WRITING FANFIC: AN UNEXPECTED LOVE AFFAIR
By Kat Heiden
Okay, world, I’m putting it out there for all to see.
Hi, my name’s Kat and I write fanfiction.
That, my fellow geeks, is a sentence I never thought I would write, at least not in a very public setting. You see, I’ve always been a fan, especially of television. My love of TV actually led me to work in the industry itself. But as I worked hard day after day to be a part of creating new stories for television, I harbored a dirty little secret: I read fanfiction. A lot. As a recent similar confession on the GeekGirlCon Blog notes, reading fanfiction can be addicting!
Unfortunately, even though many people who work in television began their journey the same way I did – as a TV fan – fanfiction is not exactly something that’s…acceptable as part of the culture. After all, we were creating the “real thing.” Here are the general ideas many in the TV biz have about fanfiction:
- Written exclusively by lonely internet crazies and/or teenage girls
- Nothing but characters in, um, adult situations
- Absolutely no quality writing whatsoever
- They’re mooching off what we created because they’re not good enough to write “original” works
- Can get us in trouble if we coincidentally come up with something similar
- We didn’t give our consent. Fan fiction is illegal and unethical
(Note: the legality and ethics of writing fanfiction is a whole topic unto itself which isn’t clear cut, and is worthy of healthy debate and exploration. For more info on that and a TON of other insight on reading and writing fic, I highly recommend Anne Jamison’s book Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World.)
Of course, many of these assumptions are generalizations that aren’t fair and aren’t true. Unfortunately, what they are is widespread, and not just in the television industry (though the industry does openly make fun of fic writers now and then). Add to that the fact that these stereotypes – especially the one writing fic off as the domain of crazy people (read: crazy women) and teen girls – are sometimes outright sexist. Now, most fic writers are in fact women, but gender has no bearing on the merits of any kind of writing. Regardless of author gender, however, there are, in fact, some terrible fics out there that play into a variety of stereotypes. But no stereotypes ever tell the whole story, and there are many, many fics that defy them.
Still, because of the stigma around fic, reinforced in the comedy world especially, I was essentially ashamed that I read it, even though it brought me joy and helped me cope with the long, trying hours as an assistant vying for a chance to be TV writer.
Five years in, I was fortunate enough to have co-written two episodes of a show, but I’d gotten so burned out on the TV industry that I decided to change careers. As someone who was and is such a passionate fan of TV, it was the last thing I ever expected I would do. I was confident in and happy with my decision, but knowing that being in the industry was no longer the right choice for my life broke my heart a little bit. What broke my heart even more was the fact I had grown to almost resent writing stories (for any medium).
You see, I’d felt so much pressure to make my writing something that could sustain me financially that it stopped being fun. Being a storyteller is a big part of who I am, and I needed to rediscover the excitement of creating characters, of envisioning new worlds, of finding just the right words. I needed to remember those swirly, bright feelings of inspiration – the ones that made me beg my mom to let me use her PowerBook when I was seven to pound out a story about a kid who found a dinosaur egg.
I needed to fall back in love with writing.
(By the way, the approximately 100-word masterpiece “Dinosaurs in Time” is unfortunately still in search of a publisher. Preferably one who doesn’t mind reading a half-page manuscript featuring several typos and a barely discernible narrative structure.)
To fall back in love with writing, I knew had to take the pressure off. But that would be easier said than done. Every time I sat down to write, there was a part of me that couldn’t shake the expectations – this had better be good enough to get you an agent. This plot isn’t marketable; come up with a new one. The “financially sustainable writing” monsters in my head hadn’t quite been vanquished yet. I had to fight them with something new, with stories they couldn’t touch. But what sort of writing is done just for the sheer joy of writing and sharing stories, with no expectations as far as career advancement or paying the bills? What sort of writing is done simply to celebrate beloved characters and worlds? The answer, of course, is fanfiction. I hesitated; surely this was “beneath” a “real” writer, which is what I wanted to be. However, despite my reservations, I admitted that fic just might be my ticket to really enjoying writing again.
Turns out, I was right. As soon as I decided to start writing fic, a flood of ideas raced into my head. I scribbled them in a notebook so that the plot bunnies couldn’t hop away, and I took to my computer to get going on my first story. An hour or so later, I was done. You know the feeling you get when you step outside on a crisp spring day and that first breath of fresh air fills your lungs? That was this moment. I felt happy, I felt renewed, and I felt like me again.
What was most refreshing about this was that for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t hate the writing process. It wasn’t arduous or overwrought. In fact, I had so. Much. Fun. My “dirty little secret,” it turns out, was the thing that made me realize that I am a “real writer” just like I wanted to be. For a while there, I had simply forgotten what a writer is:
A writer writes, plain and simple. Reasons don’t matter. Platform doesn’t matter. Money really doesn’t matter.
And you know what? I love being a writer.
Kat Heiden is a writer, nonprofit development professional, communications grad student, and proud geek girl. She and her equally geeky husband make their home in Los Angeles as they await their invitation to move onto the TARDIS.