A Place for Fandom, pt. 1

fanfiction-time-oFull disclosure: I have been a gigantic nerd for my entire life. My family introduced me to Star Wars at a very young age, and I immediately fell into reading all the extended universe novels, buying the toys, playing X-Wings on my bike, and otherwise revelling in my obsession. It wasn’t until my family got our first computer in 1998 that I discovered what it was to be a member of a fandom, though.

I adored the Sci-Fi channel (now SyFy for some terrible reason), and in 1999 I particularly loved a little show called Farscape. Looking back, the show had a lot wrong with it, but at the time it was my world. I lived on the Sci-fi bboards and joined a smaller fansite called the Friends and Defenders of Pilot, devoted to the show’s most awesome and underappreciated character. I also discovered fanfiction for the first time. My world changed.

I could talk for ages about how valuable and empowering I think fanfiction is for women, queer people, teenagers, young writers, and other marginalized people. I probably will, one day, because it’s a topic I’m incredibly passionate about. The media loves to paint fanfiction and fans in a particular light (a light heavily tinted with misogyny and privilege), but the reality is that most of the fanfic I read is of publishable quality, and most of the fans I interact with are smart, mature, kind people with brilliant things to say. Above all, fandom is a welcoming place where people can go to not be judged over their passion for fictional people and worlds or their taste in reading material. (Fandom has its exceptions to this, of course, but that’s for another discussion.)

So from that you can deduce that I’ve been reading fanfiction for over fifteen years. And I’m a writer. This is a website about my original writing. You’d probably guess that I’ve written a lot of fanfic over the years, right?

Wrong.

Somehow, writing and sharing fanfic has always seemed far more terrifying than sharing my original work. There’s existing material to draw from, and it’s possible to get it wrong. And in fandom, you’re in direct and constant contact with your readers and their feedback. And that feedback is IMMEDIATE. It’s either instant gratification or instant gutting, unless your work gets completely ignored, which is always a possibility. No wonder I preferred quietly plugging away at my novels and sharing them only with a few select critique partners.

But recently, I’ve been having trouble making appreciable progress on my final round of edits for Space Academy Rejects. It took a while for me to process the feedback I got from my crit partners, even though it’s really only resulting in minor changes. Anything character-related takes me a bit to mull over, so I can have time to spin out all the implications and get deep in their heads. I was getting really down on myself for a while about my progress (which was fine, but not up to my high standards) and could feel myself spiraling into a bad place. I needed something positive. I needed to write something I could feel good about. Fandom has always meant solace for me. Emotional, cathartic fiction and pure fannish excitement—my happy place.

So I wrote my first fanfic. And the experience has been wonderful.

I’ve made friends with other writers who review my fandom writing, I’ve gotten a flood of hits and kudos on the three short stories I’ve posted so far, and I’ve gotten lots of wonderful reader comments. The instant gratification is definitely addicting in a way I need to be wary of, but it’s done wonders for my mental state and confidence in my writing. It’s brought me back to a place where I feel I can work on my novel again without sliding into a negative headspace. I want to make sure I don’t become some kind of compliment leech who needs the praise of others to function as a writer, but it’s certainly a great thing for rallying the troops when morale is low. It’s such a fundamentally different experience from constantly participating in twitter contests, revising queries, managing this website, networking, researching agents, and so on. I enjoy that process, love it, actually, but it can be exhausting sometime.

As far as the writing itself goes, though? That experience isn’t so different. I feel like I have important stories to tell in both, and the process is identical. I put just as much brain and heart into both. There are differences, but I feel like I should climb down off my soapbox for the day and leave that discussion for next week.

Until then, creatures, answer me this: Have you ever read or written fanfiction? Are you curious to try it, but don’t know where to start? Need some fic recommendations? Let me know in the comments. I’m here for you.

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