Back in the internet’s innocent, pre-Half-Blood Prince days, when everything was awash with Harry Potter speculation and Twilight hadn’t even been published yet—so, The Good Ol’ Days—I joined a community of fans that speculated on each upcoming book, and naturally that led to a bit of what I’ll call Creative Prediction-Making. Apart from occasional insalubrious slash scenes, it was mostly harmless, and I never considered it a serious hobby. Primarily it was an outlet for my creative energies at a time when I hadn’t yet realized that I 1a) wanted to be a writer, 1b) let alone a poet, and 2a) could actually make a living writing, 2b) let alone poeting. (Yes, much of this fanfic was in poetry form.)
So this isn’t me hating on fan fiction.
There’s a vibrant, expansive fanfic community out there. People enjoy it, and I’m certainly not going to be the one to say that’s a bad thing. (BIGGEST DISCLAIMER EVER: If writing fanfic gives you joy in your life, good for you. We should all do the things that bring us true happiness. Everything you read beyond this point should be with that disclaimer in mind.)
However, I don’t think that fanfic—even good fanfic—is healthy for writers. If you’re a lumberjack or an investment banker or a yoga instructor, and you love your life and your career and have no ambitions towards being published ever, then this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, even if you’re someone who is still in the nascent stages of Maybe Being A Writer, then this doesn’t apply to you. When I wrote fanfic, I had no idea yet that I genuinely wanted to be a Writer, Capital W, and writing fanfic probably helped me figure that out in some way. But if you have decided you’re a Writer, that this is who you are and what you want to do with your life, then I don’t think you should be writing fanfic.
Cite all the rags-to-riches fanfic stories you want, but generally I think it’s a waste of time. (The odds of your fanfic turning into a bestseller are laughably slim—in fact, I’m pretty sure the odds are greater your fanfic will be plagiarized—and Amazon’s Kindle Worlds takes advantage of writers, leaving them with no rights over their own work.) Professional Writers, like professionals in any field, should be working on their craft every day. In theory, this “craft” is original content, be it fiction/nonfiction/poetry/whatever. Obviously not everything a writer puts down is publishable, but just like playing hockey won’t make you a better soccer player, writing fanfic won’t make you a better original content writer. There are choices you don’t have to make when writing fanfic, choices the original author has already made for you, usually regarding character, but potentially also setting, plot, and tone. This is work a writer needs to do for him- or herself in order to improve craft, and time spent writing fanfic shouldn’t be seen as comparable writing work.
Wow, this one was tough to get down to 500 words. The original draft was closer to 700. The things I do for my (nonexistent) reading audience.
Per usual, if you have any suggestions for next week’s topic, if you think I’m some kind of 500-word genius, or if you disagree with me so vehemently that you want to curse me in a way that only One Direction fans know how, let me know in the comments!