Is Fan Fiction Only A Distraction From Writing Real Stories?

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While I was thinking about and trying to become a plotter, I also started to question if writing fan fiction was getting too much of my attention. After all, during the year of 2019 I haven’t actually been writing anything original apart from my thesis and these blog posts. The second edition of Yellow Tails has 8,000 words in it, written during the summer, but that’s about it. Instead, I’ve written more than 30,000 words of fan fiction, resulting in 12 different short-stories.

So – was it any wonder I began questioning my writing habits?

(You might see that those few weeks were the Huge Weeks Of Doubt for me – it seems like I was questioning my current writing habits from almost every angle.)

In May, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of writing fan fiction. While writing this post, it was fun to go back in time and see what thoughts I had more than six months ago and review it, to see if I still agreed with myself about the benefits. And I do!

I still think writing fan fiction helps you develop as a writer because it allows you to focus on creating an intriguing plot, do a proper character and world study and try to re-create that in your stories when you don’t have to come up everything by yourself.

But has it actually been worth all that time and effort to write fan fiction rather than original stories?

As I’ve gained more experience on the writing forum and have been writing fan fiction actively for the past eight months, I think it’s time to think about fan fiction writing again – this time from a different perspective.

Support, Encouragement, Development

Let’s start with the good things.

First of all, the writing community on the forum I’ve been active on, is just wonderful. 

Although it’s not nearly as active as it was ten years ago, there’s still some great conversations going on about writing, reading and everything else. These conversations are a good reminder of the struggles and challenges all writers face and you might learn something new from reading about the experiences of others. 

The community is supportive, too: advice, tips and consultation is given when needed. Once, for instance, I was feeling overwhelmed with my story and unsure if it was coherent. I reached out to a certain topic, asking for help, and quickly got two volunteers to read through my story and give feedback on it.

It also feels relatively easy to make writing friends there – you just have to be active and not only a silent viewer.

These are some of the absolute benefits of getting into the fan fiction sphere. And the forum isn’t only about fan fiction – the original stories are almost if not as popular! This means the same support and helping applies to writing original stories as well.

The third aspect I’ve noticed is how encouraging and incredibly nice it is to get comments and feedback on the stories I’ve written. It doesn’t only motivate me but it also helps me figure out what scenes or events the readers focus on, what details they react to, what they think works well and what does not.

In the same way, I believe commenting on other’s stories does the same: it makes me more reflective on what I’m reading.

The Cozy Comfort Zone

So many good things – but there is a downside to writing fan fiction. However, it’s only a downside if – note, if – you don’t pay attention to it and hop off the wagon before it’s too late (if ‘too late’ even exists, but it will, nevertheless, slow you down).

The challenge with fan fiction is that it’s almost too comfortable. It’s so easy to just keep on writing about the characters and the world you already know, take inspiration from the original plot and give it a new twist or see it from a different perspective. And there are always new challenges that help you come up with the next idea, keeping you in the fan fiction challenge loop for as long as possible. 

Also, it’s extremely comfortable to just keep on publishing on a forum where the community is nice, friendly and accepting. 

However, in the long run, becoming too comfortable on the fan fiction side of writing creates a fear for creating something original. That’s what has been happening to me, at least. I’ve been doing great in the world of fan fiction – but what if that’s all I’m good for? What if my original characters are too weak when they in my fan fiction are so strong, what if the original world is flat and boring when in the other it’s magical?

What my doubt a few weeks back showed me was that I was and am clearly getting too comfortable in the world of fan fiction. I won’t say it has become easy to write a successful, entertaining and thought-provoking fanfic, but it feels like I’ve gotten the idea.

It makes me think that it’s time to try something else.

It’s time to push myself back to my discomfort zone – to the world of original stories. I’ve been putting down thoughts, hopes and ideas for the writing year of 2020 and that mind map doesn’t have too many fan fiction stories in it.

In a way, it’s a pity because I love being active on the forum – but it feels like this is better in the long run.

Lessons To Be Learned

I would like to point out that this year of writing has not been wasted in any way – I’ve developed my writing skills, learned a little bit more about my style as a writer and much more. I have also gained more confidence on certain aspects of my writing and definitely feel more aware of my own writing.

And the best thing is that I do feel somewhat more confident about publishing my original stories on the forum as well – I already know some of my readers and they know me, so maybe I will be able to get some feedback on the original content as well?

So, to sum it up: yes, fan fiction can be a distraction from original writing if you let it happen. I could go on writing fan fiction for years and years and always use them as an excuse to not write any of my own stories. But in the same way I could distract myself from writing by doing sudokus or puzzles, as well.

Therefore, if you learn to pick the best parts of writing fan fiction to benefit from them in your original writing, I don’t see any reason to quit. I, at least, will not.

 

A Traveling Writer

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Before I get into traveling and writing, an announcement: this blog celebrated its one-year birthday on Monday! Yay! Thank you, reader, for being here – it does mean a lot.

But now – let’s start the second year of blogging!

As we sold most of our things in June and packed the rest in four boxes and two backpacks, for the past month, I have been a writer without a desk. Or, at least I’ve been a writer without my usual desk – the white, steady desk of perfect height on which I wrote the last 30,000 words of Yellow Tails and my very first NC-17 fanfic, among many other things.

For the past three weeks, I have been a writer and a traveler.

But you know what? It hasn’t been that bad being a traveling writer. This was something I kept writing about in my journal every now and then for a few months before the Great Departure, wondering how I would keep on writing without my usual routines. Would I be able to keep on editing Yellow Tails? How about writing fan fiction I’ve enjoyed so much – could I still write and be active on that writing forum I decided to return to?

A Prolific Sailor

The first two weeks that were spent on a sailboat were the first test for me to try out being a writer while traveling. Sailing is usually the type of activity that keeps one continuously active – you’re steering, adjusting the sails, cooking food (which is a challenge on a rocking sailboat), navigating, fixing things or just focusing on the sea around you. There isn’t much time for anything else.

I was prepared for writing only in the evenings, maybe squeezing out a few hundred words on some current writing project. However, this sailing trip was somewhat different. The weather was almost always against us – most days the wind was too strong or from the wrong direction which meant that half of our time on the boat was spent in harbors waiting for calmer seas.

For the traveling (or the sailing) writer, this was excellent news.

I was surprisingly prolific during those harbor days! I started publishing a short (around 2,000 words) series of fan fiction on a writing forum and wrote about 3,000 words on a new one. In addition to that, I wrote a blog post and an article for a sailing magazine.

Although we were four people crammed in a small space, the wind kept howling in the mast and the boat was continuously rocking because of the waves, I managed to be creative and efficient in my writing. I did just fine.

An Hour A Day

This experience calmed my worries about the travels we have ahead of us. Many trips are filled with activities that begin early in the morning and end in the evening, keeping the traveler active 12 hours a day. We, however, won’t be in a haste while we travel – we plan on taking the time we need. This means that I can squeeze in at least an hour of writing time in the morning (maybe in a nice café?) or maybe an hour in the evening, depending on the day.

Of course, every day cannot be a writing day because of traveling from one place to another or because of something else – but at least I know I will have some writing time almost every day. This makes me happy because it means I’ll be able to keep my passion alive and my mind calm.

I hope to be able to make another update on being traveling writer in a month or two, just to tell you how traveling goes together with something that feels like the opposite of traveling (although, now when I think about it – I will be traveling both physically and mentally because isn’t writing always like taking a trip somewhere in your mind?).

On Sunday, me and my partner fly to Bangkok, Thailand. It will be a 15-hour flight and I plan on taking my laptop with me on the plane – I’ve never written fiction on a plane (only some academic notes for my studies) so we’ll see how that works out!

A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.

Why Fan Fiction Could Be Good For You

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During 2007 and 2011 I wrote over one hundred fan fiction short stories that I published on a Finnish writing forum. The stories I wrote were a way for me to stay a bit longer in the beloved world of Harry Potter after the books had been released, but it was also an opportunity to try writing alternative histories, throw the characters into new sorts of adventures or make them go through something I myself had experienced.

The active years I spent there helped me develop as a writer as I read several hundred, if not up to a thousand, good pieces of fan fiction and got feedback for my own stories as well. Also, I loved finding a community that shared the same passion for the fandom and for writing.

A bit over a month ago, I wrote about my wish for finding good writing company. I was feeling reluctant to return to the same writing forum and start writing fan fiction again as it felt like I had outgrown it, but after some thinking and browsing through the familiar forum I noticed an HP short story idea starting to form inside my mind. Something I thought would be worth publishing.

So, after an eight-year-long break, I decided to make a comeback. And it was nice to return.

Developing as a Writer

During the past few months of my fierce and stressful thesis-writing, I’ve had Yellow Tails resting on the shelf (quite literally, it’s on the highest shelf of my wardrobe). I didn’t want to have two big projects going on at the same time because I was certain I couldn’t give them both the high quality energy they deserved, so I opted for one of the two.

Nevertheless, I haven’t been able to keep my mind off fiction writing. A writer needs to keep on writing and therefore, instead of writing novels, I’ve been putting my creative energy into something where the stakes are a bit lower: fan fiction.

I’ve spent the past months reading some great works, both one-shots and longer, and I’ve practiced giving feedback to writers on their stories. I have also written and published a short story with four parts (1,000 words each), and at the moment, I’m working on another story that will have five parts. Small things – but things, nonetheless.

Ten years ago, when I was a newbie in fan fiction, I used to write fan fiction almost on a daily basis and as soon as I was done with a piece, I would usually publish it right away and eagerly wait for some feedback.

Today, however, I have become more tolerant with my work. I give it the time it needs after the story is done before I start editing it and read it through several times before publishing it. I focus more on the reader’s experience and try to make the story as easy to read as possible.

Things I don’t think I even considered ten years ago.

What I wasn’t expecting upon my returning is that, as time has gone by, I notice how much I’ve developed as a writer.

The Many Benefits of Fan Fiction

In the same way as I see my own progress, I’ve also noticed the many things how writing fan fiction can help probably anyone develop as a writer.

Back in the days writing fan fiction was only something I did for fun. Today, as I see writing almost as a science, I’m making a comeback to the writing forum with a clear aim and for a purpose: to become a better writer.

So, these are the pros with fan fiction I believe will improve my writing skills:

  1. Just like reading books helps one to develop as a writer, so does reading fan fiction. There are so many great works online! By reading all those short stories and novels, one can learn a great deal about writing. It also helps to realize what makes fan fiction good – and what does not, something one can probably translate to writing original stories as well.
  2. When the world and the characters are familiar, it is easier to develop your plotting skills and focus on creating an intriguing storyline. There isn’t the same kind of pressure in writing fan fiction as there is in writing something original: when half of it is already there, you can direct your focus on the things that need it the most.
  3. However, just because the world and the characters are familiar doesn’t mean you get to be sloppy with them. It’s a fine challenge to try writing about the world and the characters everybody already know as authentically as possible. The world needs to feel real and the character’s actions must seem realistic, in-character. This way, writing fan fiction helps a writer to find ways to think about the characters and the world on another level: what are the qualities of this character, how does he or she think or feel in this kind of situation? How does the world actually work, what would be a suitable explanation for this thing that is happening? (A good example is an HP fan fiction work called Manacled (K18 / NC-17!) that I’m reading at the moment: the characters and the world feel so authentic I’m amazed by the writer’s skills.)
  4. At least on the writing forum I’m active at, there are several different writing challenges anyone can join. For instance, there’s a challenge where writers are invited to write fan fiction about forced marriages. Another challenge offers the opportunity for the writer to write a story where one uses their knowledge of a certain topic, e.g. Biology or Political Science, in the story. In this way, the writing forums offer new ideas to write about and an opportunity to try writing something completely different.
  5. One of the best things about writing fan fiction is that the stakes aren’t that high. The audience can be demanding but no one will banish you from the forums if you write something less intriguing. You are writing and publishing on that forum for one reason: to develop as a writer. Therefore, it is also an opportunity to try one’s wings on new genres or writing from an odd character’s point of view. (I’ve done this more now than before: the story I wrote and published in early April was written from an 11-year-old boy’s view, something I’ve never done before, and the story I’m now writing has some detailed sex scenes in it. I’m really walking on strange land here.)

The only downside about fan fiction writing I can come up with is that it can become very addictive to write fan fiction only because it is easier than writing something of your own. After a while, writing something original can become too daunting, and that is a thing to be aware of.

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Have you written fan fiction / are you writing right now / could you consider writing?