I often wonder how other people arrive at the conclusion that they’re writers, or that they need to write to sustain themselves (or they’ll go crazy.) I don’t often ask for origin stories, because a lot of the people that I know who consider themselves writers have been doing it so long that they’ve forgotten the spark that catalyzed into a consuming craft. They just do it because they have to. They do it because they love it. They do it because if they don’t, something dims behind the eyes and a little part of them starts to wither and curl.
I know that feeling. Not writing is a little death.
A few weeks back when the writing workshop I was participating in concluded, I went for drinks with a few of the other participants at a bar nearby St. Stephen’s where the Quebec Writers Federation holds its seminars. (It feels a little like going to an AA meeting, would, I’d imagine: Hi My name is Kira, and I’m a horror writer. It’s been twelve hours since I’ve sat down with my manuscript.) I made a confession to the group: I offered them my origin story, which I will offer to you now:
I was a fanwriter. A fangirl. A fanfiction author.
I prefaced this with three pints of beer and an apology and an, “Okay, so, this is sort of embarrassing.”
And one of the ladies at the table stopped me and asked why, and I think I managed a sheepish, “Well, we fanwriters tend to subvert norms quite a bit.” At which point I was compelled to explain what slash was with an illustrated anecdote about the first time I realized that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy were made for each other. I think that was probably around the time that I lost the table. It doesn’t matter how well you write, how internet popular you are (unless you’re Cassandra Clare and you make a career transition from writing Harry Potter fanfiction to The Mortal Instruments — yes, that happened), people look at you funny when you make this confession.
Thankfully, they were all very good humored about it, but I went home and something felt amiss:
I felt shame that I was ashamed.
I grew up in fandom with other like-minded people who were just as engaged in the source material as I was, and some moreso. I went to conventions. I collected and curated things that gave me genuine joy. I met people I never would have otherwise had the opportunity to interact with. I made several good, lasting friendships.
I learned the basics of sentence structure and grammar by making countless mistakes and working with a few very hard editors who reviewed my work and taught me how to string things together so they made sense. I learned that I loved to write. I LOVED TO WRITE. I loved making my readers feel joy and sadness along with characters who weren’t products of my creation but only borrowed for a time to play with. I loved exploring things in the world of story that went beyond the source material. I was ambitious. I was daring. I was unafraid to try new things. (Sometimes they sucked, but the exhilaration of just trying something new was phenomenal.)
I learned what it meant to feel accepted, despite being a weird teenager and an even weirded new adult. I learned what it meant to be myself.
I fit in to something bigger than myself.
And here I was, a decade later, shitting on it.
I started wondering, in the midst of my funk, why I left in the first place if it was so good. If fandom treated me so well and I had so much fun doing it, why did I leave it behind? Did I think it was juvenile and I should start growing up? Did I think I’d be laughed at by my colleagues as I transitioned into the workforce? Was I suffering writer’s block?
I answered yes to all those questions.
The 300,000+ word X-Men fanfiction I’d toiled over for six months has hit a wall, and I told myself that I was tired and burnt out and I didn’t know how to resolve the plot problems I’d written the story into. (LIES! LIES! LIES!)
I was working eight and nine hour days, and my all-night writing binges couldn’t be sustained anymore. I wanted to move out. I had to reprioritize: real life over fandom; real life over writing. I told myself that once I was settled in, I’d come back to it. “It was just a little break.” (LIES! LIES! LIES!)
I was scared of what people would think. I hid the cosplay photos. I removed all links between my fandom nom de plume and my real life internet accounts. I thought it was time to grow up. (Lies. You never grow up, you only grow older.)
Then I found a book by Rainbow Rowell called Fangirl. It was about a writer who’s grown a significant readership for her work in “Simon Snow” fandom. Simon Snow is, as I interpreted it, a little nod of the head to Harry Potter. (You got it: Wizards.) It’s about how the protagonist — Cath — needs to adapt to college life when she graduates high school, and real life begins placing demands on her when she still carries a love for fandom. It’s also about carrying a strong love for something — the art and the craft of writing, and being part of something bigger than herself. I loved the book. It made parts of me ache because it felt so familiar and so far away.
Everything snapped back into place:
I remembered the writing fury. I remember the passion. I remembered wanting to create things that made other people happy, but didn’t necessarily make a monetary profit. (Hey self: money and career ain’t everything. Can’t buy happiness.) I remembered that writing fanfiction gave me ample opportunity to learn as a writer, and that it gave me confidence. If you’re totally unfamiliar, let me explain: you can oftentimes gauge the success of your writing because feedback is almost instantaneous. Most fanfiction sites offer commenting options from users.
You post. They comment.
Sometimes its a one or two word review, and sometimes you get paragraphs of interesting interpretation and questions on a chapter that guide your process if you’re open to learning from it. It’s a one-on-one feedback session. It’s instant validation. It’s amazing.
I realized this is something I miss terribly while creating original fiction. Posting any of Wake the Dead online, even a sentence, constitutes publication. I could never submit it to a traditional publisher afterwards. Original fiction stays under wraps until the instant the manuscript leaves your hands, and even then it’s precious and fragile and anything can happen. (Can you imagine?)
I realized that I miss the community. I realized the community will never judge my work half as harshly as any publisher at any point, and the worst thing that can happen is that they say nothing or that they’ve lost interest in something I wrote a few years ago and abandoned because of a handful of stupid assumptions on my part.
I realized that I missed the frenzy of creation.
I opened up Wake the Dead and lost myself into it for a few weeks. I applied the same root adoration to the writing, and the words are flying. It’s my world. I am the god of this place and its denizens exist to entertain me. I’m excited again. I take a break once a week now, too: I write a little fanfiction again. Just a bit. Picking up in the places where I left off and posting to my old accounts, just to hear what people think. Then I go back to Wake, feeling like I’ve taken a little vacation and feeling fresher than ever.
Someone’s even invited me to share some of my old fan stuff on a reader community on tumblr. They’ve recorded the first four chapters of The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes, a one-shot called Can’t Touch This, and they’ve requested that I dig up a few pieces that are no longer available online as well. It’s heartening, and hearing my words read back to me is… phenomenal. There is a possibility that after a staunch edit, they will begin the work of recording a few Harry Potter fanworks, as well as The Ante. All thirty chapters worth. (I’d say that’s ambitious and highly flattering.)
I think at the end of this I’d like to say that I don’t feel any less of a professional or anymore of a social outcast. Fandom is part of my writer’s platform, and it’s still worth the love and time spent playing in a world that belongs to someone else because it reminds me of where I’ve come from, and encourages me, at the end of the day, to want to create a world of my own for others to hopefully want to play in someday too.