Recently I came across someone who stated that fanfiction is a waste of time for people wanting to become published authors. I understand the person’s meaning – the author she was “advising” had this idea that fanfiction was a viable way to get noticed by Del Rey, the publisher of Star Wars books. (Spoilers: It’s not.) If you want to write Star Wars books, you must first become a published author of your own original fiction. In this case, writing fanfiction could be considered a waste of time.
However, I have a hard time describing any kind of writing as a waste of time. One could say that I’m wasting my time with this blog post when instead I could be working on a novel or a short story I intend to try to publish. All this blog post will get me is page hits, and perhaps some new followers. Maybe those people will eventually buy one of my books. Maybe not.
In my opinion this blog post, along with any other type of writing, is not a waste of time. All writing serves a very important purpose – practice. Writers need practice, practice, and more practice in order to hone their craft. Many professional authors don’t publish their first manuscript, and consider it practice for both the writing and querying process. Nobody would ever say those writers were wasting their time, though, because they were writing “their own stuff”.
Here’s an admission that I’m not ashamed of in the slightest: for about a year and a half, I wrote a lot of fanfiction. “How much is a lot?” you may ask. Here’s the stats:
4 novel length fics
4 novella length fics
2 short stories
1 set of drabbles
That’s a lot of words to write in a year and a half. The first things I wrote were not very good, but I posted them anyway. I got feedback, and encouragement to write more. So I did. Then I wrote a novel length fic that people really liked. I liked it, too, although when I look back on it I think “ugh you used way too many italics” and “your dialogue tags stink” and “your villain came out of left field.” Still, though, it was good practice. I wrote some more. I wrote a trilogy that other people really liked. I spent many days and nights slaving over that fic, trying to get everything perfect. One day my flash drive broke and I lost four chapters, which just so happened to be the climax of the last story. I almost threw in the towel then, but I learned my lesson and transferred all my writing to the cloud. It was after finishing that trilogy, in fact, that I decided I wanted to write an original novel.
So I wrote Robber Barrons.
People used to ask me “why don’t you write real stories?”, as if fanfiction isn’t real. I understand the prejudice – it even exists with professional authors who write tie-in novels. But I don’t like it. Writing is writing is writing. At a very conservative estimate, I have written approximately 625,000 words of fanfiction. One could say I was wasting my time, that I could have written over six books instead! But could I have? Would they have been good? Would I have had the skills necessary to write a novel that’s worthy of publication? Hell, after writing for over two years I still have moments of doubt and wonder if Robber Barrons is good enough. Imagine how insecure I would be if I hadn’t been practicing with fanfiction all that time.
But most importantly, I don’t consider fanfiction a waste of time because it provides entertainment to those who both write and read it. As long as people enjoy what they do and don’t harm others, who cares what they write?