As a busy writer in the midst of finishing the second draft on a novel, I have come to a crossroads; that strange point between claiming “I have a great concept” and calling myself an author. After a year and a half dedicated to this book, I have obviously reached a very different place than Concept World. And as a result of this, I have evolved with my book. Grown from it, and I continue to do so every day.
But everyone starts somewhere, right? And that’s what I’m intent to talk about today. Because no one begins with a fully drafted book, or even a fully fledged concept on how writing works. Everything, from the time we are young, is a learning process. That was true of me, who spent a large slice of her childhood making picture book adventures of my family chickens, and creating vast governments for my toys (judge not: I was a weird child). I loved to create, but I needed to start somewhere…
I suppose that was how TwilaStarla came to be. And furthermore, how I came to write Kim Possible fan fiction.
Fan fiction: just writing the word makes me a little nervous now. Writing fan fiction comes with negative connotations these days, due to some authors and how they have used it. Fandoms and actual authors are worlds away from each other, yes? And there always seems to be a reason for that. Writers who spend too much time in a fandom often come out bewildered and full of poor novels.
But this isn’t always true. Even greats like Neil Gaiman (a personal favorite author of mine) wrote fan fics at one point, and claim that it is a productive, healthy part of becoming an author.
And there are things to be learned of writing fan fiction, from my personal experience.
At the awkward, girlish age of eleven, I had two loves: creative satire and superheroes (once more, judge not: I was a weird child). So, when Kim Possible first came out, I was instantly hooked. Hooked more than usual, actually, and enough to stay hooked on the show for another five years. This was helped in part when I discovered its growing fandom around 2004. And its sizable collection of fan fiction with it. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was working my own first fan fictions.
And before you ask: no, I did not write lemon (or smut, depending on your terms), or read them for that matter. As fangirls went, I was something of an odd puritan about those things. This resulted in me becoming an OC creator and an AU writer. I liked taking the worlds I wrote about and twisting them ever so slightly. This is well exampled in my first story, a tale of heroism detailing the lives of every main cast members’ newly imagined younger siblings and children. It was a nineteen chapter saga, written in a black notebook and glitter gel pen.
Oh, it was very likely awful. But, see, I had written my first story. That’s what mattered.
A couple years passed, and I kept writing new stories until I turned thirteen. A big story in particular, detailing the adventures of my treasured OC, Mira, and her misunderstood life. Her extra special powers. Her super awesome parents… *sigh* Granted, she had black hair (not blonde, as I have)… expect I wanted black hair. *double sigh*
Mary-Sues are a writer’s bane now, but I have a different thought about this. Because- see, she wasn’t a Mary-Sue to me then. She was an expression of something; an escape. And by all means, that made me happy.
When working out your first writing, express the Mary-Sue. Let it happen. Because it’s going to happen: the first stories we write are autobiographical, they say. So, loose yourself of her in fan fiction, and make it what you want. Because once you’ve learned how to write those excesses, you can figure out how to take them out in the future.
My next lesson came when I got myself an account on FanFiction.net. I took all of those stories and posted them to an unknown populace, and would continue to do this for another three to four years. In those years, I developed my writing habits. My ticks and tricks that got my through several novel-length fics. Some of these were truly beneficial, but others… not so much.
One of the first things I realized about posting fan fiction is that your audience does not come to you. For all the friends I had, garnering readership meant being active and catching people’s attention on that front page. Pushing your work everywhere; promoting everything. This meant pumping chapters out fast, one by one, and without much editing. (Note: I am aware not every fan fiction author does their stories this way, but this is a norm amongst FF.net and Wattpad writers).
This meant giving chapters quick revising, but little else.And this constant stream of writing did not teach me a lick of editing skills. And at then fourteen, I actually give myself leeway. There was a raw, simple rush of writing a first draft and sharing it with the world that kept my confidence bright and my writing fast. But I was forced break this upon working on full novels. Some authors don’t, but I do warn you; a full-fledged, purely yours, piece of fiction will take more than a read-through to clean up and tighten. Make it a habit early on, and use it often. It can save most any story, I think, and will save you a few tears when you post your work.
In terms of fan fiction, I was a success in my own right. I won awards for my work. I got chapters featured on websites. I made some of the best friends I have ever made on the Internet. All before retiring from the Kim Possible fandom in 2009. And retiring from fan fiction work with it.
Now, the resulting fan fictions (and other work) I wrote, well… they are here, for the most part:
By all means, read through them. Laugh at them. Enjoy them. They are basic time machines to myself at sixteen years old- and horrible though that is, there is something to be learned from sixteen-year-old me. Something to be said of progress, no matter how small it may seem.
So, say what we might about the Fifty Shades of Greys and Mortal Instruments of this world, there is merit in starting on fan fiction, no matter how old or young you are.
There is merit in letting go of fan fiction and writing your own story, for better or worse.
There is merit in writing nothing but fan fiction, if that’s what makes you happy.
That is the biggest point. Write what makes you happy, and learn every step of the way.
Caitlin Jones is an author, film editor, and lover of all things Victorian and fantastic. Please check in for information on her upcoming series.