Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From FanFiction

I read a lot of books before I became a writer. Like a LOT of books. But it wasn’t until I started to read and enjoy fanfiction that I decided to pick up a pen, open a notebook, and try my hand at a fan-based story of my own. I figured my long history as a reader would provide all the knowledge I could possibly need to dive right in. Yeah, not so much. But the more I wrote, the more I learned about all the different elements of writing. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from fanfiction.

Fanfiction taught me what I didn’t know. An embarrassingly short time after I began my very first story I started to run up against deep and complicated questions like, How do I punctuate dialogue? I didn’t instinctively know the rules for action tags versus speech tags. I couldn’t even remember if the comma should come before or after the quotation marks. Any and all instruction I’d received about such pesky issues in school had long since faded from my memory banks. Thankfully, I had a bookshelf full of ready examples to lead the way.

Fanfiction helped me realise all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Head-hopping (the act of swapping back and forth between different points of view multiple times in a single scene) is generally considered a grievous sin. It’s confusing for the reader and prevents them from sinking deeply into the emotional lives of the characters. When I first started writing fanfiction I’d never even heard the term, but I was oh so guilty of the sin. My early stories head-hopped so flagrantly and so often it’s a wonder my readers didn’t get dizzy. The fact that I was writing at all lead to me reading articles on writing, which opened up a whole new world of techniques (both the good and the bad).

Fanfiction taught me to love my fans. Fanfiction can be a wonderful place to start your writing career because you get feedback every time you post something new. A short story, a chapter from a series, even a drabble (the shortest of short stories) comes with fast hits of reader response. I quickly learned that reader love is a very special and addictive kind of bliss. Reader hate should be backed away from and forgotten as quickly as possible. I figure if I’m not getting a bit of both, I’m probably not saying anything particularly interesting.

Fanfiction taught me I could write a book. Having a go at writing short fanfiction led to me writing longer fanfiction. Which led to writing fiction with actual chapters, then lots of chapters. The day I finished a 30,000 word fanfiction story (for which I even managed a few modest popularity awards) I decided to have a go at writing a book. I took an original character from one of my fanfictions and gave her a story all of her own. That book became my first publication.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a piece of fanfiction, but I’ll never forget the gifts it gave me. A way to try out something new; a warm and generous community of fellow writers; ravenous readers to delight; and most of all, the confidence to keep moving on to bigger projects. We all have to start somewhere, no matter what skill we’re acquiring. For writing, I will always recommend fanfiction as a great way to lay down your first ink. You never know where it will take you.

You’re A What Now?

Writers write.

New and experienced writers alike are confronted with two these words on a regular basis. We see them on Pinterest, Instagam, Facebook. We see them used in posts from other writers, in articles written by writers for writers. When you’re not writing, these two words seem to be everywhere. They’re meant to be encouraging and motivating, and sometimes they are. But at the end of the day they also promote one rigid and demoralising idea: if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.

I’m a writer. I have a modest collection of novels to my name. I have sales under my belt and reviews on my product pages. But over the last six months or so I’ve barely managed to string more than a few paragraphs together. Does this mean I should hand over my pen and paper, or start calling myself an ex-writer?

Nope. Don’t think so. Not gonna happen. In the words of Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art): “You are a writer when you tell yourself you are. No one else’s opinion matters. Screw them. You are when you say you are.”

Putting one word after another is a huge part of what makes me think of myself as a writer. Of course, it is. But it’s not the only thing. I identify as a writer because I have a burning desire to share my thoughts and imaginings through writing. This is true on days when I smash out 1000s of words. It’s also true on days/weeks/months when my word count is a big fat zero.

I’m a writer because my characters follow me into the shower; because song lyrics jump out at me randomly and must be added to a particular book soundtrack NOW; because I occasionally burn dinner after dashing out of the kitchen to write out a scene that just played through my head; because I make notes on my phone about character motivations and plot points; because I study the story structure of movies and tv shows; because I read books on writing and creativity to better learn my craft; because I have so many characters in my head and they all want it to be ‘their turn’ to talk.

I’m a writer because I can feel the words bouncing around inside me and the only way to get them out is through my fingers and onto a page. Just as you are whatever you feel called to do, whether it be paint a picture, parent a child, start a business, write a song, plant a garden, nurse a patient, and on and on into infinity. I believe we’re all happiest when the best of who we are on the inside is authentically shared on the outside.

I look forward to sharing more of me again.