How FanFiction Changed My Life: A Personal Writing History

I wasn’t one of those children that carried home delicately bound paper books full of my stories from school. I actually hated Writing class because I was (undiagnosed) dyslexic and couldn’t pass a spelling test to save my life. So any stories I wrote before I started using a computer were scoured, discouragingly, with red marks and tossed shamefully in the garbage before my parents could see them.

It was clear I had a natural propensity for math and not writing. I still score better on a math test, even after all this time.

But I never learned to love math. Math bored me. It was stories that I spent my time with, my face lovingly pressed deep into the pages of a book. I carried around volumes as big as I was, always another story waiting to be discovered like a lingering adventure. So I read a lot as a child, but it never much occurred to me that I could create my own books until I was older.

So while, clearly, I couldn’t write as child, I had a great affection for stories. I diligently spent much of my free time (of which there was a lot, the daughter of a working, single mother and a commuter father) making a terrible, terrible comic strip called The Bigheads.

My propensity for drawing rivaled my ability to spell, in that it was horrible and mostly consisted of heads, shoulders, and arms (the hands always hidden behind their bodies, I never got the hang of fingers). The Bigheads was about a small family: a moronic, dopey father who was a professional baseball player; a quirky family dog, who sat silently judging like a laconic Garfield; and a moralizing, do-gooder daughter. I remember them all quite clearly–I spent ages shaping them in my mind, albeit my terrible drawings could never quite capture them as elaborately as they were in my head.

The Bigheads is probably still squashed away somewhere in my mother’s attic. I spent ages drawing them out in my rainbow-colored pens. They were probably my most successful project from Fourth Grade, if not ever…

In middle school I was finally tested into gifted and no longer spent my time in class sitting bored in the corner, passing tests without ever opening the text books. I finally found a creative bunch of weirdos I could call my own.

We did nothing simply. Dress-up became a full-on soap opera re-enactment. Soccer practice became a musical song-and-dance. Our lunches had to be served in a separate room from the rest of the kids or else they’d come up and rub our heads while we ate: they called it the Gifted Petting Zoo.

We didn’t pass notes, we passed notebooks. Between each class, each of us would sneak our notebook into the next recipient’s backpack and they would spend the whole next class scrawling a long-winded missive about Phillip’s hair or whoever.

I didn’t care for boys. How could I? I was always at least six-inches taller than the tallest boy in class, and I still held a grudge because they were the same boys who called me gay repetitively in elementary school. I only had one crush in middle school and it was mostly fabricated (most popular guy in school, I hadn’t even the patience to come up with a creative lie!). I didn’t write about boys in our notebooks.

So I made things up. Lola the Lizard who spent much of her time living in our English teacher’s ratty hair. That sort of thing. My most popular stories were a strange brand of Harry Potter FanFiction that depicted multiple, almost episodical, scenarios in which Harry started falling in love with Ginny Weasley (called it–sorry, my inner-fangirl will never get over that I TOTALLY SAW THAT COMING!). Eventually, these became so popular that I started getting my own notebooks and filling them with these terrible FanFiction romances, which were passed around school like a John Green novel.

I became known for these. Oh man, I’d cringe to read even a single one these days, but people liked them. We giggled over them in the locker room. Sometimes I pushed the boundaries into the elicit.

We also used to play this game in English where we’d write for a while and then pass our story onto the next person and they would continue it. By the end of class, we’d read them aloud. It was always known which parts I’d written, everyone would turn to me and laugh as I’d take a perfectly dull story and turn it into something absurd. I loved that feeling–making people laugh with my own strange thoughts.

One day before soccer practice, I remember it perfectly, I was at my friend Kelly’s house and, while her mom was otherwise preoccupied (she was a helicopter parent), she took me into the computer room and promised to show me something. It was a website devoted to Harry Potter FanFiction (this was back in the day, FanFiction wasn’t even a term yet). It was like my Mecca. It was just a trove of stories about Harry Potter, hypothetical later books (the series was only on about Four at the time), short stories, minor characters turned into major. This changed my life. It was like giving a twelve year old the key to changing her world.

It’s mildly embarrassing to admit that I started writing because I was a huge Harry Potter nerd. I was a Fangirl, plain and simple. I used to like to write myself into the books. Tall and awkward, I craved a place where I’d be accepted–maybe writing could be it?

I got carried away with the whole FanFiction thing. By high school, we’d all stopped passing notebooks, and Harry Potter had been replaced by Jane Austen. I had fewer and fewer friends and more and more stories. I finished novel-length works that were really just modern adaptations of classic novels.

I fed on reviews. I honestly believe that FanFiction was the perfect place to start for a young writer–hopelessly regurgitating the same plot, fleshing out classic characters over and over again. I can still repeat Pride and Prejudice to you scene-for-scene. I learned what a good story consists of by repeating these stories on message boards. I learned through reviews how people would react to every word I typed. I learned how to write on a FanFiction forum.

Eventually things morphed and I wasn’t even, without even noticing, writing FanFiction anymore. I was just writing. They weren’t from a novel updated or adapted, they were from my own head. Some loosely held the plot of the book I’d posted them in, but they were a whole new thing entirely.

I was becoming my own writer.

It’s weird that I still feel the burn of shame for something that took up so much of my time and childhood. I didn’t want to go to a party on a Friday night, I wanted to stay in and write FanFiction. I wrote it until around the time I graduated college, but I’m not sure I ever intentionally told a soul; every now and then someone would use my computer or look over my shoulder and I’d snap at them as if they’d just offended my mortal being (or rather glimpsed my biggest secret).

I was (still am?) really embarrassed about the whole thing, but, in a way, grateful. I am the writer I am now because FanFiction made me really passionate about sitting down and creating a story.

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9 thoughts on “How FanFiction Changed My Life: A Personal Writing History

  1. I love this! Isn’t it funny how being geeky (or in the gifted class) at school is something kids deride, but when you’re older, you totally realize its value. I love the idea of passing the notebook to share stories!

  2. I feel like I’m reading about myself here XD There are a few differences, but yeah, I got my start in fanfiction too. Only I was in a different fandom. I started five years ago and had a fairly popular story for my pairing and fandom. I started in my mid-20s after I became bedbound due to a hip injury. I had never heard of fanfiction before that. I was a science major in undergrad and grad school, so it’s not like I had done much creative writing either. I fell in love with it. I’ve always loved to read books, but writing was new for me. I’m a long time gamer, mostly RPG’s, and what I loved most about it is that you can immerse yourself in a fantasy world, which is particularly helpful if your real life is painful or boring. Writing felt similar to that in a way.

    I left recently because I was cyberbullied badly. Even though I said nothing publicly about this author, she and her friends kept escalating. The sheer hatred and obsession they had with me was scary. I’ve been cyberbullied before, and seen others cyberbullied in fanfiction, but not to this extent. I was so traumatized that I nearly relapsed into anorexia. That was when I knew I had to leave. Fanfiction was not worth my mental health. I’ve been dealing with anorexia off and on since I was 10 years old, and I’ve been in remission for 2 years now. They publicly attacked everything about me from my writing to my illnesses (I have several chronic illnesses). Even looking at my fanfic story made me sick and upset. Now I can’t even look at the site without having a panic attack. I had to delete everything so I could move on. I would literally shake whenever I got a review or message from someone I didn’t know because she and her friends made up multiple profiles to get around me blocking them. That’s how deeply it scarred me. *sigh*

    I didn’t have another fandom to go to so I just decided to write my own fiction. I’m really enjoying it. It’s fulfilling in a way that fanfiction isn’t. I’m writing short stories for now because I wanted to work on my weaknesses before attempting another novel. It’s a lot easier to fix things with a short story. My fanfic novel had a lot of flaws. I might start a novel or novella next year. I wouldn’t say I was glad I got pushed out of the fandom, but I don’t know that I would have made the leap to write original fiction if I still had fanfic. It was like my safety net in a way. I try to always find the rainbow behind the clouds. As long as I’m writing I’ll be okay 🙂 I don’t regret fanfiction because I learned so much about writing through the process. I also made some amazing friends, a few becoming the closest friends I’ve ever had. I just should have left sooner.

    I write mostly angst. I came from a fandom that had a lot of angst woven throughout canon, so I guess part of it is that I’m just used to it. I write comedy as well, but I just haven’t been in the mood recently. I found a literary critique site to post my work so I can get lots of feedback on it. I can’t post it on my blog if I want to get it published in literary magazines >_> That’s the hardest part for me. After I finish writing something I want to show it to everyone XD The literary critique site I’m at is password protected. Compared to the feedback I got in fanfiction, it’s amazing. Everyone is a writer so they give you very detailed concrit. I haven’t seen any flames, but some critters are more brutally honest than others.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post :$ I just get excited meeting other writers that got their start in fanfiction.

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