What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing Fanfiction

I’ve been waxing nostalgic these past days as I wrap up my 5th book and get ready to start my 6th. It’s made me wonder, if I could go back in time to when I started, is there anything in particular I would tell myself about becoming a fanfiction writer?  A few things come to mind…

It is very much an instant gratification world. 

A note to baby Sun back in the heyday of 2018:  What’s going to take you over a week to write will take many readers about 5-10 minutes to read based on the speed at which they’ll leave comments –many of which will consist of some variant of  ‘when’s your next update?’.  Lol, it’s kind of like making a fancy dinner.  You plan, shop, toil over the ingredients and a stove for hours, only for the meal to be devoured in a fraction of the time and then they ask for seconds. 

I absolutely wasn’t prepared for the fast pace anticipated by many readers when I started out.  There was this expectation that fanfiction was something you could whip out in a flash.  I came to understand why some Wattpad writers said they wait until they finish an entire manuscript before they start posting chapters.  With time, I learned that those readers truly vested in a story will stay the course with you.  And it wasn’t all bad.  It did “push” me to try and keep to a certain writing schedule as best I could when I may otherwise have let things slide.  Knowing someone was “waiting” for an update was a powerful motivator and remains one today.

Like it or not, you will be compared to others writing in the same fandom.

It stands to reason that unless you are the sole fanfiction writer in a fandom (has that ever happened?), you are writing about the same core characters/settings that others are as well.   There will be comments about how your style is different from so and so’s.  How such and such a writer did this as opposed to you having done that…  It’s very much a reason I don’t read other 3310 fanworks today (unless I’m the beta reader/editor for them).  I worry about story wires getting crossed in my head but also how perceived comparisons colour my own perceptions.  Other fanfic writers I’ve spoken to about this have told me they’ve experienced the same.  

You can’t please everyone, nor should you try. 

This is a life lesson too, no?  As a complete noob, it was a great feeling when someone commented they liked something I wrote.  It was a kind of dopamine hit perk. At the same time, it cut me to the quick when someone said they didn’t like something. Then there was the awkwardness when I’d get asked to write something in a story I wasn’t really into doing. I began second-guessing my ideas and plot, finding myself thinking more about reader reaction than my satisfaction.  

So I’ll never forget what a wise reader told me at a critical time when I was feeling overwhelmed and seriously considering throwing in the towel.  She said that if I wasn’t “into” what I was writing, readers wouldn’t be either. Fanfiction readers are super sensitive radars that pick up on the vibes you’re writing.  

What lesson came of it eventually?  Know your audience, but know yourself more. 

A shared passion for a fandom will cross cultural and language divides.

This is definitely a positive!  Something I never considered when I began writing 3310 fanfiction was how significant a number of readers would be from non-native English speaking backgrounds. As a geography buff, I was enraptured by all the different countries highlighted in the demographic stats.  

My admiration for anyone reading a story in a foreign language knows no bounds, ditto for anyone leaving a comment in it.  I was blown away at the start, and continue to be to this day, by how far and wide around the world readers come from.  Would anything have changed for me having known this at the start.  Sure, my excitement level would have probably been higher!

Brace yourself for quite the reality check about your age.

I’m not a gambler by nature, but I’m willing to bet I’m the oldest 3310 fanfiction writer on Wattpad. Not once at the beginning did I ever take this into account and how it could impact my interaction with readers. Thinking back, I was so clueless.  The fact only struck me when I had readers reference a song or fashion item, name some currently popular actor, or use some expression I had no clue about. I regret and am ashamed to say there were times when I lost my patience with certain remarks made in my stories. It didn’t occur to me right away that I was talking to a young person. 

But the flipside of it is that fanfiction has kept me young at heart and learning new things.  Hey, I learned to read and write emoji and can proudly hashtag with the best, lol.   It’s still a  strange feeling knowing my children are older than a good portion of my readers though.  Don’t call me mom though, ok?  Lol.  

You’re going to get looked down upon by non-fanfiction writers.

I’ll be blunt. Fanfiction is hated by many in “writing” circles.  I used to be active on the Wattpad writers forum before it was closed.  The amount of vitriol spewed at fanfiction was something to behold. And I don’t think it was solely because fanfiction has a bad rap for terrible writing and smut. I have had the pleasure of enjoying some truly excellent works by other 3310 fanfiction writers; great writing, great plot, engaging storylines… So the oft quoted argument that the quality of fanfiction writing is subpar to original works doesn’t hold water with me (yes, yes, there are loads of stuff out there that are unreadable but that’s the case for both fanfics and originals alike, imho).   I often noted on the forum that those most vocal in their disdain of fanfiction tended to have modest read counts on their works as opposed to the fanfiction they were busy trashing that had exponentially greater views and votes. Did they somehow feel that the fanfiction was stealing away readers?  If the fanfiction wasn’t there, did they believe those same readers would flock to their works instead?  That’s not how it works.  

Btw, there’s a reason I’ve let my fanfiction readers know about my original profile, yet I don’t indicate on my original profile that I am also a fanfiction writer.  How telling is that? And on that note…

Fanfiction readers rock. 

They are a precious resource unappreciated by general writers, again, in my humble opinion.  Fanfiction readers leave loads of comments on your chapters.  Fanfiction readers let you know when they don’t understand something.  Fanfiction readers ask detailed questions that will keep you on your toes and bring to light any bugs in your storyline you may have overlooked.

For me, fanfiction readers have become a great partnership I’m fortunate to have, and one I’m loath to give up. For what hopefully entertaining story I provide them, they provide me in turn with feedback I can use to improve my material enough to give it a go as an original work later on.  This has been the case for Brush, Silk, and soon Sea of Clouds.  

Apart from some book club reviews,  I have yet to receive a single comment from a general reader for my original story (I don’t count the kindly fanfiction readers who’ve crossed over to boost me up ♥).  The original edition has 1K views. The fanfiction version, over 14K.

Would knowing any of the aforementioned points at the start have changed the experience of my early writing days?  Possibly.  But then again, I had to go through the experiences in the first place.  

What about you guys?  Has fanfiction ever changed your perspective on anything in life?  For any writers, care to add to the list?

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March 4, 2021 01:10

Seldom do I read a story, regardless of its form, without thinking “what if”. You magically create very well written stories that enable my “what if” needs to be fulfilled. Without question fanfiction provides interesting perspectives of what no novel, movie or series can do because of their time limitations. Fanfiction provides more character and scenario development and often educates me on the perspectives of others. I have read many of your stories more than once, and often find myself searching regularly for your updates. Waiting on your updates encourages my creativity to continue the story in anticipation of your next chapter. Thank you.

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
March 4, 2021 08:09
Reply to  read740

The “what if”…  I love that.  The sole (and soul) question that lies at the heart of fanfiction. You make an excellent point about how different perspectives can be shaped and explored through fanfiction’s broadening character and scenario developments. I wish fanfiction could be recognized more for that.  If a story I’ve written helps “fulfill” a need as such, I am both pleased and delighted!  Thank you for your comment today!  Your kind compliment of “magically create” put a huge smile on my face and in my heart ❤.  

Marie Bisset
Marie Bisset
November 20, 2020 19:07

I agree with all your points wholeheartedly. There is one thing I would add and it’s all due to my tendency to be naive about things, lol. I was surprised to find out just how strongly readers feel about some characters versus others. It makes complete sense but it never occurred to me. I know better what to expect now, lol.

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
November 20, 2020 19:16
Reply to  Marie Bisset

Great point! You weren’t the only one who was naive about that. So was I. Certainly discovered real fast that many fans had very s.t.r.o.n.g opinions.

November 20, 2020 02:43

Great post 👍🏻 I enjoy reading fan fiction as much as I enjoy reading Tolstoy and finishing all 21 volumes of the book of knowledge encyclopaedia. Anyone can write a story but few are storytellers and that’s what separates them. You are a storyteller and a very good one. The writing circles can be the most snobbish and disdainful group of people in any group. You are doing a great job and should rightly be proud of your accomplishments

Elisabeth Long
Elisabeth Long
November 20, 2020 08:41
Reply to  jayredj65

Tolstoy and encyclopedias? I’m afraid to ask what you consider “light” reading, lol.

I should clarify, when I mentioned writing circles, I was referring to the broader writing community out there. I’ve been cautioned more than once (by well-meaning folks) to never let it be known I started off writing fanfiction when it might come time to publish original stories…like it’s some dark, embarrassing secret. You know what? If that’s the case, I should just publish some diary pages I wrote when I was teenager. Now there’s some dark embarrassment!