I used to be embarrassed about answering questions like, “What made you interested in writing?” Mostly, because the answer is unconventional.
My answer depends on the way the person will react. If it’s someone I just met, I might tell them that my dad and I bonded over writing a lot when I was in high school, and that it was an escape for me during my childhood as an undiagnosed autistic kid. All of that is true, but the real answer is that my desire and passion for writing stemmed from writing fanfiction.
I started writing fanfiction – gay fanfiction, in particular – during my second year of high school. It was an escape for me, and a way to write queer representation into the media I enjoyed, since representation is so scarce for queer people. My dad would edit these pieces before I posted them on Archive of Our Own.
And, by “writing gay fanfiction,” I mean that I would genuinely spend days on fanfics — lay all the papers out on my bedroom floor, edit them by hand — just like a “regular” writer.
Many readers would comment on my work, telling me that they loved my writing and how I interpreted certain characters. That’s when I realized that writing is so much more than creating a story — it is about creating a community. That’s when I stopped and said, “This makes me want to become a real writer.”
A rhetorical question I pose for all of you reading this is:
What is a “real” writer? What makes one form of writing better than another form?
As I continue my path at UBCO, majoring in Creative Writing and Art History, I learn more and more about writing, as expected. Particularly, about what forms of writing are valid. The answer to the question stated above? It’s subjective.
One individual might find fanfiction to be a form of writing that isn’t valid, and may find fanfiction writers annoying for calling themselves writers. But, the fanfiction writing community itself, and those who read fanfiction, would have a very different opinion.
While discussing this article with students at UBCO, and reflecting on my own personal experience with writing fanfiction, I have come to the conclusion that there are three main misconceptions that surround the idea of fanfiction writing:
- Fanfiction pieces are always sexual in nature
Often, when I tell people that I write queer fanfiction, the reaction is some form of sexual innuendo in response. However, all of the fanfiction pieces that I’ve written have never been sexual, and only romantic in nature.
Most of the fanfiction I read, and many other students read in their spare time, aren’t sexual in nature either. Even if they read sexual content – otherwise known as smut – that does not make the writing or the reading experience any less valid.
Smut can be liberating for many readers, and smut is also a form of writing that writers have partaken in for years. But often, when fanfiction is brought up in a conversation about writing, it’s used as a way to slander fanfiction consumers and producers, especially those who write queer fanfiction, to further alienate and contribute to the oversexualization of the queer experience.
- Fanficiton is only written by teenagers
I think the reason people believe that fanfiction is written poorly is closely linked to the idea that fanfiction is only written by teenagers. The fanfiction community is very diverse, and contains writers of all ages.
Some of the fanfiction I’ve read, and many other popular fanfictions circulating sites, such as Tumblr, have often been written by writers who are 20+ or even 30+. I’ve seen many individuals online criticize older writers for engaging in fanfiction in any capacity, while also criticizing younger writers for being too young to write fanfiction or engage with it. So, who wins?
In general, the age of a fanfiction writer is unknown, and does not correlate with the quality of the work itself. Fanfiction is for all ages, especially those who are a part of marginalized communities, to express and escape through fiction, while building a lovely community of writers in the same fandom. In the end, all ages of individuals who read and write fanfiction are engaging with it — to build community and feel represented, or even to just have some fun and change the narrative of a show, movie, or book they didn’t like the ending of.
Writers and readers – no matter what age – are going to engage in fandom, whether individuals like it or not. However, fanfiction writers hold that space for individuals to read works that they are genuinely interested in, and create a discussion about writing and literature. Shouldn’t we, as individuals, and as a whole, find joy in individuals creating literature and sharing literature, especially in a world where reading and writing are valuable skills?
- Nobody reads fanfiction (more than they read books)
Many individuals I know like to read fanfiction more than any other forms of literature and/or writing. Some people like to read physical books of all genres, and fanfiction based on those books. Some like to read physical books, and fanfiction entirely unrelated to those books.
The point I’m trying to make here is that many individuals do, in fact, read fanfiction more than physical books. This is mainly because fanfiction is accessible online, fanfiction offers representation, and fanfiction is free.
Reading any form of literature is valid, and writing fanfiction means you are actively catering your work towards a very specific group of readers that enjoys reading online about a specific fandom. Is that not what makes you a “real” writer?
In the end, writing of every kind is valuable, and so is any kind of reading. The basis of art is creating something you love, that other people love as well. So, before you bash fanfiction writers and fanfiction readers, remember that you might not know everything about fanfiction writing.