A while back, I mentioned that I got my fiction-writing start via Twilight fanfiction. Which is, okay, a little embarrassing for two reasons: one, it’s Twilight, and two…it’s Twilight. I went back and tried to re-read the first one last year and I just…ugh…gah. What I remembered as being a moody, dreamy, slightly dumb love story was actually just a lot of rambling and moaning on.

But you know what? I stand by the terribad fanfictions that I wrote for that rambly, moaning-on-y YA series. They were an invaluable teaching tool that shaped me into the writer I am today, and I still sometimes write fics when I need a break from creating my own stuff. Fanfics are a ton of fun to write, and they’re great practice.

I think that every writer should write fanfiction, especially if they’re struggling to write.

Hey, now, don’t roll your eyes. I’m serious. Just hear me out.

Fanfiction has a bad reputation, but it can be invaluable to the struggling writer. If you're having a hard time writing, fanfiction can help. Really.

I know that fanfiction has a reputation for being the exclusive pastime of sad weeaboo fangirls with a limited grasp on English grammar and no storytelling skills who need an outlet for their self-insert One Direction fantasies that will eventually become crummy BDSM bestsellers that everyone hates. (Did I get all the negative stereotypes in one sentence?)

Before you dismiss it (and teenage me) as being all of that, let me just say three things:

  1. While all of those things exist separately, I have never personally seen every single one of them present in the same fic. N E V E R. Not even in “My Immortal,” aka the greatest work of Harry Potter fanfiction ever.
  2. I have, however, lost a lot of sleep while reading the most incredible fanfictions—ones with beautiful prose, impeccable pacing, spot-on characters, and a sadistic writer whose Tumblr inbox is probably full of people screaming and raging incoherently because of all the pain they’ve been put in. You know, the same things your favorite books have. I’m firmly of the opinion that if you hate fanfiction, it’s because you haven’t found the right one.
  3. Fanfiction, for me, was basically writerly training wheels*. I used it to learn about dialogue, plot, pacing, and my own writing style. After a few years of writing fanfics, I felt confident enough to take the training wheels off and start creating my own worlds and characters. If you want to start writing but are totally intimidated by how much work it is, fanfiction can be a great place to start.

(*Disclaimer: When I say that fanfiction functioned like training wheels for me, I’m not saying that it’s easy to do, or that it’s only for kids, or that it’s something that you have to outgrow if you want to be considered serious. I’m saying that writing is hard, and fanfiction was how I learned to do it. That’s all.)

Fanfiction has a bad reputation, but it can be invaluable to the struggling writer. If you're having a hard time writing, fanfiction can help. Really.

Here’s why you should write fanfiction:

  • You don’t have to write smut. Seriously, don’t avoid trying your hand at fanfiction because you don’t want to write smut. This is a diverse medium and you can write whatever you want. I never wrote smut and I turned out fine.
  • You already know everything you need to. If you’re writing a fanfic, odds are you love the source material more than you’ll ever love your future children. (Kidding! Sort of.) You know the characters. You know the world. You’ve already got a million ideas for stories. All that’s left to do is start typing.
  • Fanfiction is chill. Want to write one scene and call it a whole story? That’s called a oneshot, and it’s fair game. Want to write a 200,000-word epic where it takes 57 chapters for the main character to hold hands with the love interest? That’s called slow burn, and, much like actually being slowly burned, it hurts like crazy. But you can totally do it if you want. All that matters is that you put your ideas on the page.
  • Everything is ready to go. The world, with all of its rules and quirks, is set up for you. The characters, with all of their complexities and nuances and supernatural abilities, are ready-made. The supporting cast is all set to go. The villain(s) are in place. Just add a plot, stir, and bake at 350 degrees for twenty to thirty minutes.
  • It’s not necessarily easy. Just like you still have to learn to pedal, steer, and brake while riding a bike with training wheels, you still have to learn to use pacing, dialogue, descriptions, and plot while writing a fanfiction. Just because the world comes pre-made doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work to produce a good story.
  • You can learn a lot about your own writing style. Here are just a few of the things that I learned while writing fanfiction:
    • Romance isn’t really my thing. I gave it an honest try—how can you write a Twilight fanfic without including some kissing and angst?—but it’s just not for me. I might include a romantic subplot now and again, but overall, I’m happy to go without.
    • I like to infuse dry humor evenly across my work. In-your-face funny is really difficult for me. I can do it, but I’m most comfortable when I’m writing drier, subtler humor and throwing it around like old toast crumbs. (I was going to say confetti, but toast crumbs are dry, just like my sense of humor.)
    • I’m a pantser-planner hybrid. Just letting a story ramble on means that I’ll never come to a satisfying conclusion, but sticking to a script doesn’t really work for me, either. Knowing that about myself has made it 1000% easier for me to plan novels.
    • I’m good at dialogue, okay at descriptions, and the literal worst at action scenes…but I can write them all. In other words, I learned a bit of self-confidence.
  • You can share if you want! If you’d rather keep it all to yourself, you can, but I seriously encourage you to share your work on sites like Archive of Our Own (aka AO3), FanFiction, and Wattpad. The communities are enthusiastic and the feedback is typically very positive. They’re not good places to get serious criticism, but they’re the best places to meet like-minded people and swap heartfelt compliments.

Fanfiction has a bad reputation, but it can be invaluable to the struggling writer. If you're having a hard time writing, fanfiction can help. Really.

Creating whole worlds and a cast of characters to inhabit them is hard. Building a clever, fluid plot is hard. Nailing down your writing voice, figuring out what to keep and what to chop, minding your grammar and punctuation—doing all that at once, plus plotting, plus characters, plus agonizing about originality (which you really shouldn’t do), can make writing anything seem like an impossible challenge.

Fanfiction takes that challenge, makes it smaller, and hands it back to you with the compliments of the worlds and characters that you already love. Try fanfiction today.

Those are all my thoughts—now I want to hear yours!

Have you ever written fanfiction? Has it helped you improve as a writer?