice to know that you’re not alone with your weirdness.
3. Fan fiction helped me improve as a writer by giving me space to flex my storytelling skills. Some of my earliest stories were simple “one shot” stories, designed to fill in the blanks in between scenes on the show, or after the closing credits. Later stories explored possible backstories for some of the characters. But my favorite stories were those where I started thinking outside the show, as it were. For instance, I wrote one lengthy tale exploring the consequences of some of the show’s characters winning the lottery. Another story imagined these characters as contestants on The Amazing Race. Writing fan fiction thus helped ignite my imagination.
4. Writing fan fiction helped develop the discipline of writing for me. I would give myself deadlines, and I would try as hard as I could to stick to those deadlines. I had fans who enjoyed what I wrote, and I didn’t want to disappoint them by making them wait too long. And so I learned to stick to a schedule, to find solutions to problems instead of giving up, and to finish what I had begun.
5. Writing fan fiction taught me the importance of editing and revision. I got to the point where I lived for feedback from my readers. Nothing beat the endorphin rush of opening my laptop and getting a dozen new reviews. Thus, the temptation to instantly hit “publish” as soon as I was finished with a story became very real. But I had seen too many tragic first drafts get excoriated by other readers to ever want that to happen to me. So I very quickly learned the benefit of letting a story sit for a while before revising. I learned the value of have beta readers give me their comments prior to posting. In every case, my stories ended up better and stronger than if I had hastily posted a weak first draft.
So that’s my confession. I’m a former fan fiction writer, and you know what? I’m no longer ashamed to admit that. True, the stories I wrote back then aren’t what I would consider “great” now, but that really isn’t the point. Those stories helped me get to where I am today. Writing is a set of learned skills as much as an art, skills that must be honed and practiced if they’re to remain useful. And however you choose to practice those skills is okay. Fan fiction has its place in the vast pantheon of writing, and one author shouldn’t belittle another simply because of how they choose to express themselves. We’re all in this together as writers, and we all need as much help and support as we can get.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I saw a TV show the other day that sparked a story idea.
Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.
Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.
Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.